At the intersection of adventure and accessibility, snowshoeing is one winter activity that nearly anyone can do — and one that allows you to explore the outdoors in a whole new way.
“You can strap on a pair of snowshoes and go anywhere there’s snow — golf courses, groomed trails, or your own trails,” says Derrick Spafford, a competitive snowshoe runner and coach in Ontario.
In recent years, lighter, sleeker, and less-expensive gear has made the sport more accessible to all, whether you’re a competitive athlete or someone just out for a winter hike. Snowshoes are more convenient and easier to use than cross-country skis, yet the benefits are on par with those of many other winter sports.
“Because you’re coming up against different snow and terrain, it’s a little more difficult than a walk on a flat road,” explains Spafford. “It’s a power-oriented workout that targets your core, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.”
The resistance from the snow, the added weight from your gear and winter clothes, and the cold temperatures all contribute to snowshoeing’s metabolic benefits.
“On snowshoes, your body has to work much harder compared with walking — even more if you go uphill or increase your pace,” says Jim Joque, a retired snowshoeing instructor at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point.
Spend just a little time on snowshoes and you’ll quickly learn how to use them. And training your lower body and building core strength can help you prepare for a variety of snow conditions and longer distances.
Try these expert-sourced tips and drills to improve your strength and endurance and to expand your snowshoeing skills and experience.
Technique Tips and Drills
In the Gym
Lower-body and core strength are crucial to snowshoeing, especially in challenging conditions.
Focus on squats, deadlifts, and other compound movements. “Walking lunges are probably the best exercise you can do to build strength for snowshoeing,” adds Spafford.
Plyometrics, such as box jumps and bounding, help you improve power output, a necessity when you want to increase speed and efficiency in the snow.
Drill 1: “Indoor Snowshoeing” Elliptical Workout
“The elliptical machine is basically a snowshoeing machine,” says Spafford, who recommends the following off-season drill:
- Warm-up: Perform 10 minutes with light resistance at an easy pace.
- Interval workout: Increase the resistance and alternate between a minute at a hard pace (increase speed) and a minute at an easy pace for a total of 10 to 15 minutes.
- Cool-down: Return to light resistance at an easy pace for five minutes.
In the Snow
Whether your goal is to be faster, go farther, or be more adept on challenging terrain, the best thing you can do is get outside and spend more time on snowshoes, Joque says. “Because of the sport’s simplicity, you really learn as you go.”
Drill 2: Get Acquainted
Spafford urges newer snowshoers to start on packed, level trails for short bouts. “Instead of thinking about distance, think about time,” Joque advises. “Snowshoeing could take twice as long as it would to cover the same distance on bare ground.”
- Keep your feet pointing forward and spaced slightly wider than usual.
- To go faster, focus on increasing cadence rather than taking bigger steps.
- On untouched snow, you may need to go slower and lift your shoes higher.
- Poles can help you stay upright when you’re ascending or descending hills or trekking in deep snow — and help you get up if you fall. They can also reduce the impact on your knees when you’re going downhill.
On the Hills
Practice these techniques on a moderately steep hill before hitting a trail.
Drill 3: Uphill
- On moderate inclines, lean forward and step into the snow with your toes. Use your poles for added support.
- For steeper inclines, use a technique called edging: Stand sideways and take a sidestep with your lead foot, then push down with the outside edge of your foot to create a stable platform. Bring your trailing snowshoe up and set it where your lead foot was. Work your way up the hill.
Drill 4: Downhill
- Use a similar weight-distribution technique going downward: With toes pointed forward and knees slightly bent, center your weight over your snowshoes. Keep the front end of your snowshoes slightly up in front of you, not tipped down with the slope.
- Before taking a step, plant your poles firmly in front of you. Then step forward with control. The steeper the hill, the more weight you should shift into your heel as you plant the snowshoe.
- Take small steps and keep your body level.
Dress appropriately. Wear a breathable base layer of clothing made of tech fabric or merino wool, avoiding cotton; keep your head and hands covered; wear wool socks; and use gaiters to keep snow out of your boots.
Go with a partner or group if heading for the woods or a remote area. Carry a first-aid kit, use a GPS device or map and compass, and always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return.
Be especially careful when going off-trail. Steer clear of high ridges, cliffs, frozen water, and other dangerous areas.
Practice getting up from a fall several times before you set out: Roll onto your front, put one knee up, and push yourself up to a half-kneeling position. Use your knees to brace your hands and push yourself up to standing. You can use poles for support as you stand.|
BLACK DIAMOND ALPINE FLZ TREKKING POLES:
Versatile for year-round hiking, these collapsible poles become snowshoe-friendly when you attach snow baskets (included). $160 at www.blackdiamondequipment.com.
NEVITREK TRACKER SNOWSHOES:
These lightweight, quality, handmade-in-the-USA snowshoes are ideal for recreational trekking. Available in two sizes (based on the user’s weight). From $145 at www.nevitrek.com.
OUTDOOR RESEARCH VERGLAS GAITERS:
Lightweight gaiters worn over your boots help keep snow out and keep your feet warm and dry. $65 at www.outdoorresearch.com.
This originally appeared as “Over the River and Through the Woods” in the December 2019 print issue of Experience Life.