The scoop on snowshoeing

In the last few years, you've likely heard someone you know talk about going snowshoeing. Maybe you've even tried it yourself or have seen the wall of snowshoes at local sporting good stores.

The ancient Inuit method of walking on deep snow has re-emerged as an athletic fad in the past few years, exploding in popularity among outdoor enthusiasts, especially on the Lower Mainland, which boasts the top snowshoe resorts on the continent.

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Here in the Peace Region the activity is picking up as well, as people are beginning to take advantage of the area's scenic trails, ideal snow pack and perfect weather conditions for the sport.

"The snow quality here is a lot better because it's powder," said snowshoe enthusiast Andrew Wallwork, a long-time snowshoer who moved to Fort St. John from Vancouver five months ago. "Vancouver only got its first snow last weekend, so there's a big difference there. We always have snow here."

"I like the fact it's diversified," he added. "You're not just stuck with the mountains; you can go wherever and there's snow so there's lots of choices. You're not just restricted to a few places and it's close."

Whereas in Vancouver you have to travel across downtown (and its traffic) to get to Cypress or Grouse Mountain to snowshoe, here you only have to drive five minutes to find yourself in Charlie Lake, at the Cactus Trails on the Beatton River, Fish Creek Community Forest or even the trails at Links Golf Course. While in Dawson Creek it is a quick ride up Bear Mountain to the snowshoe designated trails at the cross-country ski club, or for a loop around Radar Lake.

"You can go places where you can't go on skis," said Eliza Stanford, president of the Whiskey Jack Nordic Ski Club. "If you like to hike then snowshoeing is the winter version of it. You can take your dog and it's great."

"You can go anywhere," she said. "The other day there was lots of snow in the community forest and it was too deep for walking, so I just brought my snowshoes. It was way easier than hiking in boots."

Snowshoeing has become the fastest growing winter sport in the world, more popular than snowboarding and it is already becoming a huge commercial market. Since 2008 the sport has grown over 40 per cent based on data from the Outdoor Industry Association. The majority of snowshoers are aged 25 to 44, while nearly 10 per cent are children.

With snowshoes ranging in price from $100 to $400 a pair, it's also an affordable activity, as it's much cheaper than most winter sports such as snowboarding, hockey or skiing.

"It's one of the cheapest things you can do in the winter," Stanford said. "If you don't want to commit to skiing, get yourself a pair of snowshoes for $150 and you're set. All you need are some good boots, maybe some poles but you don't have to use them, and that's pretty cheap."

"Skiing can costs upwards of $350, and that's for low-grade equipment."

The sport's growing popularity might also be explained by the simplicity of the activity. Unlike skiing, you don't need lessons to use snowshoes and it's easy to learn.

"If you can walk, you can snowshoe," Stanford said, laughing. "You don't need any skill. You just put them on and you walk."

Wallwork agreed.

"It's accessible for everybody. The cost is not that high, you can take it to your fitness level and it's an all-ages appropriate activity," he said. "You're getting lots of fresh air and because you're in the cold you're burning more calories. It's easier on the joints yet it can get your heart rate up fast if you wanted to."

Snowshoes range in size and types. There are recreational hiking, aerobic/fitness and hiking/backpacking shoes. According to Snowshoe Magazine, recreational hiking snowshoes are the most basic and preferred shoe for beginners. They work best in simple, flat terrain while aerobic/fitness shoes are for those who run or race in snowshoes.

Hiking/backpacking snowshoes are for the very experienced snowshoer. They have a more durable frame and are more suitable for deep powder and inclines.

Snowshoes also come in sizes that can fit a toddler or a senior, which makes it a perfect activity for the whole family.

"It's becoming a family activity," Wilson said. "We're seeing dads come home from camp who want to spend more time with family and do family activities."

"You can have a conversation on the trails and have a nice hot chocolate afterward," added Wallwork. "It's not just about the snowshoes."

Like any outdoor activity, be prepared to be caught in unexpected situations. It's always a good idea to go with a friend if you're in the backcountry, and although the Peace Region isn't known for its avalanche warnings, keep some emergency items at hand, like a GPS device, granola bars and extra clothes.

"Know what you're getting into," Wallwork said. "Looks can be deceiving. At the end of the day stuff can happen, so be aware. Have enough clothing and don't assume nothing can happen. Be prepared."

"Make sure your boots are comfortable and you have warm feet," added Stanford.

For more information on regional snowshoeing trails, check with B.C. Parks or your local Nordic clubs.

© Copyright Alaska Highway News

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