A Walk on the Wild Side: Snowshoeing Liberating, Exhilarating and Anybody Can Do It
By Karen Rubin
Ski resorts-that is, mountain resorts--have proved such a superb venue for family vacations, but what do you do when there are family members who absolutely do not want to ski or snowboard? Snowshoe.
"It's true that if you can walk, you can snowshoe," states Roger Hill, the Tubbs Snowshoe Center director at Stratton Mountain Resort. "That's a credible, no-skill required message to nonskiers who want to get outdoors in winter, plus, it's an alternative on-snow activity for late day apres-skiing."
Anybody can snowshoe proficiently. Because there are no real degrees of proficiency, you are not relegated to going out with "beginners"; rather, everyone in your group can go out together. Snowshoeing is incredibly liberating-you can go just about anywhere there is snow. It is remarkably easy to go up steep inclines, over rocky areas, down narrow trails, or around a dog-leg turn which could be intimidating on cross-country skis. You get the wonderful sunshine, crisp, fresh air and amazing views you get from skiing. What is more, snowshoeing provides a better aerobic workout and better conditioning (which means you stay warmer, too). You don't have to think about what you are doing; you can just get lost in your thoughts or caught up in the scenery.
Here, too, technology has completely changed the sport-new models by Tubbs and Atlas are light, sturdy, strap on easily and stay strapped on. You can wear your own boots or hiking shoes-preferably ones which are water resistant, warm and flexible. And they are shorter and easier to maneuver with than the old fashioned, wooden frame ones. They are sized for your weight, more than height, but not as precisely as skis, for example-in order to disperse weight so you don't plunk into the snow but stay on the surface so it is easy to walk.
Tubbs Snowshoe Centers, now at several major ski resorts (including Stratton Mountain, Vt.), have helped to promote the sport of snowshoeing by making it more accessible and easy to try; indeed, both Tubbs and another major manufacturer, Atlas, have created "just for kids" pint-sized snowshoes for children, as well as a series specially designed for women.
"Alpine and cross country skiing centers are seeking activity alternatives for their guests to round out their vacation," notes Tubbs President Ed Kiniry. "Snowshoeing is experiencing tremendous growth because of heightened emphasis on physical fitness and family-oriented winter activities. From kids to grandparents, snowshoeing is a great equalizer sport as far as ability and balance."
"Snowshoeing is an activity with universal appeal," he adds. "From the elite athlete seeking an aerobic workout to the recreational user who simply desires a walk in the woods and the snowboarder or skier seeking untracked powder, there are snowshoes designed for every need."
John Atkins, director of conditioning at Steadman/Hawkins Clinic & Sports Medicine Foundation notes that whether walking, running or hiking, snowshoeing is an excellent low-impact winter exercise. "Snowshoeing will help any athlete. It basically has all the cardiovascular components of cross-country skiing without so much of the technical factors. Anybody can snowshoe-it just depends on the exertion level and balance."
In fact, snowshoeing can burn more calories than running or cross-country skiing. Even at a moderate, 2.4 mph rate on packed snow on a flat trail, you can burn 420 calories an hour, but if you are moving at 3.5 mph, that rate increases to 740 (running 5.2 mph on a flat trail burns 570, and cross-country skiing at 3.5 mph, burns 600). And there is no better way to get those endorphins hopping.
Snowshoes are transportation. Three thousand years ago, they were essential for exploring new territories and finding food. But new, high-tech ones hardly resemble the awkward, heavy, hard to maneuver wooden ones of yore. Today, they are more efficient, lighter, compact, with metal alloy frames and solid fabric decking. And as you can imagine, designs are specialized for the function: casual walking and hiking; performance hiking; backcountry and technical hiking; and mountaineering (these are the ones that snowboarders and skiers use to get to the summit). You can buy a decent set for around $200 (Tubbs has introduced a "Discovery series" geared for first-time, value-conscious snowshoer, at $159, including poles), and kids equipment for under $100.
The only specialized equipment needed for snowshoeing are the snowshoes, themselves (though we found that poles were extremely helpful to have along). Clothing wise you need to dress in layers: the first layer should be lightweight and breathable (avoid cotton); the second layer should be insulating, such as lightweight fleece or wool, the outer layer should be waterproof and windproof. Your feet should be dressed to stay dry: socks should be made of moisture-wicking materials (wool or polypropylene); boots should be stable, comfortable and waterproof (hiking boots are best); gaiters are essential for keeping snow out of your shoes.
You also need gloves (I bring a lightweight pair as well as a heavier pair), hat, sunglasses and if the weather is really biting, a gaiter for your face. Also bring along a compass and trail map, first-aid kit, plenty of water (plan on one quart per person, per hour), extra food or energy bars in a light-weight pack (where you can also stow the extra layers you don't need). Don't forget to bring camera and film.
It is also wise to check with the local weather service before you head out. Be prepared that conditions can change abruptly. Make sure someone knows where you will be snowshoeing and your expected time of return, even if you are not going alone. Remember that it gets dark earlier in the mountains, so allocate time to return before dusk.
Ski Resorts Offer Snowshoeing
We found snowshoeing a fantastic alternative on one afternoon when the conditions had gotten too icy to really enjoy downhill skiing. On another ski trip, when high wind and frigid weather at the summit made it downright unpleasant, we joined an animal tracking snowshoeing trek through the woods where it actually felt warm and shielded from the wind.
More and more ski areas now are offering snowshoe trails, often with lift-access, or on the same trails as are used for cross-country skiing. Snowshoeing can be basic hiking, or can be combined with activities such as moonlight tours, gourmet lunch, or wildlife safaris and eco-tours.
In New England, places better known for their downhill activities, like Stratton Mountain, Mount Snow, Okemo and Smuggler's Notch in Vermont have gotten into snowshoeing in a big way; in New Hampshire, 16 cross-country resorts and 11 alpine resorts offer snowshoeing, including Bretton Woods, Loon Mountain, Waterville Valley and the Balsams.
Stowe Mountain Resort, is set in the midst of a major trail network, and offers snowshoers access to 140 kilometers of trails winding throughout the town and Stowe, and around Mt. Mansfield, Vermont's highest peak. Stowe Mountain Resort's 75 kilometers of groomed and ungroomed trails (for cross-country skiers, too), link up with trail systems at Trapp Family Lodge, Edson Hill and Topnotch at Stowe Resort and Spa to offer some of the most extensive and diverse terrain in New England. From the 5.3 -mile Recreation Path, to the formidable summit of Mt. Mansfield, skiers and snowshoers of all abilities will find scenic and challenging terrain. Stowe Mountain Resort has 75 km of groomed and ungroomed trails and 10 km of snowshoe-only terrain. Trapp's has designed 15 km of its trails as snow-shoe only. In addition to several 2-km loops near the lodge, skiers and snowers will find a 10-km loop that takes them by Slayton Pasture Cabin, where they can warm up with hot soup and sandwiches. Edson Hill adds over 25 km of groomed trails, and Topnotch at Stowe Resort & Spa has 20 km of more challenging trails, about 10 km of which are recommended for snowshoers. Call 800-253-4SKI, or www.stowe.com. Stowe is also the headquarters for the Green Mountain Club, 802-244-7037.
You can take in the natural beauty and scenery of the Black River Valley from the designated snowshoe trails on Okemo Mountain. Take a self-guided trek on Okemo's 5km maintained network of snowshoe trails that trace the periphery of Okemo Mountain on Easier and Intermediate terrain. Atlas® snowshoes are available for rent $5/hour (2 hr. minimum), $15 for a half-day and $20 for the entire day. In addition to Okemo's on-mountain snowshoe trek, Okemo also offers snowshoeing at its nearby Okemo Valley Nordic Center. Located ˝ mile from Okemo, the Nordic Center features 10km of trails that wind through open meadows and gladed terrain. Atlas snowshoe rentals are available for $9 for ˝ day and $12 for a full day. Mix'n'match cross country skis or snowshoes for the same price (call 802 228-8871 for details and for the latest trail conditions).
Smugglers' Notch Resort, which offers 20 km of dedicated snowshoeing trails, incorporates snowshoeing into its incomparable family programs, offering 1 ˝-hour guided hikes with a naturalist and some moonlit walks; there is even a nighttime walk topped off with a view of fireworks and a family walk and on-mountain picnic dinner (800-451-8752. www.smuggs.com/winter/)
Stratton Mountain Resort has teamed up with Tubbs Snowshoe to offer an Adventure Center and a 12-week winter fitness program that begins with a low-intensity snowshoe tour and evolves into workouts on an adventure course as well as interval training on hills. An expanded network of backcountry snowshoe trails provides guests with an easily navigable network that still delivers a real back country experience. Take advantage of the bi-weekly moonlight tour (with or without headlamps) to the Pearl S. Buck Cabin. Tubbs sponsors a free demo day once a month at the rental center (802-297-2200, www.stratton.com).
Jay Peak naturalists offer 1 ˝ hour snowshoe tours by moonlight through the woods and cross-country trails; boots, Tubbs snowshoes and headlamps are available (802-988-2611, www.jaypeakresort.com).
Sugarbush, which offers spectacular scenery and a vast wilderness area, offers snowshoe rentals and free guided tours for guests who may not feel like skiing every day of their vacation (800-53-SUGAR, www.sugarbush.com). Sugarbush is working hand-in-hand with nearby Mad River Glen, which has naturalist-led snowshoe treks (800-82-VISIT).
Bolton Valley offers an outstanding snowshoeing terrain on a vast backcountry network of trails (802-434-3444, www.boltonvalleyvt.com).
Vermont affords many other opportunities to experience snowshoeing in picturesque surroundings. At Heermansmith Farms, Coventry (802-754-8866), there are 125 acres of trails. Sugarmill Farm, Barton (800-688,7978) is open weekdays and by appointment for access to great ungroomed trails. The Wilerness Trails at the Queechee Inn offer trails that provide views of waterfalls, the Quechee Gorge; check for full-moon tours (802-295-7620, www.quecheeinn.com). The Woodstock Ski Touring Center, which is operated by the charming and historic Woodstock Inn in picturesque Woodstock, offers 70 km of trails for snowshoeing (802-457-6674, www.woodstockinn.com). Similarly, the Equinox Nordic Center, operated by the historic Equinox Hotel in Manchester Vermont, has 20 km of snowshoeing trails (802-362-4700, www.equinoxresort.com), while just up the street, Hildene Ski Touring Center, on the historic estate that was once Robert Todd Lincoln's, offers trails and moonlight tours (802-362-1788, www.hildene.org).
Snowshoeing may also be enjoyed at Vermont's many state parks (bring your own equipment or rent in advance). For information, contact Vermont's Dept. of Forests, Parks & Recreation, 802-241-3655.
For further information call 1-800-Vermont, or visit www.skivermont.com or 222.1-800-vermont.com.
New Hampshire's Wilderness Trails
New Hampshire, with its dramatic peaks and vast wilderness, offers extraoardinary places for snowshoeing.
The Balsams, a grand and historic, all-inclusive resort hotel in Dixville Notch, NH, is set on a 15,000 acre private estate of wilderness and offers 25 km of dedicated trails which are marked and annotated. This season, the resort is offering snowshoe workshops suitable to young and old, expert and novice, conducted by professionals from L.L. Bean (the equipment is provided at no cost); 800-255-0600, www.thebalsams.com.
Another grand and historic hotel, the Mount Washington, is now open in winter to cater to downhillers at Bretton Woods, which has grown into a substantial mountain, but also is a top-rated center for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on property (800-258-0330, www.brettonwoods.com) and through the Mount Washington Valley Ski Touring and Snowshoe Center, Intervale (603-356-9920).
Indeed, the White Mountains of New Hampshire are phenomenal for snowshoeing. The Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center (Rt. 16 in Pinkham Notch, at the base of the Mt. Washington Auto Road), is centered on 1,100 wooded acres surrounded by the Northern Presidential Range. It offers over 20 km of groomed Nordic skiing and snowshoeing and countless miles of backcountry terrain; what is more, it offers snowmaking capability to there is snowshoeing from early November through April. Great Glen offers guided winter tours to just above tree-line along the Mt. Washington Auto Road, aboard a specially prepared 1998 12-passenger Ford van (603-466-2333).
The Nordic Center at Waterville Valley offers snowshoeing on 105 km of trails and moonlit tours on 35 km of backcountry trails. The trails offer magnificent views of 4,000 foot peaks that surround the valley, particularly from the peak of Snow's Mountain (800-468-2553, www.waterville.com)
At Loon Mountain, guides introduce guests on snowshoes to Snow-Cology, the local ecology, topography, history and folklore, while experiencing a three-hour snowshoe trek through the National Forest. There are 10 km of backcountry trails for snowshoers, plus the use of 35 km of cross-country trails (800-227-4191, www.loonmtn.com).
New Hampshire also offers many cross-country resorts which are great for snowshoeing: The Franconia Village Cross Country Ski Center, which is very near Loon Mountain mountain resort, allows snowshoeing on all 105 km of trails, which meander through magnificent national forest land, some following the Coppermine Brook to the spectacular Bridalveil Falls waterfall, while others go through the breathtakingly beautiful Franconia Notch State Park (800-473-5299, www.franconiainn.com).
Bear Notch Ski Touring Center, Bartlett, offers 15 km of trails specifically for snowshoeing, not to mention " unlimited" backcountry areas. The uncrowded trails offer pristine waterfalls, riverside views, picturesque open measdows from a 200-year old farmhouse base lodge. Take advantage of the Yates Ledge Tour, a four-hour snowshoe tour (603-37402277, www.bearnotchski.com).
For further information about Ski New Hampshire's cross-country resorts, contact 800-88-SKI-NH, www.skinh.com.
Way Out West
Vail/Beaver Creek, Colo. has positioned itself as the "capital of snowshoeing." Beaver Creek's McCoy Cross-Country and Snowshoe Park atop Beaver Creek Mountain is one of only a few of its kind at any North American ski resort. Here, guests snowshoe on 37 kilometers of tracked and untracked trails at an elevation of 9,840 feet with breathtaking views of nearby New York Mountain. Rental of Atlas snowshoes is available, and guests can sign up for half day and full-day gourmet lunch tours. Also, Beaver Creek is home to the "Snowshoe Shuffle," the largest snowshoe "festival" in North America (maybe the world), on the first Saturday in April. Participants can choose from among 10K and 5K races or the one-mile fun stroll. (For more information on events, contact 800-645-SHOE).
Aspen-Snowmass, Colo. offers daily two-hour naturalist-guided snowshoe tours in conjunction with the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies atop Aspen Mountain and at Two Creeks at Snowmass. After a quick 14-minute gondola ride, the Aspen Mountain tours take guests along Richmond Ridge, located at over 11,000 ft. on the backside of Aspen Mountain (an easy walk, suitable for almost any level of fitness). The Snowmass tour departs from the ticket pavilion at Two Creeks, the eastern base of Snowmass; guests travel up the Two Creeks lift and then either travel down the mountain or explore the Elk Camp, riding the lift back down (depart at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., $39/adult, $17 kids 8-12 including equipment, guide, snack, 800-525-6200, or ACES at 970-925-5746). There is also snowshoeing through the Aspen/Snowmass Cross-Country Center, offering access to one of the largest systems of free, groomed Nordic trails in North America. (For those who are fit and experienced, there is also exquisite snowshoeing on a seven-mile cross-country skiing trail, to the majestic Maroon Bells.
Telluride, in Colorado's awesome San Juan Mountains, offers scenic Prospect Bowl Snowshoe Tours, which take guests into the backcountry with experienced guides to learn about the region's history, flora and fauna (800-801-4832).
Crested Butte, Colo., offers snowshoeing through its No Limits Center adventure program (888-954-6487, ext. 2296).
Contact Colorado Ski Country, USA, for more information, www.coloradoski.com.
Big Sky Resort, in Montana, opened an uphill trail, Moose Tracks, to cater to snowshoers. The trail starts at the base area, between Andesite and Lone Mountains, and quickly takes you into old growth forest and meadows perfectly pitched for snowshoeing. Snowshoes are available for rent for adults as well as children (800-548-4486).
Snowshoeing can also be a part of the ecology adventures offered by the Great Plains Wildlife Institute, in Jackson, Wyoming, including full-day "Wildlife Discovery" safaris (8 a.m.-4 p.m. daily) where you assist a working biologist in research (wolves have now been spotted; also moose, coyote and pronghorn antelope, even red fox which are having a resurgence; private trips for families with children arranged; 307-833-2723). There are also ranger-led snowshoe hikes into Grand Teton National Park.
Where in the World
Finding places to snowshoe is a click away. Tubbs offers a global snowshoe trail locator: www.tubbs-trailnet.com. When you purchase Tubbs snowshoes, you are enrolled in Tubbs Acess Adventure club which provides free/discounted trail passes at select resorts, discounts on gear and entry in monthly drawings for prizes. Similarly, Atlas has a Snow Shoe Crew Affinity Club, which provides an Explore Winter Card allowing trail access at various resorts; discounts on partner events, clothing and publications; invitations to events; and a newsletter (www.atlassnowshoe.com). Also, the American Hiking Society provides information on where to snowshoe via regional clubs and trail partners (301-565-6704).
© 2001 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. E-mail questions or comments to FamTravLtr@aol.com.