A Shoe In
Story: Jim Dyar
EXPLORE THE NORTH STATE WITH SNOWSHOES
The appeal of snowshoeing can be summed up in the lines from a famous Christmas carol, where the “snow is glistening,” it’s “a beautiful sight,” and you’re “walking in a winter wonderland.”
“Being in the mountains in the snow is very surreal, very tranquil,” explains David Dodd, an avid snowshoer and employee at Sports Ltd. in Redding. “It’s super peaceful out there. You can hike from a road and within five or 10 minutes, you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere.”
While the pristine beauty and stillness of the winter backcountry are some of the biggest attractions to the sport, snowshoeing has many other positive qualities. For instance, the learning curve is almost zero – if you can walk, you can probably snowshoe. It’s also fairly inexpensive – once you invest in a pair of snowshoes (new, they typically run from $100 to $250) you’re pretty much set for life. It’s an excellent family activity, and tromping through the snow is a great workout.
The North State offers some tremendous terrain for snowshoeing. Lassen Volcanic National Park and Mt. Shasta are two of the most popular destinations.
But basically where there’s snow, there’s an opportunity to snowshoe.Although the sport is easy and fun, there are some factors to consider that will help maximize the experience and keep a person safe. Here are some basics:
EQUIPMENT: Not counting the old-style wooden snowshoes, there are two main designs in modern snowshoes. MSR makes several models of composite plastic snowshoes with parallel steel traction blades on the underside. Companies like Atlas, Tubbs and Red Feather make canvas-style snowshoes with outer aluminum frames. One advantage to the MSR design is that extending “tails” may be attached (or detached) to change the surface area of the shoe depending on snow conditions.
Picking what size of snowshoe to wear depends on a person’s weight and snow conditions. A larger snowshoe will keep a person from sinking deeper down in powder; however, bigger shoes are a bit more cumbersome to walk in.
Sports Ltd., Hermit’s Hut, Sports Authority and Big 5 Sporting Goods are among the Redding retailers that sell snowshoes. Because of the longevity of snowshoes, purchasing used equipment is a solid option. Sports Ltd. and Hermit’s Hut also rent snowshoes.
Trekking poles add stability for climbing and descending. Collapsible poles are nice for adjusting the height to the individual snowshoer. Poles typically run from $70-$130.
CLOTHING: Layering is the key to warmth and enjoyment. Undergarment layers (like polypropylene or wool) that wick sweat from your skin are essential. Avoid cotton. Breathable water-resistant pants and jackets are good to have as outer layers. A warm fleece top is excellent to wear under your jacket. While snowshoeing, you can remove your jacket or fleece if it’s warm, and replace them if it gets windy or cold.
A warm hat that covers your ears is a must (taking two hats is never a bad idea), as are warm, waterproof gloves. A comfortable (and Dodd stresses the word “comfortable”) pair of waterproof boots or shoes are needed. Warm (non-cotton) socks can be layered depending on the warmth of the boots or shoes. Taking an extra pair of socks and/or gloves is advisable.
“Don’t plan for the best scenario, plan for the worst scenario and you’ll be alright,” says Brent Bowen, customer service manager at Hermit’s Hut in Redding. “A lot can change out there in a hurry.”
Depending on what type of pants you’re wearing, waterproof gaiters (removable coverings for your lower legs) can be ideal for keeping snow away from your boots. Gaiters run from $10 to $60, and are sold at both Sports Ltd. and Hermit’s Hut.
EXTRAS: Because of the cooler winter temperatures, people often forget the importance of hydration. Walking in snowshoes can get your heart pumping. Replacing fluids is paramount. A smaller backpack (many of the hydration packs used for cycling work well) can carry not only water, but extra clothing layers, food and other items such as a flashlight or multi-tool.
Food is also essential for hikes that last longer than 45 minutes or so. Energy bars, fruit, nuts or sandwiches are all good options. Being hungry can certainly limit the enjoyment a person has while snowshoeing.
Sunscreen for your face and sunglasses are must-have items. Lightweight emergency bivouacs (a bag you can climb into) and blankets are easy to throw into a pack. They can prove to be lifesavers.
SNOW SHOE CONDITIONS AND WEATHER: Weather can change in a hurry in the mountains. A snowstorm can be cold and wet, but can also cover your tracks, thus negating your one solid option for avoiding getting lost.
Snowshoes provide the ability to climb steep slopes, but trekkers should always be aware of avalanche conditions. If an open slope looks unstable or dangerous, it’s best to avoid it.
In deep snow, the base of large trees can also be very unsafe. “Tree wells” can collapse and bury a person in snow, thus suffocating them. It’s a common fatality in the winter backcountry. Covered manzanita fields are similarly dangerous.
Although completely frozen lakes can be safe to walk across, snowshoers should avoid walking over partially frozen lakes and should always be aware of the ice conditions. In some areas, snow tunnels can form over streams. Falling into one is not a good idea.
As with any new sport, going with someone who has experience can make a great difference.
Now, get out and enjoy the snow!