Polar Snowshoeing – Walk Your Way to Fun & Adventure
What’s the fastest growing winter sport in the world? Skiing? Snowboarding? Would you believe snowshoeing? Yes, snowshoeing, one of the oldest Arctic activities ever created, is more popular than ever. It’s easy to learn, a great calorie burner, a fun social activity and a wonderful way to enjoy nature. Plus, snowshoeing is safe compared to those other hi-speed alpine sports. It’s also inexpensive - the only equipment needed is your usual outdoor winter wear… and snowshoes. Compared to the cost of skis, boots and poles, snowshoes are an incredible value.
Snowshoeing has been around for thousands of years – some say snowshoes were invented between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago. For eons, snowshoes were essential for the survival of trappers, traders and those whose lives depended on mobility over deep snow.
The shoes were made with a hardwood frame covered with rawhide lacings. Even today, there are some enthusiasts who still use wooden snowshoes. This is because the wooden frames don’t freeze easily and they are very quiet over the snow.
However, the traditional snowshoe has evolved into today’s more commonly used hi-tech aluminum and composite models such as polypropylene. These shoes require very little maintenance and they’re lighter, stronger and safer.
These newer designs are one reason for the sport’s new popularity. Now, even ski resorts are offering snowshoe trails for those wanting to enjoy a slower route over the fresh snow.
Families have taken to snowshoeing as an activity they can enjoy together. In fact, ten percent of the snowshoeing population are children. Snowshoe aficionados seem to come in three categories: those who casually snowshoe for fun, more serious enthusiasts who explore backcountry terrain and serious competitors who race.
Snowshoe Your Way to Health
The sport is a great way to improve your cardiovascular fitness. Snowshoeing through the beautiful backcountry can burn more than 600 calories per hour. In fact, snowshoeing can burn at least 45 per cent more calories than walking or running at the same speed. All this calorie burning makes snowshoeing a fun way to lose weight. When one considers the dynamics of snowshoeing, it is clearly a low-impact, aerobic and sustainable way to get some enjoyable exercise during the winter months.
If You Can Walk You Can Snowshoe
Compared to other winter sports and sports in general, snowshoeing is quite easy to learn. After all, you are making use of a skill you’ve been using your entire life!
Here are several techniques you can try to make your snowshoeing experience more enjoyable.
First, practice widening your stance as you walk. This will allow you to avoid stepping on the snowshoes themselves. But just be aware – your muscles might feel a bit achy after your first session. There’s nothing wrong with this; they are just being used in new ways and have to adjust.
Going uphill - always use your toe or crampons for traction. In powdery snow, kick into the snow to make a step to support your weight. On hardpack snow, use your crampons or claws and poles to get a firm footing.
Just remember – snowshoes are not that effective on ice. Often beginner snowshoers will climb up a steep slope to the summit and then have a hard time getting back down. Check your route first before you set up. Some summer hiking routes may too difficult to use as snowshoe trails.
Going downhill - your body position is important. Keep your knees bent and relaxed, with your body weight leaning back just a bit. With your poles in front of you, walk by planting your heel first and then your toe.
When you want to avoid very steep or difficult terrain, you can traverse, or walk sideways up or downhill. As you walk, push the uphill side of each snowshoe into the hill to create a shelf for you to step onto. Try to keep your weight on the uphill snowshoe. To make best use of your poles, lengthen the downhill pole and collapse the uphill pole so they are even.
Speaking of poles, they aren’t really necessary on flat, level terrain. But when you want to snowshoe either uphill or downhill, poles can be very helpful (packing tip!). Adjustable poles are preferred as they can be shortened for going uphill and lengthened when descending.
Generally, the most effective pole length allows your arm to bend at a right angle.
Dressing for Snowshoeing Success
Remember, in cold, wet climates cotton garments are not a good choice as they don’t insulate well, especially when wet.
Always layer your clothing so you can remove layers as you work up a sweat, or add if you get colder. For a base layer, use a synthetic or wool long underwear that will insulate and dry quickly. Over the base layer, use a synthetic or wool insulating layer to retain body heat. Finally, an outer layer will block out water and wind. For this, a waterproof, breathable shell jacket is best.
Your head and neck can lose an enormous amount of body heat if not insulated. Use a wool or synthetic hat or balaclava to stay warm. Always wear waterproof gloves or mittens to keep your hands dry. Don’t forget sunglasses to protect against intense UV rays which are even stronger when reflected off the snow.
Don’t forget about your feet – this may be the most important area to protect. Try to use insulated, waterproof boots with thick soles (covered on Ortelius and Plancius). After all, you will be walking on top of freezing snow. Again, wool or synthetic socks are best to keep you warm even if they get wet.
You might also want to consider gaiters. Strapping these over your boots will keep out the snow as you walk through deeper snow.
Snowshoe your way inland from the Polar shorelines
Now that you know the basics of snowshoeing, it’s time to step into this popular sport. For those who become proficient there are opportunities to participate in snowshoe races such as the Arctic Winter Games.
You can also enjoy snowshoeing as part of a larger cruise experience. Oceanwide Expeditions offers snowshoe trips to the Arctic and Antarctica so you can really experience this fun sport while you explore these beautiful polar regions. Every snowshoe group is accompanied by a specialist guide during the activity.
So what are you waiting for? Snowshoeing is fun, easy and a great way to enjoy the scenic winter landscape.