I have to be honest here, when I first started to snowshoe I did it alone, all the time. It was a chance for me to get away from all the noise and chaos that often fills our house. It was a chance for me to reconnect with myself and frankly, I didn’t know anyone else that was into the sport. Snowshoeing is not only an opportunity to get out and exercise, but it’s also a time to reflect on your life, reconnect with nature and slow down from our often busy lives.
What I didn’t expect snowshoeing to give me was the ultimate bonding experience with friends and family, both new and old. Historically, we can look at team sports and make a good case that they in fact offer the ultimate bonding experience, forced to work together, travel together and win or lose together. It seems joining a team would somehow offer a better bonding experience than an individual sport. Having played competitive baseball for many years, I would be keen to agree with this theory, that is until I started to snowshoe.
It started off as a simple offer to my mom to join me one day when I set out to tackle the trails. I was home for the holidays that year and needed a break from all the holiday food, music and festivities. I had brought along a couple of pairs of snowshoes that I hadn’t gotten the chance to try out yet and luckily the snow was in abundance. My mom has always been the outdoors type, but I wasn’t sure she had ever snowshoed before, nor did I know if she had any interest. Luckily for the both of us, she decided to join me and thus my experience of snowshoeing with others had begun.
Although wandering through snowy forests, over hills and across creeks was enjoyable without any conversation, it wasn’t long before my mom and I were chatting about everything from my childhood to raising my kids to her employment to my hopes for the future. It wasn’t until later that I realized I had never had that sort of in-depth conversation with my mom, normally the kids are running around, someone is trying to cook dinner or we are simply too busy to pick up the phone and chat for hours. With no cell phones or other distractions, it was easy to fall into those types of conversations. We trekked for hours that day, stopping to drink hot chocolate out of the thermos, and take a few photos and appreciate the beauty of the landscape. We encouraged each other when the hill looked overly daunting, laughing as we tumbled down the other side and grew a bond unlike anything I had ever had before.
It got me wondering, could I form this kind of bond with others while snowshoeing? Perhaps I was missing out on genuine conversation and shared passions. It became my goal to explore this notion, and what I learned has convinced me that this sport not only offers exercise, connections with nature and a newfound appreciation for the snow but also offers the chance to form bonds and a support system with an array of incredible people.
I joined a couple of groups on Facebook, I reached out to my friends nearby and I reached out to my family, asking them if they would join me in my snowshoe adventures. Although many were hesitant at first, as they have never been snowshoeing, I managed to convince them with my charm (a.k.a. I begged and pleaded until they said yes). In one year I managed to snowshoe with more than 40 different women, some younger, some older, some new friends, some old and not once in that time did someone stop and say “hold on, I have to check my phone”. All was forgotten once we had parked the car, bundled up in our hats and mitts and buckled our snowshoes. We laughed, we chatted about life and its stresses, we broke out in song, we high-fived and hugged, we even had a winter picnic complete with mulled wine, but most of all we bonded. New friends opened up to one another, we gave and asked advice and more importantly we did not judge. Sometimes there was just two of us out there, trekking in the backcountry for hours, sometimes there was a group of 8 or 9 of us out for a quick hour, able to sneak away at lunch or when our spouses got home. Heck, sometimes we even dragged the kids along with us (let it be noted it was less fun and we left the wine at home).
One day sticks out so clearly in my mind, a day where my sister, mom and I had the chance to snowshoe in Lake Louise together. It was the beginning of the snowshoe season and a fresh batch of snow had fallen the night before. We had never snowshoed together, nor had we hiked together for a number of years. Distance had kept us on other sides of the country and it was the first time we managed to find time together, without kids and spouses. About five minutes into the trail I look behind me and my mom is bent over her poles, breathing heavily. I panic, as she is more fit than my sister and I and ask her what’s wrong. Turns out she’s not quite used to the altitude that we have here in Alberta (especially at Lake Louise, the highest permanent settlement in Canada).
Sissy and I burst out laughing, having lived in Alberta we have gotten used to it. The day continues with our mom stopping every 10 minutes or so to catch her breath, sis and I breaking out in laughter and trying to capture it on film. We tease our mom, we feed the birds, we trek up enormous hills where we, even I, need to break and we talk about life, men, children and everything in between. As we drove back into the city my mom turns to me and says “thank you, for giving me the best day I have ever had with you two”. She goes home two days later, buys herself a pair of snowshoes and creates her own band of female friends who get together at least once a week to snowshoe in the winter, and hike in the summer.
You see, it doesn’t matter what age you are, it doesn’t matter what you have in common, if you are single, married, childless or have a family. All that matters is that you put yourself out there, join a snowshoe group, call a friend or ask your sister to join you. Watch in amazement as your bond grows stronger with each step you take.