For most of my life, I have been a runner. What this means in wintertime is I strap on my Dion-NeviTrek racing snowshoes, and Monty the dog and I hit the trails for some backcountry snowshoe running. We have done this for years and have explored many a wooded winter wonderland in Southern Vermont. For me, this is a highlight of winter. It brightens the long, cold months we endure here in the Northeast.
Sadly, I have been nursing a degenerative meniscal tear in my right knee for the past 9 months. While this has forced me to modify my usual routine of running every day, to my great joy I have not had to hang up my snowshoes. I can still meander through snowy woods and fields, conditions permitting, with my usual mixture of trail-trotting, hiking, and catching my breath – flushed, warm even on the coldest days, and privy to the quiet but astounding winter scenery around me.
Snowshoeing is an extremely versatile workout, which is reflected by the many different types and components of snowshoes. When I first started snowshoeing, I knew I wanted a lightweight, smaller snowshoe designed specifically for running so I chose a brand and style known for racing. However, there are snowshoes designed for hiking in deep snow, others created for mountaineering, and others made for casual walking.
Considerations when choosing a pair of snowshoes include frame type and size, binding type, degree of traction, and presence of a heel lift. If you are in the market for snowshoes, have in mind the type of terrain and conditions you’ll most often be moving through and choose accordingly. Consult an online gear guide or a knowledgeable salesperson at a local outdoors store if you need advice.
You can snowshoe in a variety of footwear. I most often wear trail-running sneakers, but you can also wear hiking boots or winter boots. I highly recommend using gaiters to keep snow from coming into your shoes as you walk or run through the snow. You may be traveling through deep drifts, and you will kick up snow as you go.
You might have to adjust your usual running stride to accommodate the additional surface area attached to your feet. When running in snowshoes, it is nearly impossible to overstride or heel strike (common biomechanical problems in runners). Snowshoe running forces you to practice foot striking directly beneath your center of gravity – good running practice even if you are not wearing snowshoes. If you are walking or hiking, you may also need to take shorter steps. Many use hiking or ski poles to help with balance.
Dress in layers – you will get sweaty. Technical moisture-wicking fabrics work best. According to the website healthresearchfunding.org, snowshoeing burns 45% more calories than walking or running at the same speed and the snow provides additional resistance.
Snowshoeing carries with it all of the health benefits of other endurance activities. It improves cardiovascular fitness and counts toward your daily step quota and/or your 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week. It is relatively low impact. It also allows you to wander off the beaten path to places that would be too slippery or snow-covered to go in regular shoes – great for your mental as well as your physical health.
Many cross-country ski areas have dedicated trails for snowshoeing. For example, in our area snowshoeing is welcome and supported at Wild Wings Ski Touring Center, Viking Nordic Center, Stratton Nordic Center and Hildene. However, the beauty of snowshoeing is you can do it practically anywhere. Hiking or running in snowshoes on hiking trails can even improve and preserve trail quality by tamping down snow and defining paths for other hikers.