How do you attract new generations to a sport that has been in existence for 6,000 years? The answer according to many in the snowshoeing industry is, leave it alone.
“Snowshoeing is one of the sports with the lowest barrier of entry,” said Reese Brown, administrator of the Winter Trails program. “It’s relatively simple, if you can walk you can snowshoe.”
The basic logistics of snowshoeing has remained the same over recent years – you hike on the snow. But there have been many modifications to the snowshoe itself, which has made the sport more attractive.
Modifications to the snowshoe include shoes for specified terrain including backcountry, fitness and recreational. The equipment and technology has also evolved such as, lightweight aluminum decks and new spring-loaded bindings.
“We are thrilled to have discovered the perfect combination of lightweight materials and advanced molding technology that takes snowshoeing to a whole new level of fun,” stated Daniel Emerson, Atlas Snow-Shoe Co. general manager. “Less weight significantly reduces the strain on the knees and will allow one to hike or run longer on their snowshoes with less fatigue. Saving one pound on your feet is equivalent to taking 6.4 pounds off of your back.”
While the equipment has made snowshoeing easier on the feet and body the sports simplistic concept remains its draw. “And this season snowshoe marketing and events are capitalizing on this,” Brown said. “We are trying to create a grass roots campaign. We are telling first-timers that snowshoeing is a great activity that you can do it with your friends or family at anytime of day. You can go right outside of your house or a short drive away. Just throw on your shoes and go take a walk.”
Brown helps organize Winter Trails, a combination of nearly 100 snowshoeing events that take place across the country. Each event features a free demo in a non-intimidating atmosphere aimed at attracting people to the sport. Winter Trails is part of the Winter Feels Good program, a nationwide campaign that promotes the health, fitness, and social benefits of participating in snow sports.
The Trails’ “grass roots” campaign seems to be working. Snowshoeing is one of the fastest growing winter sports with more than 1.1 million people are active snowshoe enthusiasts and 5.9 million people snowshoe on a regular basis, according to Macy Allatt, marketing programs manager for Atlas.
Another industry trend is to appeal to the growing number of women participating in the sport. Since 1998, female participation has grown more than 300 percent, according to Allatt. With participation numbers like these the nordic ski resorts in Canada and in the U.S. have responded to a new clientele.
“Ninety percent of our resorts have snowshoeing now,” said Chris Frado, executive director of Cross-Country Ski Areas Association, a non-profit trade association for cross-country resorts. “Most resorts also now have snowshoe rentals. And, almost 100 resort locations are doing an introduction to snowshoeing this winter.” This industry change has narrowed the gap between cross-country skiers and shoers, Frado said.
Another major attraction to snowshoeing is the physical and emotional benefits for people wanting to create a healthy lifestyle. This has become a major focus for the industry this season.
“Snowshoeing is the best bang-for-your-buck fat burning workout you can get,” said Cathy Sassin, world-class adventure racer, personal trainer and nutrition consultant. “In fact, compared to other fitness activities one might do in winter, it wins hands down.”
Snowshoeing is a cross-training exercise; the muscles used are similar to those used in walking and hiking hilly terrain. Snowshoeing burns 45 percent more calories than walking or running at the same speed. To be exact, snowshoeing burns an average of between 400-500 calories per hour, according to http://www.nutristrategy.com.
“We are really targeting the health angle of the sport,” Brown said. “And we’ve found that people are turning to snowshoeing as their regular fitness routine.”
The industry is also marketing snowshoeing as a way to get out of your house in the cold winter months. “Winter is not the time to hibernate,” Brown said. “It’s just time to do something different than what you do in the summer.”
So as this winter season draws near a close and people turn to spring and summer sports, what can we look forward to for next season? More events aimed at the everyday snowshoer and more exposure of snowshoeing benefits, Brown said.
Frado and Brown both agreed that snowshoe enthusiasts should also expect to see more nordic resorts and Alpine resorts tailoring their terrain to snowshoers.
For more information on Winter Trails visit http://www.wintertrails.org. For more information or to locate a nordic resort with snowshoeing near you, visit http://www.xcski.org.