Liking it or not (as we return from a scuba diving trip in the Cayman islands it’s more “not” at this time) winter has arrived. In our usual desire to find something inexpensive, fun and easy to do together … something that builds intimacy (i.e. not a group sport) and can lead to wonderful romantic moments… we tried snowshoeing.
The first time we tried snowshoeing as a couple, there were big fat snowflakes the size of moth balls falling from the sky. We grinned from ear to ear as we swished, swashed and sloshed through the new fluffy powder. Sticking tongues out like a small kids to taste the snow. We quickly learned to never walk briskly with snowshoes while trying to catch falling snowflakes in your mouth. Why you ask? One moment you’ll be gazing at a perfect winter sky, the next you’ll be a face-plant casualty.
The experience was wonderful and reminiscent of cheesy “Kodak” moments. We enjoyed everything from nature “showing off” as squirrels, deer, snow owls and other northern climate survivors displayed the true meaning of winter beauty. We stopped in awe at an icicle formation between two trees that rivalled the tallest chimney and gleamed like a diamond in the winter sun. The crisp blue sky and large clouds made the entire moment feel like a fairy tale as we sat in the snow and tried to point out shapes and images from the white fluff above our heads. We kissed under a snow laden pine, tossed snowballs in mock war and sipped hot chocolate from a thermos making every kiss and hug a delectable one.
If you are thinking of those big wooden snowshoes, think again. Snowshoeing has come a long way baby! Modern snowshoes are made of lightweight aluminum (or plastic alloys) and some recent models even have spring-loaded systems that snaps the snowshoes back to your feet after each step. It’s great if a little unnerving at first. While modern versions are skinnier than classic models and are less awkward to use, it is important to remember that the larger the base the more flotation you’ll have in the snow.
Most modern brands also come with prongs beneath the balls of the feet and heels, or along the edges making it easier to descend hills, while teeth along the edges are essential for moving sideways up an incline.
One great aspect of snowshoeing is that it’s easy to learn. In fact everyone can do it and it’s relatively cheap. There’s no travel cost – you can do it at the park near your home! You don’t need to take lessons either although – turning around and getting up after a fall are basic skills you’ll need. The easiest way to get up is to roll on your front and push yourself into a kneeling position. From your knees you can then use your arms to push yourself back up to your feet. Ski or hiking poles can be useful in this situation but we don’t use them preferring to have a “hands free” approach for winter photography, snowball tossing, pointing, helping the other up if needed and of course … holding hands.
To turn around, lift one foot and place it at a 90-degree angle in front of the other (forming a T with your feet). Then shift your weight and bring the other snowshoe alongside. Do it again to make the full turn. On moderate hills keep your feet pointing straight ahead, and as you step up, transfer your weight on the front of your uphill snowshoe to create traction. When descending, weight the heel of your foot as you step down. On steeper inclines you may need to kick more aggressively into the slope and then stamp your feet a few times to create a solid platform before finishing the step. Or … slide down the hill on your ass – our personal favourite.
For those still obsessing about exercise and weight lose, here is a great tidbit of information. A recently conducted study (we can’t recall by whom or where) found that breaking trail over flat and varied terrain at about 5 km per hour burns about 600 calories an hour if you put your ass into it. You see, exercising in the cold is a great way to lose weight because our bodies burn more calories just trying to stay warm. The same study showed that participants burn twice as many calories while snowshoeing as they do walking at a similar speed and it’s a lot easier on the knees.
If you have a love for hot chocolates this may well be your way to earn one guilt free!
Do us both a favour however, and be smart. Don’t go into mountainous terrain where avalanche hazards are a problem. If you’re planning to go there you’ll need to attend an avalanche course, carry the proper rescue equipment, and know how to use it. Get a guide for something like that. Honestly, it’s worth it! And try and remember that daytime temperatures can plummet at startling speeds, so snowshoe with a buddy, and give yourself time to get back to “base” (your home or car) before dark.
Try it once and you might just get hooked. Now …. On to dog sledding!