Some of my friends think I’m odd because I’m one of those people who genuinely look forward to winter. I just can’t imagine living someplace like Florida for the winter. Snowy weather is something I embrace. I love to be outside in nature year-round, and when winter arrives it brings a whole new season to enjoy. And for me, winter means snowshoeing.
Keep moving and stay warm
No one likes being stuck indoors all winter and my “ticket” to get out is snowshoeing. It’s a great cardio workout and also low impact. Snowshoeing is a fantastic recreational activity for many people, and is especially good if you’re looking for an activity that’s easier on your knees. Unlike ice fishing where you’re just standing around in the cold, snowshoeing generates heat and burns calories. The trick is to wear the right gear to stay warm and dry.
Make it easy to get outside
Living in upstate New York, we don’t need to drive for hours to find a park with snowy trails. You also don’t need thousands of acres to have a fun snowshoeing experience. My wife and I are lucky that we can start snowshoeing or cross country skiing right from our backyard. With a small local park nearly outside our backdoor, it’s really easy to get out anytime we have snow. There are moments while snowshoeing where we’ll just take in the scenic views and watch the local wildlife and birds. When the snow conditions are really good we also enjoy cross country skiing, but snowshoeing doesn’t require great conditions. You can even snowshoe on many trails that wouldn’t be good for skiing.
There aren’t as many people outside in the winter and we enjoy quiet moments snowshoeing in Powder Mills Park (southeast of Rochester) and nearby Mendon Ponds Park. With fewer people outside, it is always a good idea to take a friend with you on a winter adventure. There is safety in numbers. Keep reading for a few additional tips I’ve picked up over the years.
On a cold winter day, managing your body temperature and perspiration is key to staying comfortable and having a good experience while snowshoeing. You don’t want to be too cold, nor do you want to get overly hot & sweaty; once you get wet you can become cold.
- Dress in breathable layers. Wear synthetic breathable materials like polypro and fleece. Never-ever wear cotton in the cold because it absorbs moisture and then gets cold (this means no jeans or cotton pants, no cotton socks, no cotton shirts, no cotton underwear).
- Bring a water-resistant shell/coat that is easy to take off & carry, but available to put on if the weather turns cold, windy or wet. If you get too hot you can tie the jacket or extra layer around your waist. When it’s below 10 degrees, I like to wear extra glove liners under a pair of ski gloves or mittens. Bring water, a high energy snack and a cell phone.
Start slow and bring a buddy
- Don’t set out on a mega, multi-mile journey your first time out. Snowshoeing on flat terrain is not technically difficult to learn, but it’s sort of like walking in deep sand or deep water. You’ll feel a bit like Herman Munster at first, but it gets easier with practice. Snowshoeing in deep snow or on steep terrain can be extremely hard work (like climbing many flights of stairs). Use common sense and gradually increase your distances over several outings.
- If you’re snowshoeing on a trail that is also used by cross country skiers, they will be moving faster. As a courtesy, try and stay out of the grooves created by the cross country skiers so they can pass in either direction without having to stop.
Wear comfortable boots and gaiters to keep the snow out. I don’t like to snowshoe in sneakers or low shoes because my feet will get wet and then cold which isn’t fun.
- A number of years ago, I was up north snowshoeing deep in the Adirondack woods (near Gothics, a mountain in the High Peaks Region) after a 60-inch snowfall when my snowshoe binding broke. We were miles from the road where the car was parked. I was able to fix the snowshoe and get out safely (used a MacGyver technique with a spare shoelace). This is a lesson I remember and one reason I wear boots, not sneakers (just in case your snowshoe breaks and you have to walk out without snowshoes).
Snowshoe technology has come a long way in the past 20 years
Modern snowshoes are lightweight and strong. Get good quality snowshoes that are sized for your weight/height. You don’t want to break a snowshoe or binding if you’re deep in the woods on a cold day.
- Don’t skimp on equipment! I recommend a good sturdy snowshoe with an aluminum frame, and an adjustable step in binding with under-foot crampons to grip on ice or when going up a steep hill. There are places you can rent snowshoes before you buy (check downhill ski areas or local outdoor sports shops). Get help picking out snowshoes at a reputable outdoor shop to make sure you get the right size for your body weight.
- Use ski poles or walking poles with
snow baskets to keep you balanced as you go.
- There is an investment to get started (approximately $200-$500) but once you have the snowshoe gear it can last many years, and it’s free to snowshoe in most of our public parks.
Get out in the snow
If you get outside this winter and have fun you can help to end those winter hibernation blues. Snowshoes are also very easy to keep in your car trunk in case you stumble upon a new place to explore.
Coming soon: World Snowshoeing Championship Race
Excellus BlueCross BlueShield is a proud sponsor of the WorldSnowshoe Championships at Saranac Lake (Franklin County) on Feb. 23-25, 2017. This two-day event features 400 competitors from all over the world along with 2,000-3,000 spectators.
Snowshoe resources (Rochester area):
Rentals: (While there are many rental options available, these are few that I am familiar with.)
- Bristol Mountain: http://www.bristolmountain.com/nordic-center/
- Medved: http://www.medvedrunwalk.com/snowshoes.asp
- EMS: www.ems.com/store-locator
Snowshoe course (varies by location):
Places to snowshoe in upstate New York:
Allegany & Steuben Counties
- Phillips Creek & Palmers Pond State Forests
- Mossy Bank Park
County parks: http://www2.erie.gov/parks/index.php?q=parks
Chautauqua & Cattaraugus Counties
- Peek’n Peak (note that fees may apply for this private location)
- Westside Overland Trail
- Long Point State Park
- Allegany State Park (Art Roscoe Ski Area)
- Allegheny River Valley Trail
- Saranac Lake
- Adirondack State Park http://www.saranaclake.com/activities/outdoor/snowshoeing
Livingston, Ontario & Yates Counties
- Bristol Mountain Nordic Center (note that fees may apply for this private location)
- Genesee Valley Greenway (Scottsville to Cuylerville)
- Letchworth State Park (East of Genesee River)
- Rattlesnake Hill
- Canadice Lake Trail
- Cumming Nature Center
- Harriet Hollister Spencer Mem. State Recreation Area
- Hi Tor Wildlife Management Area
- Middlesex Valley Rail Trail
- Keuka Lake State Park
- Keuka Lake Outlet Trail
- County parks: https://www2.monroecounty.gov/parks-index.php
- Hamlin Beach State Park
- Turning Point Park
- Durand Eastman Park
- Seneca Park
- Webster Park
- Black Creek Park
- Northampton Park
- Oatka Creek Park
- Quinn Oak Openings
- Tinker Nature Park
- Genesee Country Nature Center
- Powder Mills Park
- Mendon Ponds Park
Niagara & Erie Counties
- Erie County Forest
- Erie County Forest — Lot 3
- Sprague Brook Park
- Emery Park
- Tift Nature Preserve
- Como Lake Park
- Walton Woods
- Buckhorn Island State Park
- Baltimore Woods Nature Center
Orleans, Genesee & Wyoming Counties
- Lakeside Beach State Park
- Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge
- Genesee County Park and Forest
- Beaver Meadow Audubon Center
- Bryncliff Resort
Is your favorite place to showshoe not on this list? Add it to the comments section below!