My First Excursion on Traditional Snowshoes
I actually didn’t know that anything other than traditional snowshoes existed until I moved up to northern Ontario, which seems sort of backwards, to me. I always thought that snowshoes referred to the big, wooden, beaver-tail shaped monstrosities that always seemed to be in our basement when I was a kid — a kid who, for what it’s worth, grew up with parents well-versed in northern Ontario life.
Turns out modern snowshoes are lightweight, synthetic and small — but that’s not what we have. We have traditional snowshoes.
My father brought me my mom’s old traditional snowshoes from when she was working in geology in northern Ontario, and Matt’s father gave him a pair from his family camp, way up north. A year later, when two weeks in November gave us enough snow to bury everything, we set out on our first adventure. It was my first time strapping snowshoes on, and I thought it was stupid– why would I wear giant shoes when I could just walk? A quick five-minute jaunt through the same snow in my boots made me realize the “extra flotation” thing isn’t a lie.
After that excursion, our neighbour dropped by our house one morning to make sure we didn’t need help — given that we were outside for quite some time, trying to jump my truck since the battery died in the cold — and he told us about a neat little trail that would take us to a waterfall. It sounded like fun, so we headed out, with our traditional snowshoes.
Step one was to shovel out a parking spot for my truck on the side of the road. Half of everyone that drove by asked us if we needed help because they thought we drove off the road into a ditch. By the time we got the shoes on and started out on the trail, the sun was starting to sink down behind the trees and I knew we’d be trekking home in the dark.
The first section of the trail was easy walking– it was broken in, with a few snowshoe tracks and the occasional boot print; likely hunters checking on a feed pile and a motion activated camera set up further down into the trees. The further we ventured, the more blowdowns and sort-of-creepy tunnels of trees we encountered, but the going was easy and the scenery was pretty.
About halfway through, the hunter’s trail ended, and Matt took the lead, breaking trail through heavy, powdery snow that looked completely untouched. Did I mention it was seriously freezing cold? My hair grew frost.
Suffice it to say, we didn’t even make it to the waterfall. Matt could hear it, but it was getting darker and colder by the second, nobody knew where we were but our neighbour, Matt’s legs were about to fall off, and my night vision is essentially non-existent. We headed back, snowshoeing through the dark, empty forest.
It took over half an hour for the truck’s windows to defrost upon our arrival, and by the time we got home, we were both so ravenous that we inhaled a large Hawaiian pizza, thus negating the 2000+ calories burned from snowshoeing for four hours. The good thing is, now the trail has been walked over four times, so maybe our next attempt will be a bit quicker and easier.
Tips for Using Traditional Snowshoes
First and foremost — go slow. Once, I pretended that I was going out of control and was going to fall… and then I fell, flat on my face. Traditional snowshoes add a lot of square footage to your feet, and you need to get used to it before you try to pick up speed.
As with most winter activities, dress in layers. It’s surprising how much you can work up a sweat while snowshoeing, but at the same time, you’re out in the cold and you definitely want warmth as an option. If you’re out during the day you may need sunscreen and other sun protection even if it’s the dead of winter.
REI has some good technique tips for snowshoeing as a beginner, though they might not all work for traditional snowshoes. I recommend tromping around on easy terrain before you head out past your comfort zone by accident. And, as always, remember that however far you go, you need to be able to get back, so factor that in when planning your trail!