When we talk about winter recreational sports, most adrenaline seekers can only think about skiing and snowboarding. Well, skiing might be the most popular winter sport but for everyone.
You see, the perfect slopes and flat runs required to make a ski track worthwhile are not available everywhere plus the idea of gliding through deadly slopes is not as enticing to everyone else as it is to some of us.
To get a feel of the winter without the enormous risk, snow lovers have snowshoeing- it’s a slightly less daunting sport with almost the same amount of activity and fun. Unlike skiing which needs several hours of training to the moves right, one hour of demonstration is all the training you need to snowshoe.
The guide below focuses on the various snowshoeing techniques you can learn to get you ready for the outdoors. We’ll mention the 10 most popular techniques and add a few snowshoeing tips.
Snowshoes are built to be as beginner friendly as possible; lightweight, compact and ergonomic- if you know what you are doing, snowshoeing should be a walk in the park. The most common snowshoeing techniques are step-turns, herringbone, and side steps.
These are only a few on a pretty long list- we’ll strive to discuss as many as we can.
What Is Snowshoeing?
Snowshoeing is anything but new, this form of winter hiking has been around for centuries. The snowshoe designs we employ today have been used in winter travel for thousands of years. To sink that age stone even deeper, hear this; the first ancient snowshoe was discovered in 2016- it was dated to 3800 B.C.
Snowshoeing is simply a way to get by in snow without sinking with every stride. To float on top of the snow, you must strap special shoes called snowshoes to your winter boots.
The concept works by spreading the weight of every step over a wider area on the snow- this greatly reduces the impact per square inch. By making your impact on the snow lighter, the snowshoe makes it possible to walk on top of the snow.
Why You Should Go Snowshoeing?
It all started as a mode of transport during the winter months but now, it has evolved to become one of the most popular winter sports around the world. Many ask; why go snowshoeing when there’s more fun on the ski tracks?
Here is why;
If you’re a workout enthusiast looking to remain active outdoors even after the snow falls, snowshoeing is a great idea. As a low-impact aerobic activity, snowshoeing lets you push your muscles a little harder while you enjoy the quiet and serene wild.
The best part about working out in the winter outdoors is that you get the entire place to yourself when everyone else is drinking coffee at home. Solitude might be all you need to set your mind on track.
It’s A Perfect Way To Socialize
If the idea of walking alone in the snowshoeing trails does not entice you as much, you can always bring your friends and neighbors-it’s the perfect group activity. The snowshoes are also built for all sizes so, there’s no excuse.
If skiing gear prices give you a pause, you’ll be glad to learn that snowshoeing gear cannot be cheaper especially if you know where to get the best prices. Snowshoeing gear constitutes a pair of snowshoes and the necessary attire to keep warm.
We recommend ski poles but they are not mandatory. The hard part might be maybe selecting a brand that suits your needs so a little research will go a long way here.
There’s also the rent option where you get to test a gear brand before actually buying into it.
Snowshoeing Techniques Are Straightforward
Most sports, especially outdoor sports require extensive training to make it past beginner-level but not snowshoeing; here, you only need to learn ascending and descending techniques plus maybe how to avoid avalanches.
To learn these basic techniques, you can attend a snowshoeing class or join a group heading out- one day there should be enough training.
What You Need To Go Snowshoeing?
It’s your first time out on a snowshoeing tour and you don’t know what to bring? Worry not for we’ve got you covered. We’ve prepared a list of all you’ll need to get before the big day.
- Get a pair of modern or traditional snowshoes. There are numerous brands out there- the confusion is imminent so we’ll advise you to get a pair that fits and matches the expected terrain.
- The weather will be cold so get warm and waterproof boots to keep your feet warm.
- Wear several layers of clothing to keep you warm throughout your tour. Don’t overdo it though; too much sweating can chill you.
- Bring poles- they will help you balance and gain traction. This is only a suggestion and not a must- if the local ski shop doesn’t stock them, don’t stress yourself.
- Pack all the essentials you think you’ll need like goggles, a pocket knife, and probably a warm drink.
How To Choose The Best Snowshoes For You
If it’s your first snowshoeing trip, you’re safer renting your gear until you understand the basic principles of the sport. The assistant at the rental shop will help you learn your appropriate snowshoe size and the best type to match the current snow conditions.
The first thing you should look at when you buy snowshoes is the recommended load- most snowshoes have it indicated on the packaging. Your body weight combined with the weight of whatever else you’ll bring along should not exceed the maximum recommended load.
The snow type will also have a bearing on the type of snowshoe you take. If you go snowshoeing in powder snow for example needs snowshoes with a wider base that won’t sink.
The last thing would be the weight of the snowshoes- you don’t want to wear snowshoes that’re too heavy for your feet. You must take into account the added weight from the small bits of snow that collect on the shoes’ underside.
How Do You Dress For Snowshoeing?
Many first-timers wonder, what is appropriate for snowshoeing and what is not? There is no specific dress code for this sport but we’ll offer a few insights to give you a heads start.
Wear The Right Boots And Socks
One excellent aspect of snowshoes is that they come with adjustable straps that fit almost any type of hiking boots. Your aim when selecting the boots and socks is to get something that is both comfortable and waterproof.
We recommend insulated and waterproof winter boots- they can have rubber or leather uppers but not fabric. Another ideal option for this class is any hiking boot with a stable base and waterproof upper.
For socks, you can get the conventional woolen or synthetic brands, and remember to carry an extra pair for long tours.
It is common knowledge to dress in warm clothing when exercising in the cold outdoors so you can adjust the layers to match your activity level and body heat. Do not wear snowshoeing gear made of cotton because of its tendency to soak up sweat- this can result in chilling.
In place of cotton, use synthetics or wool- these two are known to keep the warmth in even when soaked.
If you are a skier, even better because cross country skiing gear is built to serve a similar purpose to snowshoeing gear; the two can be used interchangeably.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what to put in the multiple layers of clothing;
- Base layer: Go for something lightweight or midweight based on the weatherman’s report or how intense you expect the workout to be. Most professionals use a zippered top so they can loosen up when they heat up and zip up when it gets cold.
- Mid-layer: Soft-shell outfits are the best mid-layers because of their breathability and free movement plus they work just alright even when wet. If that is out of reach, you can wear polyester fleece mid-layers, they are not as good but they’ll serve.
- Outer Layer: On the outermost layer, you’ll need something waterproof, breathable, and dry. We recommend shell outfits as they fit the requirements and also work pretty well when blizzards strike.
- Gloves And Hat: The gloves are for retaining heat and the hat is for when the sun shines too bright. You can add on a balaclava too if low temperatures are not your cup of tea. The gloves and hat can be woolen or synthetic depending on preference.
- With moisture everywhere, the gloves and hat must be waterproof.
- Sunglasses: UV rays are more distracting when reflected off of snow. Sunglasses are highly recommended because the intensified rays can cause snow blindness.
- Gaiters: This is what keeps snow off your boots. If you’re walking over too-deep powder snow then you might have to get the high-style ones that rise up to just below your knees. And again, use waterproof material whenever you are out there.
10 Most Practical Snowshoeing Techniques
- Step turn
- Kick turn
- Stepping up
- Side steps
- Kick steps
- Down hilling
- Step sliding
To make them easier to grasp and employ, we’ve listed them based on their use; we have discussed techniques for getting up after a fall, climbing hills, coming down, and turning around- this should be all since there’s not much on flat terrain walks.
You must be eager to learn the basics so we’ll get right into it.
Technique For Getting Up After A Fall
The first thing a novice snowshoer does is trip over so we’ll start there.
It’s also the easiest part of snowshoeing; the technique is pretty direct. Roll over so you’re facing down and push yourself up with one knee (the strongest) so you end up in the half-kneeling posture. Then, lift your entire body up using both knees and a little help from your hands.
If you have snowshoe poles, use them for support as you get up.
You can practice the technique at home- lie on the ground with your face up and then follow these steps to get yourself to a standing position.
Techniques For Turning Around In Snowshoes
As corny as it may sound, a beginner needs turning-around training before they can hit the snowshoeing trails . The basics dictate that you walk in a circle when changing direction but there won’t always be space for that.
This is a superb alternative to turning around- it’s faster, easier, and requires less space.
It involves lifting one foot and placing it in front of the other at 90-degrees. The two snowshoes should make a “T” with the head in front.
Now, shift your body weight from the other snowshoe to the one you just moved. The rear snowshoe will now be light and free- lift it and place it next to its counterpart. In the process, make a half-turn to align your body with the shoes.
If done right, the two snowshoes should end up next to one another and the body facing the new direction.
Kick turns are another approach to a change in direction- place one snowshoe facing the opposite direction to its counterpart so you can make a full 180-degree turn while standing in the same spot. Kick turns work best when space is limited but you must have good lower body flexibility to make such an exaggerated twist.
Techniques For Snowshoeing Uphill
Ascends are considerably more challenging than other terrains when snowshoeing- it takes higher levels of endurance and training.
One very important accessory for snowshoeing uphill is the hiking pole. Hiking poles are invaluable when snowy conditions go wild- they come in handy when you are tired and in need of relief from stress in your ankles.
Here are some of the main ascending techniques for snowshoers.
We recommend this approach for slight inclinations only. Face the hill, plant your first step into the snow, toes first. You should step in strongly enough so the crampons dig into the powder- the crows will act as a hook to hold you in place as you ascend.
You can start slow and increase your speed as your confidence grows.
This snowshoeing technique is borrowed from another winter sport; cross country skiing- it works the same way every time.
Turn out your snowshoes to create a 45 degrees angle and face the subject hill.
Now, step into the snow and start climbing. To gain traction, add some weight to the outer side of the snowshoes with every step so the crampons dig in and sought of hook.
As the name suggests, this is an aggressive approach to climbing steep ascents where you make fast step-ups along a moderate ascend. For traction, again, put extra weight on the toes so they dig the snowshoe crampons in.
If you’re walking along steep slopes, you’ll have to introduce a matching technique; side stepping.
Position your body perpendicular to the hill and make sideward steps toward the hill. With one foot already in, transfer your body weight onto this foot and then lift the second one to complete the step.
It’s a slow technique that somehow never loses relevance probably due to its effectiveness.
Last on the list is this very popular mountain hiking technique. It is highly recommended for tackling steep hills with deep snow.
Push or kick into the snow to create a shelf that’ll act as a step in a long staircase. Before proceeding to the next step, ensure the previous one has solidified enough because accidents when working with this technique are common.
The technique is highly effective but the snowshoer too must have some experience climbing steep snowy hills.
Traversing And Switchbacks
The best approach when tackling a steep ascend on snowshoes is to follow the fall line- this is the shortest line between the bottom and top of the slope.
That is however not always possible as some slopes are either too steep or have obstructions along the fall line which make it impassable.
When out of easy options, we recommend other uncommon techniques for bypassing the fall line like traversing and switchbacks- they are the most reasonable approach.
This is simply walking up a hill at an angle. Traversing involves kicking your snowshoe into the snow to create a shelf as you move uphill. You should try as much as possible to maintain the climbing angle as you proceed so you don’t fall back.
The depth of the snow will determine how much you employ the use of stampings to gain traction and balance. It’s like sidestepping but with more traction and less effort.
If you’ve been to a public hiking ground, you must have noticed the numerous switchbacks made on the many slopes to make ascension much easier.
Switchbacks are a series of paths angled along a climb to shift the direction of travel so the hikers face less resistance as they reach for the summit. The paths run back and forth all the way to the top or at least after the hard section.
You can also create your own switchbacks when a slope proves too challenging- assess the slope in question and decide on the best angle to employ depending on the steepness.
From there, you can now decide on the best snowshoeing ascension techniques from the list above.
Techniques For Descending On Snowshoes
From science we know; what goes up must come down. They were referring to the laws of gravity but this statement applies to snowshoeing too, after climbing the many hills, you’ll eventually have to snowshoe downhill.
Just as there are ascension techniques, there are accepted ways to get to the bottom on snowshoes without tripping over or breaking a leg.
Down hilling is a popular term among snowshoers- it’s the first descending technique you learn. The technique is pretty basic; align your snowshoes with the horizon and firmly fix your knees so they don’t bend as you walk.
From there, descend gradually while putting weight on the snowshoes. You can add some pressure to the heel if the hill’s too steep to avoid falling on your face.
Your body should remain upright throughout the walk, the temptation to lean forward or back will be there but you must resist.
Side stepping is a common ascending technique that will serve just fine in a descent. Shift some weight to the heel side of your snowshoes and use the edges to create shelves as you walk down. Make the shelves deep and far apart so they don’t collapse under your body weight.
Your snowshoeing trainer must have mentioned this technique, others call it running or glissading- it’s the fastest descending technique out there. The first step in step sliding is assessment- here, you look for possible obstructions along your path and plan for them ahead.
If everything seems fine, you can now lay your body weight on your heels, straighten your toes and walk down quickly. First-timers often experience a sudden excitement rush causing them to scream in satisfaction.
When done right, step sliding is safe and pretty exciting.
What Should I Expect On My First Snowshoeing Tour?
Snowshoeing is an excellent sport that is not only a form of workout but also a way to get further into the wild to areas you’d never get in ordinary hiking boots.
With everything happening outdoors, the first thing you should expect is a feeling of satisfaction and contentment for being in the wild and close to nature.
Toppling over is also common among first-timers; especially during breaks and briefing- you are yet to get used to your new pair of snowshoes. This should not deter you though, it’s part of the learning stage. After a few trips, you’ll stop making sudden turnarounds and backward walks without considering the gear on your feet.
With toppling over being so common, you must remember the techniques for getting up after a fall- we discussed them in a previous section. The best way to get up is to use your snowshoeing poles to push yourself up or get help from colleagues.
This does not happen to everyone but depending on the geography, you’ll most likely get puffed up on your first trip. Snowshoeing is less daunting compared to walking in powder snow but it is way harder than your everyday walk around town.
Things will get worse when you reach the hills- your body will heat up and your heart will want to explode.
The final thing you should expect is sudden shifts in body temperature. We’ve talked about the best ways to dress for such tours but the experiences are most of the time subjective.
Snowshoeing Tips – Safety
The list of tips is endless but as a sportsperson, you already know most of them so we’ll only mention what we believe you don’t know or are likely to ignore.
- Stay within your limits: This is in regard to skills and knowledge about the environment. The gear on you might also determine how far you’ll walk but not every time.
- Walk in protected grounds first: Snowshoeing in ski resorts and private parks might not be that exciting but for first-timers, this is the safest option. While within the protected grounds, you are less likely to get lost or injured as the easy trails have trail markers and are swept regularly.
- Have a trip plan: Formulating a trip plan and leaving it with a trusted snow conditions expert so they know where you’ll be and when can be a smart move just in case you lose your way and are not back home in time.
- Check your gear: Always check your gear to ascertain that everything you’ll need is there- people often forget things like goggles and balaclavas.
- Know your way around: If you are snowshoeing in an unfamiliar area, carry a map or GPS for when you can’t tell the exact location. This also applies when you are walking on a patrolled trail and decide to venture into untracked snow.
- Hydrate: Water is essential in workouts, both in the summer and winter. It keeps your muscles in good shape and also helps your system fed off hypothermia. Remember to insulate your water bottle to prevent freezing. If you want to take it a step further, you can carry a warm drink in a vacuum bottle to raise your spirits when the degrees drop too low.
We’ve mentioned numerous snowshoeing techniques for ascension and dissension, the ball is now on your court- practice and practice a little more.
This guide offers almost everything you’d need to learn but we recommend a one-hour practical training lesson to perfect the various moves.
And also, don’t just practice; get out and try out your snowshoes. This way, you won’t be seeing the shoes for the first time on the tour day. The first walk should not be far, just a few yards into the wild, and maybe a little more when you gain some snowshoeing experience.