Sunday, January 30, 2011

Snowshoeing for Dummies

So let me first tell you how much I love snowshoeing. It is, bar none, my favorite winter sport. (I do not count drinking spiked egg nog and eating Christmas cookies a sport, alas). There are a couple of reasons. First, it is great for your lower body muscles and your core. Second, because of reason one, you seriously torch calories while snowshoeing. Like, I can't eat the number of calories I burn, seriously burn calories. Read that last sentence again. With me now? Good. Third, and finally, it is a stable form of winter sport. By this I mean the things I strap on to my feet are wider than my feet, unlike skiing and skating, and does not require rapid rates of speed going downhill, like snowboarding or skiing.

So first, you need snowshoes. The old wooden and rope snowshoes are no more. Now they make lovely (relatively) lightweight metal shoes with plastic bindings and settings. Basically, you buckle in once you've adjusted your setting and you are off. While these shoes are relatively light, they do add weight (thus the major calorie burn). Also, they will change your gait to a slightly wider one, and the muscles on your inner thighs will feel it.

Second, you really would love trekking poles. You can snowshoe without them, but they do add more of an upper body workout to the snowshoe experience and, if the terrain is uneven, they can help with balance.

Third, gear. Your base body temp, as with any other high intensity workout, will rise, and you will get hot, so dress in synthetic layers that can be "vented" (also known as zippered up and down). Yesterday, I went against conventional wisdom and wore jeans and a cotton turtleneck as my "base layers," then added a lightweight running jacket and a windproof jacket over that. Ten minutes in, I was hot and the outer jacket was unzipped. For footwear, I had on Sorel snow boots and wool hiking socks from Costco. I also had a headband on, and thermal gloves. I was fine. You would also do well to bring along sunglasses to protect your eyes from the winter glare (I didn't).

Finally, hydration and nutrition. I treat snowshoeing the same as any other high intensity workout -- about 30 minutes in I will need simple sugars and need water throughout, so I wore my Camelbak hydration waistpack and tried out my gel flask. I diluted a Clif shot, mocha flavor, with water. It tasted almost (but not quite) like a bottled Starbucks frappuccino. I tolerated it well. I wonder if chocolate, diluted, would taste like YooHoo. Hmmmmm.

Anyhow, besides the many health benefits of snowshoeing, you get to see places other people only see from afar. We shoed along the shoreline of Lake Michigan at Grant Park. It was tough to get a sense of how deep the snow was, and where we were on the terrain, but at places we were trekking past tree tops. We also were very close to the shoreline at one point, and may have been on top of the built up snow and ice formations at the edge of the lake. Cool.

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