Jeremiah Johnson would have been intrigued. Instead of using those old wooden snowshoes to go out and check the traps, people today are using new fandangled ones to exercise!
Snowshoeing as a sport and fitness option is catching on. I talked with John Hinderliter who leads snowshoe expeditions for a group in Western Pennsylvania called Venture Outdoors. The goal of this organization is to get people outside in all seasons, for as many reasons as possible.
TKF: How did you get started snowshoeing?
JOHN: I’ve been snowshoeing for something like 10 years now, so it’s difficult to remember what got me started. I think I was just looking for another way to make winter more fun. I already had the cross country skis, but hated having to travel to use them. Most years the snow around here isn’t consistent enough for cross country skiing, but you can snowshoe in any kind of snow. You can also go anywhere, like through deep woods that would be impossible on skis. Being able to explore anywhere was very attractive.
TKF: Is it true that "anyone can snowshoe" and that "if you can walk, you can snowshoe" or is that simplifying things too much?
JOHN: No, that’s about the truth. It¹s very easy to get onto, which is one of the reasons I like leading snowshoe hikes for Venture Outdoors � there’s no
learning curve. It keeps people from being intimidated about trying something new.
TKF: How much training is needed before you do your first snowshoe expedition?
JOHN: Once again, the beauty of snowshoes is that you can get any kind of workout you want. If you’re not in very good shape, you can just casually walk around where it’s flat and easy going. At the other end of the spectrum, since the snowshoes have steel cleats on the bottom, you can literally go anywhere. And I mean ANYWHERE. You can go as vertical as your heart and lungs can take. You can also go as fast as you want. Running in snowshoes is an extremely hard workout. But, get this: It’s a zero impact workout because of the snow! Well, unless you trip and fall.
TKF: There are lots of different types of snowshoes available. I understand that you chose one based on your weight but are there other things to consider?
JOHN: Like any type of athletic equipment, there are all kinds of snowshoes for all kinds of uses. There are tiny, lightweight versions for snowshoe racing, which is usually on packed snow. There are huge backcountry snowshoes for deep powder and heavy loads, and there are those in between. For most folks, it¹s those “in between” ones that will work best.
Prices vary according to size and quality. Backcountry or expedition snowshoes are built with high-end materials and are designed to be abused for a long time. Lighter snowshoes also tend to be more expensive because they’re built from more expensive materials. Most folks would do fine with a pair of sport shoes. There’s virtually no difference in function between them and the top-end snowshoes. I’ve seen snowshoes on-line for as low as $80 per pair.
When you purchase snowshoes you do so according to your weight. The heavier you are the bigger the snowshoe that’s needed to spread the weight over a bigger surface so you don’t sink into the snow. Remember, when considering your weight to add at least 20 pounds for the clothing, water and food you’ll be carrying.
You’re better off with snowshoes that are a little bigger than you need than the opposite. I weigh 220 pounds on a good day and own two sets of snowshoes. One pair is 28 inches long and I use them on packed or crusted snow. The other pair is a whopping 36 inches long and they get hauled out when the snow is fluffy or I’m carrying a pack.
TKF: Any safety tips for beginners?
JOHN: The safety tips would be the same for any winter outdoor activity. Dress in layers, don't wear cotton, and carry water and snacks. A cell phone wouldn’t hurt in case of emergencies, but you’d be surprised how little cell coverage there is in the woods. Remember that it gets dark very quickly in the winter.
It’s best to head out with a partner. It only takes one spill and a sprained ankle or broken leg to make for a life-threatening situation in cold weather. One of the nice things about snowshoeing is that if you get turned around and a little lost, it¹s really easy to follow your tracks back to the start.
TKF: If a person had time for only one winter sport, is this the one you would recommend?
Good question. Probably, because you can do it anywhere.
TKF: What are some of the other benefits of snowshoeing?
JOHN: There are lots of benefits. Certainly it’s a good workout. As far as
equipment expense goes, it's definitely cheaper than any kind of skiing.
Plus, you can buy snowshoes, put them on and go - no lessons needed. You also don’t need to go anywhere special to do it. Find a parking spot and head into the woods! The main reasons I like it so much are that you get to see scenery nobody else is going to see, you get to explore places nobody else can get to, you get to work off as many calories as you want, and it helps make winter fun instead of something to dread.
TKF: Snowshoeing is often shown as a family sport but is it exciting enough for more active Boomers?
JOHN: The beauty of snowshoeing is that it can be anything you want it to be. You want a hard workout or excitement? Head to the mountains. Last winter a friend and I spent just short of five hours busting through deep snow on Laurel Ridge, just an hour east of Pittsburgh. Some of the terrain was very steep, both up and down, the scenery was spectacular (we were the only ones who were seeing it because ours were the only tracks), and the workout left us wasted. If that kind of workout isn¹t enough for the more competitive, there are always snowshoe races. Ain’t nuttin’ harder than that!
TKF: What would you say to encourage Boomers or seniors to try snowshoeing?
JOHN: It’s knee-friendly!
John can be reached through his website at http://www.johnhinderliter.com.
By Teresa K. Flatley