We are less than three weeks away from the official start of spring. But as I sit writing this, the temperature is hovering around -26C, make that -36C with windchill. One of the top news stories I struggled to hear this morning, through the blankets piled over my head, stated that we've had snow on the ground in Calgary for 110 consecutive days. February saw 30% more snow than on average, according to Environment Canada, confirmed by the miniature mountain range lining my driveway.
Perhaps I’ve already lost a brain cell or two to hypothermia, but rather than joining the frozen hordes heading south to thaw in the tropics, I have a radically different cold cure: you should go snowshoeing. An enthusiastic hiker/biker in summer, I’ve been spending my winters firmly attached to the couch. But the need to prepare for a physical challenge looming this summer finally motivated me to choose a winter sport. After waffling for years between purchasing cross-country skis or snowshoes, my husband informed me one day this past January that he was going to buy himself a pair of snowshoes that night. I said, “Pick me up a pair too, please.” “Blue or green?” he asked. And thus began our recent addiction to snowshoeing.
The snowshoe is one of the oldest inventions, traced back 6000 years to Central Asia. People who moved west to northern Asia and Europe favoured skis, while those who migrated east across the Bering Strait embraced the snowshoe. North American Indians refined the design and made many variations for the particular snow conditions they encountered. Snowshoes were essential survival equipment for trappers, hunters and explorers. In recent years, snowshoeing has experienced a resurgence in popularity as an easy, cheap alternative to skiing or snowboarding.
The great thing about snowshoeing is that if you can walk, you can snowshoe! No other skills are required, and this makes snowshoeing a good activity for people of any age and fitness level. And the gear is minimal: 1) snowshoes and 2) warm boots and clothes which you already have if you’ve survived previous winters successfully. Throw a thermos of soup or hot chocolate in your backpack, and you’re ready to hit the trails.
There’s an overwhelming variety of snowshoes available for purchase at all price points. No longer limited to the large, traditional wood and rawhide styles, you can now find a huge selection of narrower, lightweight snowshoes to suit your needs. Rent some first to make sure you enjoy it and to try out different styles.
Virtually any hiking trail can be snowshoed, depending on your level of experience in winter conditions. Before you venture out to the mountains, visit your favourite Calgary park and make sure your gear fits and works closer to home. To avoid avalanche danger and keep you on safe terrain, Kananaskis Country offers a dozen beginner/intermediate trails that are signed and groomed exclusively for snowshoers: Kanaskis Country Snowshoe Trails
For snowshoeing suggestions in the Banff/Lake Louise area, check out the Parks Canada website.
So, although spring is “just around the corner,” that above-average snowfall we’ve had is going to linger a bit longer. Avoid the delicate, sun-seeking crowds fleeing south. Get in touch with your inner hardy Canadian, strap on some snowshoes, and have fun out there!
If you’re a thorough researcher and would like to read up on the history of snowshoeing, choosing equipment, snowshoeing with kids, and winter safety, or are simply concerned, as I was, whether or not you’re walking “correctly” in your snowshoes, check out these Library titles: