The snowshoe shuffle

Posted: Sunday, February 10, 2008

Digging out one's parking space every day can make a person start to resent the snow. That's when it's time to slap on the snowshoes and head out into the Great Beyond.

Kevin Sellers / For The Juneau Empire
Kevin Sellers / For The Juneau Empire

Especially those of us who don't ski.

You can go anywhere in snowshoes. Anyone who's tried doing that in plain old boots knows the folly and pain of post-holing.

And they're cheap - just about the cheapest way to get out in the backcountry. For $12, you can rent a pair of snowshoes and poles at Foggy Mountain Shop in downtown Juneau. For $150, you can easily have your own pair and some good, light poles. Plus, they don't require any waxing or other maintenance, so you don't keep paying for them.

Snowshoes have come a long way from traditional days. Some of them look like they're from outer space. On the Internet you can find bewildering arrays of pairs and reviews. There are special pairs for people who race on snowshoes, and special considerations for people who wish to climb Denali. Snowshoe enthusiasts are trying to get their sport included in the Winter Olympics.

I am not one of those people.

I asked the Foggy Mountain salesman Tim Rielly what the first-time snowshoer should know. He is a serious backcountry guy who usually goes out on skis with skins. But he loves his trusty MSR snowshoes, too.

"If you can walk, you can snowshoe," he says.

Rielly's 2-year-old thinks snowshoeing on Mendenhall Lake is a blast.

The cliche of the sport is true, it turns out. It took me about 15 minutes to get used to having elephant-size feet and feel able on my rental shoes. Invincible, almost - though any steep grade has its limits.

Juneau resident Scott Carlee said that before last winter, he'd used his snowshoes once in six years. Then came the heavy snows of the last two years, and it became the thing to do. Friends who were never interested before started knocking on his door to try them out.

"Last year if I had had 10 pairs of snowshoes, I could have loaned them all out," he said.

Carlee said that on a recent ice-climbing camping trip to Davies Creek, half his group wore skis and the other half snowshoes. The terrain determined who was happier. Skis are great on trails, places with downhill sections where a person can glide. But not everywhere.

"With a lot of blowdowns, a lot of rough terrain - skis can be just murder," he said. Stepping over logs, crossing frozen creekbeds: best on snowshoes.

Skis can also be more taxing on the body. When Carlee's old ankle injury flared up, he traded for snowshoes halfway through.

"And it was like night and day, you know - thank God," he said.

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