If you live in the Snowbelt, you are familiar with the phenomenon of the big blizzard that rolls in with a deep low pressure area circulating counter-clockwise. That means warmer temperatures storming in from the south or southwest with imported moisture that will eventually blast into a big snow. In the meantime, it is not at all unusual for the precip to start as rain (see photo) before the cold air trailing along overruns the system, pushing out the warmth. Presto! there is a whiteout and big air. These storms can happen in the deepest part of winter as well as either end of the season.
The other quirky variable is when all of this weather will occur. These systems are notorious for not arriving when forecast or moving north or south and changing the whole weather system, snow to rain or rain to snow. It happens — plan on it. Many of these variables happened to me during a recent early Sunday morning scheduled snowshoe practice session on my favorite hilly loop. But, rather than give up my only chance to snowshoe over the weekend, off I went.
As a trail runner I know how to dress for rain; as a snowshoe enthusiast, I know what to wear for cruising on frozen crystals. To snowshoe while it is raining, however, requires certain alterations which will allow one to get the session in, survive it, and like every good snowshoeing challenge, enjoy it. Here are 10 tips to surviving a snowshoe trek in the rain.
First, adapt to the situation, be flexible on your choices. Go to an area where you can do loops, versus, say, a long out-and-back, allowing you to get access to your aid station about once an hour. What’s an aid station? In my case it is the Red Durango, my protector and source of comfort, with food, accessories, and a possible escape if I get in a situation where the cold blasts in and temps plummet faster than I can adapt. At 37 degrees F and high humidity at the park, I was hot on the snow even though there was a tough East wind, the blow blocked by the forest. Although temperatures plunged after I had completed my session — they fell off a cliff in about one hour — I would have been very cold, and maybe in danger, if caught unaware in that for an extended period. Plan for unpredictable and rapid changes when these blizzards bluster in.
Wear rubber shoe-covers over your shoes or special shoes that block water from leaking onto your skin. Wet feet will get you cold and miserable faster than a call from the I.R.S. The combination of snow, ice, and rain will seep into the average shoe quick enough to create havoc before you have an opportunity to react.
Pull out those winter gaiters that you won’t wear during a USSSA Championship Qualifier because they weigh a few extra ounces and might slow you down a few seconds; use them here. Snowshoes moving through wet snow toss up very wet snow . . . and soupy ice running down into the top of your shoe will turn you around quicker than black ice on a bridge.
I’m pretty sure that one can fix most any problem with duct tape, a multi purpose tool, and WD-40. You do have all of those in your travelling aid station don’t you? For wet snow, pull out the WD-40 and spray your snowshoes liberally. It will act like a heat gun protecting your appliance from gathering tons — well, it feels like a lot of weight, okay? — of iced snow that will accumulate, acting as an anchor, dragging you down like cement shoes.
A rain cap and rain jacket will likely suffice as a protective outer layer, particularly if the rain isn’t like a summer thunder storm. If heavy rain is the case, wear the lowers, too. If you are concerned about the gloves getting wet, and you don’t have a water proof pair with you, use some larger baggies to work in this pinch. So what if it looks nerdy . . . remaining dry is a bigger priority when the temperatures are plummeting.
Your shirt or top better be a good wicking material or you will find yourself wet very quickly. I made that mistake on my session and, although it was a brand name exercise shirt, it wicked moisture like a cotton ball. Finishing, I found myself chilling very quickly. Note to self: Wear the dirty technical shirt next time. It won’t matter; being dry counts.
It is a lot easier to get out of the truck and get to snowshoeing, particularly if the rain has begun, if your equipment is organized, ready to go. If you are going to put your shoes in the snowshoes and attach the gaiters and, basically take 20 minutes fooling around before starting, you are going to have plenty of time to talk yourself out of a potentially exciting snowshoe session. Arrive prepared because you had your gear good-to-go the day before.
Check the weather before going out of the door; in fact, do it first thing after getting up. I had my extreme cold weather clothes laid out, ready for the high winds and cold temps forecast. The real storm didn’t arrive for another eight hours. In the meantime, it was 37 degrees and rain was moving in; I quickly changed my gear to accommodate those conditions.
Have dry clothing ready to slip into after finishing. The odds are very high that some or all of your clothing will be damp if not wet. Change out of them, toweling off as quickly as possible so you have dry clothes on as you drive home. Even if it is only a ten or fifteen minute trip, change . . . You will be surprised how quickly you get chilled and cold with clammy clothes (see photo of how you might feel, courtesy of the Udder Jump at the Udder Snowshoe Race, Wisconsin)
How can you tell if it is sprinkling and not spitting snow, particularly if you are snowshoeing at night? One easy way is to observe the fallen snow. Water drops on snow will begin to resemble dimples on a golf ball. Seeing that, you’ll know what you’ve got.
Use my trick (see glove/Fenix flashlight photo above) with the flashlight where you attach it to the TOP of your glove using three wide rubber bands – two close to the wrist, one in the ‘V’ of the thumb. The beam is always in front of me plus I don’t have to ‘hold on’ and point it . . . the light shines right where it needs to be. I use Fenix lights because of the powerful beam and small, light case. I hook their strap onto my wrist as another safety measure.
Since the rain may change to snow, that means the wet pavement will change to ice first, so be careful and don’t get yourself stuck in a remote parking lot without a vehicle that can get you out. And, always carry a cell phone with you in any weather including while on the trail but particularly where circumstances can turn dangerous. Reception can be problematic in some areas, that is for sure, but it is truly amazing where ‘bars’ can be found. Besides, you may have a problem on the roads in populated areas, not on the trails. And keep a recharger handy, ready to plug in the cigarette lighter (what they ONCE were used for) should you need it. This isn’t a Murphy’s Law, but perhaps a Phillip’s Law:
If you don’t have it, you will surely need it
Think that way, and you’ll reduce the chances for a major problem.
Having fun in the snow, snowshoeing even with the rain, can create a whole new experience, putting you in a Gene Kelly kind of mood . . . perhaps you, too, can finish out his song?
“I’m laugh-ing at clouds
So dark . . . up above
The sun’s in my heart
And I’m read-y for love
Let the storm-y clouds chase
Every-one from the place
Come on with the rain
I’ve a smile on my face
I’m singing . . . singing in the snow”
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