Making Tracks

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It’s almost transition time. That’s when my kayak paddles and paraphernalia go into hibernation in the closet and the snowshoes come out to be ready for a winder trek. I was attracted to both sports because: the equipment can be put to action without much planning and because both can provide a workout in beautiful natural surroundings. The activities result in a fine combination—fitness plus serenity.
Knowledge of proper safety and equipment selection for the type of use and what opportunities are out there helps make the most of time and enjoyment of the sport.  As winter weather heads toward us, we’ll focus here on snowshoeing.
You’ve got lots of company when you slip on snowshoes. Between 2007-08 and 2011-12, snowshoeing grew nationally from 2,400,000 to 4,111,000 participants who in the latter season spent 28,777 hours enjoying this sport, according to Snow Sports Industries America research. More than 40 percent of these snowshoers are women and about 9 percent children ages 7-11. Approximately 500 schools in the U.S. have snowshoe programs.
Snowshoeing is often chosen for its fitness benefits, providing a workout for calves, abs and thighs and an aerobic and calorie-burner. The table accompanying this article lists calories burned in a half-hour by persons of three different weights, according to Harvard Health Publications-Harvard Medical Center (www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/calories-burned-in-30-minutes-of-leisure-and-routine-activities). Check out the ranking of snowshoeing.

30-minute  activity                Calories burned
125 lb    155 lb    188 lb
Skiing: cross-country              240    298    355
Snowshoeing                         240    298    355
Hockey-ice or field                 240    298    355
Sledding, luge, toboggan       210    260    311
Ice skating: general               210    260    311
Skiing: downhill                    180    223    266
Walk 4 mi/hr                         135    167    200
Get the right equipment
Footwear design has come a long way since those big wooden woven snowshoes that decorate the walls of lodges, etc.  Now, light-weight snowshoes framed in aluminum with synthetic decking are the norm. Your snowshoe selection should include consideration of these questions to pick the best type and size for your use:
• Will you be using your snowshoes primarily for running and racing where you will often be on packed snow; for general hiking encountering untracked snow and hilly terrain; or will you be on gentler terrain?
You’ll need snowshoes designed for those particular conditions. Hiking and backpacking call for larger snowshoes as they need to provide support on trackless, unprepared ground. If you will be going backcountry and up and down, you’ll want bindings that keep your boot from sliding from side to side. And factor in use for picking the type of toe cord, which connects the snowshoes and bindings. Tight or fixed toe cords can be used for running but you’ll need rotating cords for other conditions, which also will allow snow to slide off the snowshoes. Flip over the snowshoes to check on the number and sufficiency of the crampons that grip the snow—especially if you’ll be climbing or on icy surfaces.
• What’s your weight?
That will help determine the proper size for you. Check out the store’s size chart but don’t try to “shoehorn” yourself into a smaller size if you are planning general hiking use.  Bigger snowshoes are needed for greater weight. And be aware of the width of the snowshoes. Try before you buy to see if you can walk with some comfort.
A few more considerations. When you’re trying on the snowshoes, see how easily you can open and close the bindings and then remember that you’ll be doing that out in the cold in gloves or mittens. Consider using gaiters to protect your lower legs from snow or thorny brush. Select clothing and socks that wicks away moisture and an outer laying for protection from wind. A good pair of mittens or gloves is a necessity. You may wish to use adjustable poles for stability on certain terrain.  As to footwear, nothing special is needed, but consider the winter conditions and your use – waterproof hiking boots are great if you’ll be hiking; trail running shoes for runners. And remember to bring water and slip in nuts, dried fruits or chocolate.
Get out there
The beauty of snowshoeing is its suitability to a variety of venues as an individual, as a family or in small groups. Many lodges which offer skiing have added snowshoe opportunities (cross country and snowshoe do not share the same trails). In fact, Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center has been named by Snowshoe magazine as the Number Four top snowshoe friendly Nordic center in the Northeast.
Also popular for snowshoeing are nature centers and parks, such as Albany Pinebush Preserve, Five Rivers Nature Center in Delmar, Saratoga State Park in Saratoga Springs, Thacher Park in Voorheesville, and Saratoga National Park in Stillwater. Last month’s issue included some hiking suggestions. Now picture these trails covered with snow—creating new scenery and winter wildlife discoveries. Some nature areas offer special guided snowshoe treks, including education on animal tracks and other winter discoveries.  Snowshoe rentals are often available.
You may wish to go off-trail, venturing into fields and woods. Set a time and turn around half way and follow your tracks back.  Carry a GPS or compass; even if you think you know the area well, travels in snow-covered landscape can be deceiving. If not setting a fitness session, strap on a camera and catch scenery or wildlife along the way.
For runners, check out area running clubs for winter activities events and training sessions. The Saratoga Stryders (www.saratogastryders.org) is already listing snowshoe running events, a 5k at the Winterfest in Saratoga State Park on February 7 and an 8k at Camp Saratoga, Gansevoort on February 13. Also visit organization sites such as the United States Snowshoe Association (www.snowshoeracing.com), which is based right in our backyard in Corinth.

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