By Whitney Carter
Winter sports can be daunting. Growing up in the Seattle area, my winter-sport experience was (and still largely is) limited to an annual childhood trip up to Snoqualmie or Stevens Pass for a day of sledding or tubing. Every couple of years I got a few snow days to add to that winter weather experience.
That being said, I am intimidated by the idea of winter sports. With that knowledge in mind, I decided to do some research to assuage my feelings and raise my confidence level about winter sports. I decided against snowboarding and skiing. Both seemed too difficult to learn and too expensive for my ‘broke-as-a-joke’ college student budget. I decided to look at snowshoeing. It seemed a little more realistic given my budget and (lack of) coordination.
I started my research by talking to Kassidy Willard from Whitworth University’s Outdoor Recreation department. Kassidy plans and leads outdoor recreation trips, including snowshoeing trips for Outdoor Recreation.
“If you can walk, you can snowshoe,” Kassidy said. She went on to give me a series of tips that are important things to keep in mind when planning or preparing for a snowshoeing trip. From that discussion and another discussion with snowshoeing enthusiast Abigail Belford I came up ten helpful tips or things to consider for a snowshoeing adventure.
Willard mentioned that this is important because it is easy to get lost while you are snowshoeing.
“Have a plan of where you’re going to, because especially with snowshoeing, you’re not going down a hill, it’s not like skiing,” Willard said. “You’re just kind of like walking through the forest. It’s really easy to get lost while you’re snowshoeing, so definitely have a trail mapped out of where you’re going.”
Doing some research and bringing the necessary items to keep you from getting lost, or to help you if you do end up losing your way, like a compass and a whistle, are important. Talking to people who have done it before will help you understand the area you are headed to. Check out WTA and the Mt. Spokane website for more information on local trails and conditions as well as to find maps.
I am always excited about food. This is an aspect of snowshoeing that makes me excited to give it a try. Not only is it a good idea to bring food and water because you will be doing a lot of exercise activity, Willard mentioned because you are hiking in the snow, you have a lot of options to bring things that you would not be able to with other winter sports.
Groomed trails are an important thing to consider with Snowshoeing. Groomed trails are packed down by a groomer in order to make conditions easier to manage for skiers and snowshoers.
“With regular snowshoes, it’s best to go on trails that are packed down,” Belford said. She described a misconception about being able to float on snow whenever you are wearing snowshoeing. She said that you will still sink, but on packed trails it is much easier and better.
When choosing and planning trips for the UREC, Willard keeps the level of difficulty in mind. This is something that you should think about too.
“We choose places that are going to be easy to access,” Willard said. “Mt Spokane is a really common that we do.”
She mentioned that there was a decent incline at Mt. Spokane. You can find trail reports and descriptions on the WTA website in order to get a more accurate description of the trail you are looking at.
Willard recommends that you dress for winter sport activity, like skiing or snowboarding. This is one area where snowshoeing differs from hiking, but is more similar to other winter sports.
“It’s pretty much like dressing like you’re skiing or snowboarding, any other snow sport,” Willard said. “It’s really similar.”
Dressing warm is important, but dressing in layers can be helpful as well. You will be moving around a lot and can work up a sweat. The WTA recommends “plenty of layers made of materials such as wool or polypropylene that wick sweat and moisture away from your body” according to their website.
I know for myself, and for most college students, cost is a factor in the choices that I make in deciding on activities. I also know that snowshoes are not something that I could justify spending a ton of money on because I would probably only use them a couple of times during the winter season. Both Belford and Willard mentioned that you don’t have to own your own snow shoes. For Whitworth students, they can be rented at the UREC for anywhere from $8 to $20 depending on the type of shoes and how many days you want them. Poles are included in the rental. Details here. For non-Whitworth students, Belford recommends Fitness Fanatics located at Mt. Spokane. Snowshoes cost $25 for the day and this includes poles for reservations.
Snowshoeing is an aerobic activity that Belford described snowshoeing as “a different kind of walking.”
“It actually burns more calories than running or walking,” Belford said. “I think that’s due to a lot of the different muscle groups that you’re using when you’re walking.”
The website Snowshoeing.com says that you can burn “420-1000 calories/hour depending on terrain, weight and speed,” according to their website.
Since you are just walking in the snow, snowshoeing does not require a lot, or any experience and it also does not require a lot of risk. This can help you prepare for other winter sports.
“[Snowshoeing helps with] getting you used to having things on your feet,” Willard mentioned, describing it as a “good intro for other winter sports.”
Belford mentioned the additional safety factor—something that is important for people of all ages.
“I’m not into the falling over, breaking arms, straining my hamstrings sort of things anymore,” Belford said.
You don’t need poles to snowshoe, but they can be helpful for going uphill or for balance, Willard said. They give you the opportunity to burn more calories because you can use your arms just as much as your legs. Poles are included in some rentals, but are often not included if you are looking to purchase your own snowshoes.
Both Belford and Willard recommended Mt. Spokane as an excellent place in the area to get started, but keep in mind that you will probably need a Sno-park Pass for any official Snowshoeing trail you choose. Some trails require special trails and you can find more information on that here. The basic day permit is $20 and will work at most of the special trails. A seasonal permit is $40, but will not work at special trails. If you choose the basic day permit, you also need a Discover day pass or a Discover annual pass, which are $10 and $30 respectively.
My tip, choose to go in a group. This is a safety thing and it will help if you all chip in for the cost of the pass and the gas to get to the hike.
“Snowshoeing is the kind of thing you can do even if you’ve never done it before,” Willard said. “You can just snap on shoes and go.”