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Home / Articles / Arts & Entertainment / Get Out /  Backcountry Snowshoeing
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Backcountry Snowshoeing

Mountains by Showshoe: Backcountry exploration requires the right footwear.

By Wina Sturgeon
Posted // December 16,2009 -

Don’t ski? Don’t snowboard? Don’t worry! You can still have fun in the snow. Go hiking, go running or go for a serene walk on a pair of snowshoes. You don’t even have to own your own modern pair of this ancient winter-walking gear. Rent ones that you can use from dawn to dusk for about $10. It’s great exercise.

“It’s a lot like hiking, but you’re working slightly different muscles because the width of the snowshoes requires a slightly wider stance than hiking. Snowshoeing gets your heart rate up quickly. It gets my heart rate going more quickly than hiking ever does,” says John Blodgett, the active editor of Utah CEO Magazine.

The cool thing about snowshoeing is that it allows you to handle any kind of terrain. You can climb up steep hills with less effort than it would take to walk them in summer in hiking boots. That’s because snowshoes all have a traction cleat on the bottom, like a crampon, that digs into the snow. It holds the foot firm, so it doesn’t slip backwards even on hard pack. On softer snow, or even powder, snowshoes are an effortless delight. Because they float over the surface of the snow, you can gallop down the hill, bounced slightly upward as if on a trampoline, because of the resilience of the material inside the snowshoe frame. It’s an absolutely wonderful feeling to bound down a snowy hill more surefooted than you’ve ever been in summer sneakers.

Paul Vernon, sales specialist at REI, is a snowshoe expert. He advises that whether you rent or purchase a pair, you should get the right type for the way you intend to use them.

“If you’ll be walking or running in them, get a running style, which is very short and has a more ‘feathered’ tail, shaped like a feather quill in back,” Vernon says. “For soft snow or powder, you want long, flat and fatter snowshoes with more floatation, U-shaped in back. ‘Aggressive’ snowshoes are for climbing steep slopes: They are more tractionoriented for going up hills. Aggressive snowshoes will be small to keep them lightweight, because those are for mobility rather than floatation. You don’t have to wear any specific shoes, but we recommend something warm and waterproof.” Outdoor stores that sell or rent snowshoes will usually have all three types in different brands.

With snowshoeing, you have a lot more available terrain than you do with skis or a snowboard. No need to worry about snow depth or the occasional rock; wherever the ground is white, pull out your snowshoes and go for a hike. Choose easy, intermediate or expert terrain.

Blodgett has a favorite spot in Big Cottonwood Canyon. “I usually go up to Grizzly Gulch, across from Spruces Campground. It’s about a moderate level or above in places. Keep hiking and eventually you get up to some beautiful aspen groves, but you need to really be aware of snow conditions,” he says.

Heed him. Even on snowshoes, there’s avalanche danger in the mountains, especially after a big storm. Always check with the Forest Service about the avalanche danger at the spot you intend to go, and always let someone know where you’re going and what time you intend to be back.

Walking snowshoes sell for about $100, though you can buy used ones for less. Aggressive pairs range from $200 to $300. Rent them at outdoor shops like REI or Kirkham’s—$10 for a full day, $8 for every day thereafter. You can even return them the morning of the following day, just in case the hours on snowshoes require the perfection of spending the evening in front of a blazing fireplace, reliving the wonderful feeling of being a mountain goat floating over snow-covered hills.

 
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