Snowshoeing on Campus

So, you really enjoy cold weather when you’re in college but are unsure of yourself on skis. That’s OK. Snowshoeing is an ideal way to get around on campus after snow has fallen. In the wintertime, taking a relaxing walk and encountering views you may not get any other way helps break the monotony of what may well be a hard-scrabble, hand-to-mouth existence.

Nine Mile Forest, snowshoeing 01Snowshoeing is definitely good for you. While cold weather may seem restrictive, it doesn’t have to be. Consider taking up a sport that doesn’t exist in the warm climate you may have grown up in. Such as snowshoeing. If your winter sports menu doesn’t include the rush of downhill skiing or snowboarding, then snowshoeing may be the perfect winter sport for you.

We’re talking about a safe, low impact activity that is ideal for physical conditioning. Snowshoeing builds leg muscles and improves endurance. When you add poles while snowshoeing, you help to conditions your arms, shoulders and back muscles.

The University of Wisconsin–LaCrosse recently conducted a study which found that snowshoeing at an average speed of three miles per hour compares favorably to running at six mph and to cross-country skiing at 8 mph. Snowshoeing is approved by the American Heart Association as a heart-strengthening aerobic activity.

Nine Mile Forest, snowshoeing 06“Snowshoeing is the best bang-for-your buck, fat-burning workout in winter,” according to Dr. Ray Browning of the University of Colorado’s Health Science Center. Browning goes on: “It’s an excellent way to achieve cardiovascular fitness, expend energy and reduce your chance for developing heart disease, plus it’s low cost, easily mastered and fun.”

“Snowshoeing is an effective, safe way to change body composition. It burns up to twice the number of calories as walking at the same speed,” observes Dr. Declan Connolly of the University of Vermont’s exercise physiology department.

Snowshoeing has been around since . . . well, . . . snow. It didn’t take a real brain to figure out that if you’re going to get to class on time, you better not spend all day sinking up to your waist in the white stuff.

Several animals, most notably the snowshoe hare, have evolved over the years with oversized feet that enable them to move quickly through deep snow.


In the past, snowshoes were necessary for persons working in deep snow such s lumberjacks and fur traders, and for those who live in areas with frequent and deep snowfalls (such as college students in certain parts of the country).

French Voyageurs were 18th century fur traders who explored the frontier waterways by canoe. Superior French snowshoeing skills almost turned the French and Indian War, a conflict that saw two engagements named the Battle on Snowshoes, to their favor.

In the 20th century snowshoeing underwent a radical redesign. It began in the 1950s when the Vermont-based Tubbs Snowshoes created the Green Mountain Bearpaw, which unorthodox design combined the shortness of the Bearpaw style with an even narrower width than had previously been used. This new style rapidly became one of the most popular snowshoes of its time. It remains popular in some snowshoeing circles today.

Nine Mile Forest, snowshoeing 07For both exercise and enjoyment, try navigating a winter college landscape on snowshoes. Included among the snowiest colleges in America are Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York (whose campus has a well-deserved reputation for having the most snow in America), Michigan Tech University. Southern New Hampshire University and Montana State.

For many students, college is a time for self-discovery, last-minute cramming for midterms and learning how to make an infinite combination of tasty meals from noodles. For some, it may also be a time to improve one’s snowshoeing skills.

Western State Colorado University in Gunnison offers an outing entitled “Snowshoeing for Beginners” for persons who are interested in learning how to walk through the woods and campus with snowshoes as the mode of transportation.

The University of Idaho has one of the most scenic campuses in America, designed by the same landscape architectural firm that designed the U.S. Capitol Grounds in Washington, D.C. Here there is a large population of environmentally minded people, many of whom are into snowshoeing.

Nestled between the Adirondacks and the Green Mountains, the University of Vermont is known colloquially as UVM. Students who want to take advantage of the beautiful natural surroundings in Burlington can rent or purchase snowshoes on campus. At Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, students are invited to go on snowshoeing tramps in nearby Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

The Washington State University 4-H Challenge Snowshoeing and Winter Survival Programs in Pullman are designed not only to develop interest in healthy outdoor activities but also to teach safety and technical skills. The programs reflect awareness that outdoor backcountry winter survival knowledge is essential for people living in rural Washington State. Program participants receive instruction in snowshoeing safety techniques, map and compass usage, avalanche safety, signaling techniques and outdoor cooking.

Nine Mile Forest, snowshoeing 09At Saint John’s Outdoor University in Collegeville, Minnesota, students are encouraged to snowshoe anywhere in the St. John’s Abbey Arboretum, except on groomed ski trails.

Snowshoeing as an Activity

It takes some time and experience to use snowshoes effectively and safely. A person doesn’t just put snowshoes on. It may not be quite as easy as it sounds.

On newly fallen snow it may be necessary for a snowshoer to “break” in a trail. This can be tiring (it may require up to fifty percent more energy than simply following behind someone), even on level terrain. For that reason, in groups “breaking in” a trail may be shared among all the group participants.

When snowshoeing, don’t forget to bring a walking stick or poles. I forgot mine one time while walking on the campus of the University of Minnesota and I went down. If you’ve ever fallen in deep snow while wearing snowshoes, you know how hard it often is to get back up. With snowshoes, a person can’t just snap your feet back under you. I also discovered that there’s a layer of extremely wet mush about 16 inches under all that snow. That mush can make for general unpleasantness.

Nine Mile Forest, snowshoeing 12Perhaps the best thing about wintertime in a snowy environment is because the sun is usually low on the horizon, most any time of day the angle of light often yields interesting shadows. The shadows shift with the sun so the same landscape will look different depending on the time of day you pass by.

Snowshoe Rules

Respect all signs and use only trails open to snowshoers. Be respectful of private property owners. Treat all backcountry users with respect. Slow down when visibility is poor. Park it in, pack it out. Avoid snowshoeing on top of established ski trails.

Snowshoeing is a good way to get around on campus during snowy winter days. All you need s a sense of adventure and good-fitting boots. If you don’t have your own snowshoes, chances are you can borrow some on campus. So go ahead, join legions of students on campuses where it snows who get around easily and quickly when the white stuff seems to be everywhere. When you do you may run into an occasional professor, or perhaps even a dean.

Woman snowshoeing in St. Germain

About the author


Mary Syrett

Originally from Baton Rouge, Mary Syrett is a freelance writer and photographer who holds degrees from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Her articles have appeared in a variety of popular magazines.

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