These days, there are essentially three ways get your feet wet in a new sport. You can either (1) grow up doing it, (2) spend some quality time with a private (and often expensive) instructor or group class, or (3) pick up a book and “wing it.”
Obviously, the third choice is rarely the preferred option, especially when your adventures will be taking you out into unexplored backcountry. But the reality of the matter is that not everyone has the time or money to go about things the old-fashioned way. Sometimes, a simple instruction manual is in order. It’s possible for outdoor novices to find their way to the right gear, learn some basic maneuvers, and start enjoying the winter in no time; all it takes is the right book.
Enter: The right book. For years, The Mountaineers Books has been known as the source for in-depth outdoor instruction. Its publications aren’t just about pretty pictures and clever anecdotes, these manuals are packed cover-to-cover with advice and guidance from seasoned outdoor pros; information that you can trust, and information that’s been tested in the real world.
The fifth edition of Gene Prater’s classic 1974 winter travel manual, “Snowshoeing: From Novice to Master,” is no exception. Editor Dave Felkley has managed to update the book with more than just “modern era fluff.” His tips, tricks, and recommendations (inserted into convenient call-out boxes scattered throughout the pages) serve to update Prater’s advice and offer bite-sized chunks of information that are easy for novices to digest. And, like Prater himself, Felkley is no lightweight when it comes to snowshoeing. He operates BIGfoot Snowshoe Tours “and teaches snowshoe clinics out of Nederland, Colo.”
“Snowshoeing” starts out with the usual basics: A history of the sport, an overview of the gear, and a discussion about choosing the right snowshoe. In these early chapters, Felkley lays a nice groundwork for beginners who know little to nothing about the sport, presenting each topic with concise diagrams and just the right number of photos. Movement over the snow, binding adjustments, and using traction – it’s all covered at the start. Besides, a little background is good for every snowshoer to know; it helps put modern developments into perspective.
It’s the later chapters, however, that in my mind really set this book apart from the herd. Felkley and Prater leave nothing to chance, covering everything from clothing, to technique, to route finding, to physical conditioning, to winter safety and racing. They even discuss the ins-and-outs of emergency snow camping, in case anyone ever gets stuck out in the weather for longer than expected. You runners wondering about snow jogging? It’s in here.
Snowshoe maintenance and field repairs come up early in the book as well, and it’s a section worth noting. Beginners will want to load up their snow pack with these how-to-move-over-snow suggestions, while more experienced readers will appreciate the valuable, trip-saving recommendations (like how to repair a broken frame with splint branches and some cord wrap, for example).
I could keep going on about this, but the short story is…it’s a classic-of-a-book, offers a great first-timer’s introduction to the sport, and can even act as a general reference for more experienced snowshoers. “Snowshoeing” has helped bring people out into the snow for more than 25 years now, and it’s easy to see why. Overall, there’s plenty here to keep every snow fans busy through those long summer months.