What do you picture when you think of snowshoeing? Walking along a trail winding through the woods, poles in hands, heart rate rising? Maybe a line of people crossing a snowy meadow?
Relentless forward motion is one way to snowshoe, and can be fun and rewarding, but there are other ways to enjoy a day on snowshoes. Here are a few of them:
1. Stomp out a sledding track
Kids love sledding. Adults love it, too. When my family goes snowshoeing, we often drag or carry a sled with us. That way, if we pass a slope that we must slide down, we’re ready to go.
If you have a big open slope, then a track may not be necessary, but when you’re in the woods, trying not to hit trees, a sled track can be helpful in making the right turns at the right time.
It’s also helpful to stomp out a track if the slope isn’t quite steep enough, or the snow is too deep, to get going.
It’s easy to do. First, start jogging downhill wherever you want the sled track to be. Have everyone follow you in a line and by the time you get to the bottom, you should have a pretty nice track. Now, use those snowshoes to create a path back up to the top.
2. Build a snow shelter
Even if it is just in your backyard, building a snow shelter is a great way for families to bond, have fun, and get some exercise. If you are in the backcountry, you can use your snowshoe as a digging implement, although shovels are easier. You can spend the night in your shelter or use it for a picnic.
Plus, a snow hut, or “quinzee” is fun to make.
First, clear a circular area in the snow about seven or eight feet across. Then, use a shovel or snowshoe to mix up the snow in the clearing, making sure to bring snow from bottom layers up higher and vice versa. Mixing snow of different temperatures will facilitate the hardening process.
Next, make a large pile (about six-feet high) of snow on top of the clearing and shape it into a dome. The snow should be heaped, not packed. Allow the mound to sit for one to three hours, or overnight.
When the snow is settled and hardened, hollow out the mound. Dig straight in at first to create your initial opening, then dig at an upward angle in order to make an elevated sleeping area. This will allow cold air from inside to flow down and out of the shelter.
Use the snow you dig out to make a windbreak in front of the entrance, or heap it onto the exterior of the shelter to thicken its walls and increase the available interior space.
Smooth out the interior walls and ceiling when the hollowed area is large enough and poke a ventilation hole through the top of the dome using your snowshoeing pole or long stick. Make sure this hole stays clear of ice and snow.
(This is super important since you need to keep air circulating to avoid an overdose of carbon dioxide.)
Carve a bench along the wall to sleep on, then climb in and enjoy.
I’ve built a few quinzees, and spent the night in them, but never with kids. I think I would try this out close to home the first time, just in case the kids get too cold or really don’t like it. For some children, the fort-like aspect will outweigh the slight discomfort. If you pile in lots of sleeping bags and quilts, they are pretty comfortable.
3. Create art
Sometimes, slogging along a trail on snowshoes isn’t as entertaining for my kids as it is for me. That’s when we bring in snowshoe art.
Find an open space and give them an assignment. They can draw a snowflake, a tree, or whatever you want. The trick is, they have to think about it a little ahead of time because they are going to “draw” their object by stomping its likeness out in the snow. That means a line can’t end in once place and start again in another.
Alternatively, they could spell out their name, or create something from their imagination and have you try to identify it. It’s amazing how much more energy the can muster to “draw” than to hike up a trail.
4. Play games in the snow
Almost any “regular game” can be adapted to the snow. We’ve played hide-and-seek on snowshoes (not that hard since you can follow the trail), “Mother, May I?” and many versions of tag.
Scavenger hunt: Make a list before you head out on the trail (or in your head as you go along) of things for kids to find. Depending on your kids’ age and where you are, this might include: something green, something soft, a place where an animal has stopped, a food source, something unnatural, something brown, something prickly, animal tracks…. the list can go on and on.
Animal Races: If you really want to appreciate your snowshoes, play this game. Everyone gets to be a different animal. Then they race. The snowshoe hare gets to use snowshoes and hops from start to finish. The elk must race in his or her boots and can’t lift their legs out of the snow. That means a stiff-legged walk, pushing the snow in front of them. The moose races in boots, too, but since it has articulated knees, it can lift its legs up, and over the snow. Who’s the fastest? Who has the easiest time moving on snow and why?
5. Animal Tracking
Whether you are specifically looking for animal tracks or just taking advantage of finding them during your walk, trying to identify who was there is a fun way to better understand a place.
Start by guessing if you can tell how an animal moved.
- Why did the animal cross the path or what could it have been doing?
- How many toes does the animal have? Moose and deer have two, dogs and cats have four, and weasels have five.
- Does the track show claw marks? Squirrels and members of the dog family (coyote, fox, wolf) show claws in their tracks. Cats, including mountain lions, bobcats, and lynx, have retractable claws that don’t show in prints.
- Is there a line in the snow? Mice sometimes leave the imprint of a tail in the snow; porcupine tails leave troughs.
- Are the tracks spread far apart or are they close together? This helps tell whether the animal is big or small and if was traveling quickly or slowly.
After answering some of these questions, pull out a track book and see if you can identify the animal.
Bonus: Make a snack
After all that digging, game playing, and track identifying, you’re going to be hungry.
Pack along real maple syrup and ice cream cones or paper snow cone holders. Fill the cone with clean, edible snow, and drizzle maple syrup on top. Easy and delicious.