Tired of being the non-skiing holdout on winter family vacations? It’s time to stop reserving the family lunch table at the lodge and amp your winter fun factor by strapping on a pair of snowshoes. You’ll get your nature fix, plus a generous dose of mood boosting vitamin D, all while burning more calories than your alpine skiing family and friends (snowshoeing at a moderate walking pace burns 550 calories an hour compared to 500 an hour for alpine skiing, according to data compiled by Snowlink.com).
While the concept of snowshoeing for fitness is a relatively modern idea, functional snowshoeing has been around for thousands of years. Crude wooden slabs eventually morphed into wooden and rawhide designs that made it possible to maneuver and hunt in snow filled forests, trek between snowy mountain villages and make long journeys across snow-covered plains. Designs, while uniquely tailored to fit the snow and terrain needs of different regions, were all based upon the concept of float and dispersing weight over a larger area so travelers could move across the snow, instead of sinking into bottomless powder with every step.
Lighter weight aluminum frames were introduced in the 70s, with more groundbreaking innovations appearing on store shelves in the 90s. Think easy-to-use bindings, teeth with multi-directional stability, deck traction and more ergonomic construction. New, lightweight gear, like the Fitness Snowshoe from Atlas Snow-Shoe Co., are designed especially for athletes who want to carry their high-energy workouts over to snow sports, further expanding the base of more than four million people who regularly spend time on snowshoes.
According to the folks at Atlas, the comfortable and lightweight Fitness is great for trail running or just taking a stroll through the snow.
Worried about the learning curve? There’s no need to be, whether you like to walk or run, the motion is the same in snowshoes. But you will engage more muscles and ligaments for balance and proprioception. For an all-over workout, use poles—also handy with balance in deep powder. In fact, depending upon snow depth and exertion, snowshoeing can burn 45 percent more calories than walking or running at the same speed.
Switching out asphalt for snow and adding in the cushioning cradle of snowshoes reduces impact for an easier on the joints winter activity. You can set off on your favorite trails, explore trails at ski resorts or even make your own. Benefits are magnified if you are a runner looking to trade pounding on icy winter routes for powder and bliss. A study from the University of Vermont demonstrated that runners who add snowshoeing to their winter fitness routine build more strength and aerobic capacity than runners who just stuck to running for the winter months.
Ski resorts are a great place to try snowshoeing for the first time or reignite an old passion. They usually have well-marked trails and rental shops with different styles of snowshoes available for rent. Not only is it a fun alternative for non-skiers, it’s a beneficial cross-training workout after a day on the slopes and is family friendly.
“Beaver Creek Resort is home to more than 30Km of snowshoe and cross-country skiing trails with a dedicated Nordic and snowshoe area, McCoy Park, that offers groomed and signed trails,” said Jeremy Gross, race director and special event manager, Beaver Creek Resort Company. “Its location up on the mountain at 10,000 feet provides stunning views of the surrounding peaks making it a playground for guests wanting to try something new—the setting is infinitely better than spending the afternoon in a gym.”
Like all sports, some friendly competition can make a good thing even better, and snowshoeing is no different, with races held throughout the snow states. Depending upon conditions, some races are snow or no snow (which means check the weather and bring your trail shoes), some are run on packed trails while others route racers through untracked powder. The Beaver Creek Mountain Running Series Snowshoe Edition races (a series of three events held on January 5, February 2 and March 2, 2014), offer both 5K and 10K races, a mix of trails and plenty of snow, with routes taking racers all around Beaver Creek Resort.
“The snowshoe series provides a great opportunity for our guests and active locals to keep on running through the winter months,” said Gross.
Snowshoeing even has it’s own association, the United States Snowshoe Association. The organization helps to promote recreational snowshoeing and is also the lead governing body for snowshoe racing in the U.S.
For more information about the USSSA and a list of races, go to http://www.snowshoeracing.com/. Races with a USSSA designation count as qualifiers for the 14th Annual US National Snowshoe Championships being held in Vermont February 28-March 2.
For more information about the Beaver Creek Mountain Running Series Snowshoe Edition, visit http://www.beavercreek.com/events-and-activities/snowshoe-series.aspx.