Snowshoeing can be fitness for body, mind and soul

Right gear for the right outing makes for positive event

Posted: Friday, January 22, 2010

My lungs are burning. My legs are fried. My sports clothing is soaked with perspiration. All this after just 10 minutes on the trail.

I wasn't prepared for my first adventure run with snowshoes.

As with many outdoor activities, Snowshoeing can be enjoyed by enthusiasts of any athletic ability, and you get out of it what you put in. I wanted a hard uphill run, yet my running shoes needed something more than grippers, spikes, or yak-tracks. Snowshoes would allow me to tackle some terrain that I would otherwise have had to admire from afar.

"For me, what is nice about it is it's a whole different way to explore Juneau," Arctic Winter Games Team Alaska coach Merry Ellefson said. "With just a little investment, you can get out and see a lot of country and also get a good workout. If you can walk, you can do it."

Ellefson said that regardless of snow conditions - breakable crust, powdery deep snow, or just following another adventurer - there is a snowshoe that will work.

"The variety, the opportunity and the social components combined with less impact cross-training on snow during the winter make (snowshoeing) user-friendly," she said.

But the variety of snowshoes on the market today can be mind boggling. There are snowshoes for men, women, kids, dogs, running, walking, and, I assume somewhere out there is a variety for coffee at your favorite local sit down. When you pick a snowshoe, try to envision where you will be using it. Take into consideration the terrain, snow quality, how far you'll be going, any weight you plan to carry and days per year they'll get used. Recreational or hiking snowshoes, for instance, assume you are heading out occasionally. Rugged snowshoes, on the other hand, endure the stresses of frequent use on steep trails. Racing or trail-running snowshoes have less flotation but are lighter and offer more agility for running. Children's snowshoes are generally not built for hard backcountry use, but for longer family outings, a good pair of small men's or women's snowshoes might do the trick.

Any distributor of snowshoes should be able to help you find a good fit, but these days, it's also possible to go online to a variety of distributor sites for suggestions. Nothing can ruin a wondrous outdoor adventure faster than snowshoes that are uncomfortable.

Atlas, Tubbs, Redfeather, Havlick, Arcitc Trekker, Baldas, Bigfoot, Crescent Moon, Dion, Easton, Faber, Kahtoola, Iverson, Northern Lights, Sherpa, Yowie and Yukon Charlies are just a sampling of the market.

"It seemed like a natural extension of running in the winter," long-time runner Bob Marshall said. "I liked to ski and liked the snow, and I had friends that were doing it. And from a runners perspective, the lighter the better."

Marshall started out with inexpensive, heavy snowshoes. But the more he refined his equipment, the more the sport became like running.

"When snow is deep, you can still be aerobic," he said. "It's another way to enjoy an aerobic sport. It opened up trails for me again in the winter."

Juneau's local trails, such as Spaulding Meadows, Dredge Lake, the campground at Skaters Cabin, Salmon Creek trails, John Muir Cabin trail and Dan Moller Trail, are just a few that are good for snowshoeing this time of year. Even the Lower Loops at Eaglecrest Ski Area, which are used most-frequently by Nordic skiers, is a good bet. Just remember to purchase a trail pass and to stay to the side of the classic tracks. The flat expanse of area near the Mendenhall Glacier also offers a scenic and soothing setting. For that matter, the muskeg out your back door could also make for a perfect hour away from traffic.

But, don't be alarmed if you have to slow down to catch your breath. Snowshoeing can get you to places you normally would not see. For me, the hardest part of training is resting. So imagine my surprise when the view from the east side of the Eaglecrest area on a recent snowshoe walk took my breathe away.

• Contact Klas Stolpe at

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