If winter has you climbing the walls, try this ...It really is true. "If you can walk, you can snowshoe," says Jackson's Lorraine Tilney, a volunteer snowshoe tour leader at the pristine Jackson Ski Touring Foundation.First-timers might find snowshoes a tad awkward during those fledgling steps, but the learning curve is quick and rewards are great. Snowshoeing is easy and leads to everything from aerobic exercise to a pleasant trek through the woods. Long a staple above fireplaces in rustic New Hampshire lodges, the wooden snowshoe is still honored and used (snowshoeing has been around for 6,000 years or so), but the modern day shoe is made of lightweight aluminum. One doesn't lace up into a snowshoe, but steps into a binding and snaps in. New Hampshire's snow isn't always the same consistency and today's snowshoes have little crampons on the bottom for better grip on those days when the snow's surface is like a glazed doughnut.Snowshoeing is a simple endeavor, but there are various types of snowshoes depending on use. Most snowshoe users are those seeking a gentle recreational romp over mountains and along trails and have an oval type of pattern for their winter walking. Those seeking to run through the snow have snowshoes that tend to be even smaller and lighter, while heavy duty hikers and backpackers have a durable pair for varying conditions and terrain.Whether traipsing in a back yard, on hiking trails or at a cross-country ski center, snowshoeing is a true family endeavor. Many organizations offer nature tours where participants can help identify the tracks in the snow (made by little creatures not in their group). Some 46 percent of snowshoers are women, with children aged 7 to 17 making up 12 percent of the snowy pie.As with many sports, renting equipment is a good idea for novices. The beauty of snowshoeing is that once you've invested in a pair, you're set for days of fun during a Granite State winter.Impressive FactSnowshoers can burn about 45 percent more calories while tromping through the snow than running or walking at the same speed.Gear BoxLightweight with an easy binding, the Tubbs Venture snowshoe is an all-around choice for day hiking, exercise and winter walks ($179.99). When it comes to kids, it's about age, size and weight. Older youths have the Glacier ($89.99) for children 80 to 150 pounds. Some snowshoers like snowshoe poles. Some are adjustable, others aren't. Users like them for stability and security. The 3-part adjustable pole ($49.99/pair) can be put in a pack until ready for snow. To keep snow out of boots, consider gaiters ($29.99).Expert AdviceSome people just discover snowshoeing, like Lorraine Tilney of Jackson. An avid race walker, occasional triathlete (competing with her grown daughters) and race director for the White Mountain Milers, the 58-year-old got hooked on snowshoeing about five years ago while searching for a winter cross-over activity. Tilney is now the volunteer snowshoe tour leader for Jackson Ski Touring Foundation's Tuesday Trekkers, a group that explores the trails by snowshoe and then rewards itself with lunch in front of the foundation's fireplace.Is snowshoeing really that easy?Snowshoeing is the fastest-growing winter sport in the 50 and over age group. As our knees get tired or we just want to slow down a bit, snowshoeing offers a new adventure with really no learning curve. If you can walk, you can snowshoe. Younger people are also discovering the sport as a means to explore places you cant get to in the winter woods on skis.What kind of clothing do I wear while snowshoeing?Clothing for snowshoeing consists of layers, much like cross-country skiing or winter running. Wick-away clothes are the best. A turtleneck, light weight fleece and windbreaker on top and pants with some spandex are great. Layer up or down depending on the weather. Hat and gloves are also required. Also take a fanny pack with water and snacks.What are the health benefits?Health benefits range from just easy exercise and mental health to a total aerobic workout. Hills, intensity and depth of snow increase heart rate. There are even snowshoe races.How do I choose the right snowshoe and boot for me? Do I need poles?Snowshoes vary in materials, length and width. The wider the shoe, the more it will ride on powder snow. The bigger shoe will also accommodate more weight; yours and a pack, if you would like to snowshoe hike. As for poles, I would recommend them. They add stability, especially going up and downhill. A huge bonus is that poles give you 20 percent more exercise while using your arms, much like cross-country skiing.What sort of wildlife will I see in the woods while snowshoeing?We have seen mostly tracks while out with the Trekkers. They include mink, fox, rabbit, deer, moose and otter.
This article appears in the February 2009 issue of New Hampshire Magazine