Snowshoe Magazine The snowshoeing experience for snowshoers around the world: snowshoe racing, snowshoes, gear reviews, events, recreation, first-timers. Tue, 23 Apr 2019 02:07:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 28162661 Winter Canoeing, Trekking, and Hot Springs in Aomori, Japan Tue, 23 Apr 2019 02:07:12 +0000 Far from the jam-packed streets and unceasing lights of Tokyo lies a region one could easily mistake for rural Alaska or Montana in winter. High mountain peaks stand over barely populated towns, ski resorts, small farms, valleys, lakes, rivers, and … Continue reading

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Canoe at Lake Towada, Aomori

Far from the jam-packed streets and unceasing lights of Tokyo lies a region one could easily mistake for rural Alaska or Montana in winter. High mountain peaks stand over barely populated towns, ski resorts, small farms, valleys, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls—This is Aomori Prefecture. To learn more about Aomori’s vast stretches of excellent terrain for winter nature sports, I explored Aomori by train, van, gondola, snowshoe, and canoe.

Day 1: Guided Backcountry Snowshoe Tour on Mt. Iwaki

Winter Snow Hike Photo by ShintaroTakada

First, I zipped from Tokyo Station to Aomori at speeds up to 320 kilometers per hour (199 miles per hour) on the Hayabusa Shinkansen (E5), or bullet train. Three and a half hours later, my friend and I arrived at Shin-Aomori, a train station near the northernmost tip of Japan’s main island. Our Aomori expert hustled us into a waiting van.

Our goal was the Aomori Spring Ski Resort on Mt. Iwaki. We headed to the gondola (elevation: 518 meters/1,699 feet). Affable guide and owner of BBB Aomori Tour, Kazuo Hanada was waiting for us with snowshoes, poles, and a wide grin.

Riding the Gondola To The Top

Climbing Mt. Iwaki, Aomori

Hanada updated us on the weather conditions. Despite strong wind and heavy snowfall, the gondola was, luckily, still running. A bean-like four-seat gondola car carried us 2,967 meters (1.8 miles). We got off at an elevation of 921 meters (3,021 feet). The air temperature was -9° Celsius (15.8° Fahrenheit). Snow depth was just over 1.5 meters (about five feet). On clear days, views from the mountain heights stretch into the Sea of Japan. But that day, limiting visibility, winds from Siberia were blowing icy powder over our faces.

Aomori Spring Ski Resort Gondola

Fortunately, Hanada’s knowledge of snow conditions and mountain plants is encyclopedic. Pointing to dangerous slopes, he explained why they might be susceptible to sliding. Then he led us safely uphill. In knee-deep powder, we weaved through a beech forest. Trees splotched with multi-hued lichen looked like they were wearing military camouflage. Rime ice on the tips of branches grew in the shapes of shrimp tails.

Snow, Ice, and Trees–A Heavenly View

Learning About Nature On Our Tour

Our guide showed us pairs of thriving trees and pairs of trees in which one was sick or dead. He taught us that two small trees coexist if both sprouted from the seeds originating from the same tree. However, trees growing from the seeds of different trees extrude poison through roots to kill the others when they are very close.

I desired to learn more nature lore from our guide, but we had to get back on the gondola to arrive at our accommodation in time for dinner. While watching skiers slide under us, Hanada explained details of some of his tours.

Our Guide Examining the Slopes

Other Winter Tours

Since he is not a fluent English speaker, he relies on body language and simple English to communicate with foreign guests. One of his most popular winter tours is riding fat tire mountain bikes over snow and ice to visit shrines and even a castle. Another fun-sounding trip is a combination of bicycling and snowshoe trekking and eating lunch in the snow. He arranges a variety of customized tours for each season.

Route to Aoni Inn

Day 1: Relaxing and Disconnecting at the Aoni Inn

If only I had more time to enjoy his tours, but we needed to hurry to reach a secluded location. We covered 60 kilometers (33 miles) on mountainous public roads to an inn with baths that hot spring fanatics rave about. We turned up the Aoni Inn’s narrow private lane. It snaked up ridges and down ravines for six kilometers (3.9 miles). We had entered the Aoni Inn’s hidden realm, where phones lose connection with the “world.”

Entrance to Aoni Inn

Recharging phones is impossible. Rooms do not have electrical outlets. Guests gave a nickname for this hot spring hotel whose interior is illuminated only by kerosene lamps: Lamp Inn. Stars and moonlight illuminate the exterior. The old-growth forest surrounding the inn provides a natural environment for outdoor walks and reflection.

One of Many Baths at the Aoni Inn

One repeat guest from Tokyo explained that after her first one-night stay, she decided to visit every year for at least one weekend. She reads by the river, soaks in hot springs, and relishes dishes prepared with mountain fish, duck, vegetables, herbs, and other local foods. Staying there, she says, is like returning to a time when people were less automatic, more humane.

Riverside Indoor Bath

I understood. Without my distracting phone and computer, I engaged in long, meaningful face-to-face conversations. Discussions deepened during slow meals in our private dining room or while healing our bodies and minds in natural thermal springs. I remembered when I was not tethered to the Internet, and my life was slower.

Wake Up to This View

Soak In Rejuvenating Bathing Areas

The Aoni Inn’s four bathing areas encourage relaxation. There is a mixed-gender bath that all guests can enter. The stone-rimmed bath has views of snow and forest. An indoor single-sex steamy wooden bathroom smells like herbs. Another indoor bathing area is within a jump’s length of a river. My favorite spot had both an interior wooden bath with large windows and an exterior rock bath that faced a 30-meter-high (98.5 feet) waterfall.

Waterfall, Lamp, Bath

The next morning after a reinvigorating hot bath and a hearty breakfast in a room with a snowy-river view we departed; although, I wished to stay longer.

Day 2: Winter Canoeing at Lake Towada

But the itinerary promised an exciting activity—winter canoeing—in Towada-Hachimantai National Park’s Lake Towada. It’s a caldera lake at an elevation of 400 meters (1,312 feet). Despite its enormous size, 61.1 square kilometers (24 square miles), and cobalt blue water, it’s almost deserted in winter.

Lake Towada

The route we took to Lake Towada crisscrossed the awe-inspiring Oirase River over small bridges. Many in Aomori boast that the Oirase is Japan’s most beautiful. We discovered frozen waterfalls and running waterfalls, sunlight filtering through frosted branches, and sparkling water bounding over mossy rocks.

One of Many Waterfalls

Meeting Our Guides From Towada Guidehouse Kai

After many stops for photographs, our van arrived at the parking of the small building that Towada Guidehouse Kai shares with a coffee shop. A short walk away, choppy waves rolled across the surface of Lake Towada. Waterfowl scattered here and there, then occasionally turned over and plunged into the depths of the great blue body of water. Three-storied excursion boats docked on a beach waited for warmer water and more visitors. Neither vehicles nor people moved on the white shore and the shimmering lake that steep mountains surrounded.

Canoe Guides

Partners and tour guides Shuhe Murakami and Yasuhiro Ota invited us into their shop. They speak basic English, but their other partner Hiroshi Koda, who assists when English-speaking foreigners join tours, communicates well.

Towada Guidehouse Kai offers “nature rambling,” snowshoe, and canoe tours through Oirase Gorge and around Lake Towada. Nature rambling is moving at a leisurely pace and studying the environs while wearing hiking boots, snowshoes, or short Bluemoris Snow Rambler skis. Triangular ridges protrude from the bottoms of these Aomori-manufactured skis that allow downhill skiing, but prevent slippage when walking uphill.

Embarking On Our Canoe Tour

Our plan was first winter canoeing and then snowshoeing. Strong winds and high-rolling waves almost canceled our trip, but our guides brought us around the lake to Utarube Beach, where the lake surface, sheltered from the wind, was as clear and smooth as water in a glass.

Smooth Lake & Icicles

Before departing, our guides professionally inspected the fastening of our life jackets, taught us paddling techniques, and made us practice until they were satisfied. From the snow-covered lakeshore, we stepped into two Canadian-made Old Town canoes. We paddled.

Beautiful Views and Wildlife On Our Canoe Trip

Waves splashing through winter onto fallen trees, and the exposed roots of living trees on the shoreline, had created sparkling rows of icicles. Above and around us birds screeched, chirped, honked, flew, or dove. By sight or sound, the guides identified and taught us about the habits of the following birds: black kite, tits, mandarin duck, grebe, and cormorant.

Bird Above Canoe

Our canoes sliced through the slushy icy skin of the shallow inlet named Kojima Ga Ura. It is at the base of the Ogura Peninsula. This cove is the most heavily protected section of the national park. The only access is by canoe. Mesmerized, we stopped paddling and speaking to absorb the scenery.

Ice on the Inlet Surface

Everywhere I pointed my camera, the views of land and lake were like advertisements for winter nature tourism. Sharp rocky cliffs plunged into the lake. Rocks in mid-cove held pillows of snow.


Passing the Utarube Campsite

Gusts of wind and drizzles crept over the peninsula, so we paddled back. We passed the vacant Utarube Campsite, which has tent sites and small lodges all within a minute’s stroll to the lakeshore.

In seasons other than winter, the campsite is very popular. Many visitors staying there choose to enjoy barbecues and sunrise canoe trips that our guides arrange. I hope to return to Lake Towada in spring, summer, and fall when winter’s leafless trees wear light green, dark green, and fiery colors.

Day 2: Exploring the Oirase Stream Museum

Just after we returned to shore, the drizzle turned to a downpour, so we went to a coffee shop owned by the mother of one of the guides. She served us curry rice and tasty hot udon, Japanese flour noodles with mountain vegetables. While watching the storm churn Lake Towada, we realized that nature had canceled our afternoon snowshoe trek.

Instead, we dropped into the Oirase Stream Museum, which has nature exhibits and provides lessons in the crafts of creating lamps from dried gourds and making moss balls.

Gourd Lamps

To see one of the most dazzling videos of snowshoeing ever made, click on the link to a website produced by the Oirase Field Museum and scroll down to “Winter in Oirase.”

Day 2: Staying at the Sukayu Hotel

Our hotel that night was the renowned Sukayu. This hotel satisfies the accommodation needs of hardcore powder hounds.

Sukayu sits in the Hakkoda mountain range, a realm of active volcanoes that have grown to high elevations. The Hakkoda Ski Area is acclaimed for off-piste and backcountry skiing and snowshoe trekking. Many intrepid skiers and snowshoers ride the Hakkoda ropeway gondola to Mt. Tamoyachidake (elevation: 1324 meters or 4347 feet) and conclude the day by descending the backside of the mountain through the woods to Sukayu.

Snow Monsters Photo By Shintaro Takada

Sukayu was built in a very magical mountain range. It is a place where fire and snow meet, where snow monsters are born and melt, and where walkers can explore nature all year round if they take the proper precautions. Snow monsters are trees so encrusted with so much frost, ice, and snow that they resemble Godzilla, aliens, and other monsters. January and February are the best months to photograph these beasts near the top of the Hakkoda Ski Area.

Photograph Courtesy of Sukayu Onsen

A sense of wonderment filled me during my stay at Sukayu. I felt it first when we drove by a 5.6-meter-tall (about 18 feet) snowman in the parking lot. It stayed with me when bathing in one of Japan’s largest and most traditional mixed-gender hot springs.

Day 3: Guided Snow Hike of Volcanic Hot Springs

And the next morning, awe and amazement were my traveling partners. Powerful winds closed the ropeway that day, so our guide brought us around the swamps and hot springs in the woods near our hotel. The hotel rents gear, and it arranges backcountry ski, snowboard, and snowshoe tours. Guides are necessary. Getting lost or injured by accident from breathing poisonous gases are remote possibilities that you should not ignore. Our knowledgeable guide was Yoshitaka Hirai.

Infinite Paths

Hirai explained that in certain volcanic regions gases rise with hot thermal water out of the soil. The concentrations of these gases are usually too low to be a threat, but going too close to their sources or breathing too much when the earth emits large amounts are dangerous. A child died a few years ago in that area while searching for mountain vegetables.

Thermal Springs in the Snow

Shrine and Wildlife Sights Along The Way

Starting just behind Sukayu, we passed ancient Yakushi Shrine, which was buried by snow with just the tip sticking out. We continued trekking. We smelled sulfur and saw yellow caked sulfur around hot springs melting snow. Steam floated upward.

Shrine Building Buried By Snow

White mountains rolled into the distance. Holes in trees indicated active woodpeckers. We walked over and around swamps that in spring would burst with colorful flowers. The snow was soft and fresh.

Snow Corridor Before Opening

We walked to the edge of snow cliffs above a road that the government closes every winter. From a height of nine meters (about thirty feet), we looked down. By coincidence, a snowplow was trimming the edges of what would become the snow corridor linking Sukayu Hot Spring with Yachi Onsen (hot spring) at the end of March. Snowplows cannot keep up with all the extraordinary snowfall until spring.

In Search of Backcountry Powder

Soon afterward, two powder hounds hiking up the mountain with skis and snowboards on their backs and smiles on their faces crossed our path. They were the only people we met.

Our snow hike ended at a lovely swamp called Jigoku Numa (Hell Swamp). The Japanese often use “hell” to name locations with bubbling thermal waters, bubbling mud and drifting smelly gases. When steam floats above the contours of snowy landscapes, they impart an otherworldliness.

Lovely Hell Swamp

During my three-day trip, I found vast stretches of exceptional winter lands in Aomori, and I barely scratched the surface of the prefecture. Aomori has hooked me. Maybe I will see you there.

Trip Summary

To Get There: Hayabusa Shinkansen (E5) bullet train from Tokyo to Aomori

Day 1

Tour: Snowshoe Tour By BBB Aomori Tour on Mt. Iwaki
Accommodation: Aoni Inn

Day 2

Tour: Winter Canoeing By Towada Guidehouse Kai
Sights: Oirase Stream Museum
Accommodation: Sukayu in Hakkoda Ski Area

Day 3

Tour: Guided Volcanic Hot Springs Snow Hike By Yoshitaka Hirai
Accommodation: Sukayu in Hakkoda Ski Area

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Balance: One Foot At A Time Wed, 17 Apr 2019 20:30:35 +0000 Most of us take balance for granted. When we snowshoe, just like when we walk or run, we don’t think about how to balance ourselves when we take a step forward or backward. It just happens. As we age though, … Continue reading

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Balance is so important, especially for snowshoeing in hilly or mountainous areas. Photo by Nicola Poluzzi on Unsplash

Most of us take balance for granted. When we snowshoe, just like when we walk or run, we don’t think about how to balance ourselves when we take a step forward or backward. It just happens. As we age though, our balance naturally decreases because our muscles become weaker. Fortunately, there are exercises we can all do to postpone the aging affect and even improve our balance now and into the future.

By making these exercises part of a balanced exercise program, you can increase your strength, balance, and maybe even more importantly, your self-confidence when approaching a steep incline or narrow trail. It’s always best to do any exercise after a brief warm up, so don’t forget to go for a light walk or short hike before trying these. As with any exercise, have fun with it and set reasonable long and short-term goals.

Here are a few exercises for beginners that struggle with their balance on and off the trail:

Single Leg Raises

Single Leg Raise

To perform this exercise, grab a chair and place it on one side of you. Slowly bend your knee and raise your foot off the ground in front of you, so that the angle between your thigh and upper body decreases. Raise your leg as high as it feels comfortable and hold it for 5 seconds. Then lower your leg slowly to the ground and repeat with the opposite leg.

If you find yourself having difficulty with this exercise , grab another chair and place it on the other side of you to help you balance. If you cannot hold your leg up for 5 seconds, just raise it and lower it slowly as if you were marching. Again, going slow is the key.

If this exercise is too easy, simply try balancing without the help of either chair. The next progression would be to perform this exercise with one eye closed and then both eyes closed.

Side Leg Raise

Side Leg Raises

This exercise is done in much the same way as the single leg raise. Except now, raise the leg to the side instead of in front of you, keeping your leg straight.

One of the key checkpoints here is to make sure when you raise your leg to the side, your upper body/trunk doesn’t bend the opposite way to help lift your leg. Keep your spine in alignment and raise your leg without bending or shifting your upper body.

Again, this exercise should be done in a slow and controlled manner. Aim for 10 repetitions on both sides.

Walking Heel to Toe

Walking Heel To Toe

Carefully put the heel of one foot in front of your toes of the other foot as if you were walking on a tightrope. If you need help balancing, use a long table, countertop or wall to help support you. Take a step with your back foot, placing the heel of your foot down first, in front of the toes of your other foot. Continue for 10 steps.

Try not to look down at your feet while walking and focus your attention forward. Don’t be discouraged if you struggle with this exercise at first. It can be quite challenging. If it’s easy for you, try closing one eye and then both eyes while you walk for an added challenge.

Chair Assisted Squat

Chair Assisted Squat

Begin by sitting in a sturdy chair with good posture. A typical wooden chair works best. Avoid recliners, sofas, and stools for this exercise. Using both arms of the chair to help support you, stand up, focusing your attention in front of you.This is an assisted form of a squat, which is an excellent exercise for the glute (butt) muscles at the hip and for the quadriceps (anterior thigh) muscles at the knee.

If you need more of a challenge, use one arm to support you progressing until you can stand up without support. When not using your hands to support yourself, cross them in front of you as you perform the exercise.

As with all of these exercises, go slow and pause for 1-2 seconds when you stand up, making sure you are completely balanced before “squatting” back down into the chair. Remember, staying balanced while sitting down (eccentric phase) is just as important as standing up (concentric phase). Both phases should be done with a neutral spine (don’t slouch) and in a controlled manner.

Calf and Heel Raises

Using a chair to help support yourself, raise both of your heels off the ground and stand on your toes. Pause for 1-2 seconds and slowly lower your heels back down to the floor. Raise your toes so that you are balanced on your heels. Pause for 1-2 seconds and repeat. This is a very good ankle strengthening exercise and can be very challenging, especially when balancing on your heels. Aim for 8-12 repetitions. Avoid rocking back and forth too quickly between your heels and toes.

Don’t be discouraged if you find some or all of these exercises difficult. Go slow and do the best you can. With practice, these exercises will improve your balance and help give you the confidence to tackle the trails you never thought possible!

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Play Ball! On Snowshoes Sun, 14 Apr 2019 17:15:51 +0000 Bases were loaded. One more kick into the outfield and their team could gain some home runs. Excitement mounted as a young woman slammed a large beach-ball with her snowshoe, landing it beyond 2nd base and into centerfield. Two players … Continue reading

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Bases were loaded. One more kick into the outfield and their team could gain some home runs. Excitement mounted as a young woman slammed a large beach-ball with her snowshoe, landing it beyond 2nd base and into centerfield. Two players came in for two runs, and the third played it safe by staying on 3rd base. The kicker made it to 1st base safely. What a game!

Kickball and other ball games on snowshoes were an integral part of college snowshoe classes and seminars that I taught for many years. A co-instructor and I would hand out cards with pictures of animals on them in order to randomly select teams for games. Teams included eagles, bears, owls and wolves. Since we often had up to 24 students participating, two teams of six would compete in snowshoe games with me, while the other two teams would play games with the co-instructor. We then switched teams so that everybody would play all the games.

Let the games begin

A game of moon-ball to warm things up

A good warm up ball game on snowshoes is moon-ball. Two teams compete by standing in two separate circles around a hula-hoop in the snow. Team members cannot step on or in the hoop, but they can be anywhere outside the hoop while maintaining a circle. One person holds the ball to start the challenge. When the whistle blows, the ball is released in the air for other members to keep it in motion.

The object of the game is to keep the ball in the air and in motion by passing it back and forth to team members for as long as possible. Rules include tapping the ball to keep it airborne, no holding the ball, and no touching the ball twice in a row. The first team to drop the ball loses that round. Several rounds are played to see which team scores the most wins. A game of moon-ball gets the adrenaline moving as well as the blood flowing, providing lots of thrills and fun for team members before competing in more popular ball games like kickball and volleyball.


Kickball on snowshoes, using a beach ball and hula-hoops for bases

Most ball games need to be modified in order to accommodate both snow and participants wearing snowshoes. In the game of kickball, a good sized beach ball is used as well as hula-hoops for bases. I suggest bringing two or three balls, since a beach ball can deflate if hit too hard in very cold weather. The ball field is created by stamping down snow between bases, as well as from the pitcher’s mound to home base. Then it’s….play ball! Rules for the game are similar to baseball and can easily be found online.


Play volleyball on snowshoes for a fast-paced challenge

Volleyball is another game that is fun and challenging when played on snowshoes. Needed is a volleyball net and volleyball. We were always fortunate to have an official outdoor net in place and ready for use from our university. Follow volleyball rules for serving and scoring. On one occasion, we were short a person for one of the teams. Not having played volleyball for many years, I decided to put on my snowshoes and join in the game. I took many nose-dives in the snow, but held my own. Not bad for an old guy.


You might think that basketball played on snow is impossible because the game involves dribbling the ball across a court. Here is where modification of game rules come into play. For this game, a basketball and an outdoor basketball court with hoops are needed. Again at the university, we were fortunate to have a snow covered outdoor basketball court.

I used a unique modification of rules when playing basketball on snowshoes. Rather than dribbling a ball when moving about the court, the ball carrier would have to continually bounce the ball slightly upward in their hands…dribbling the ball up rather than down. That motion seemed difficult at first. But once into the game, team members got used to it quickly. The game moved rapidly and points mounted as teams competed in a very different style of basketball.


The game field for kickball can be used for baseball or softball, using hula-hoops for bases. An orange or red baseball or softball works great, especially for finding the ball when it falls into the snow. The only other equipment needed is a baseball bat. Baseball gloves are optional for softball, but recommended for baseball. When our students played softball on snowshoes, they discovered that almost any game can be modified to play in the snow and on snowshoes.

Creativity is intelligence having fun” (Albert Einstein)

Caution when kicking too high in kickball!

Use snowshoes to play other ball games too! Get creative by developing your own modifications to such sports as touch football, soccer, dodgeball and tetherball. Set up plastic bowling pins and use an inflatable rubber ball to try your hand at bowling on flattened snow. Or modify using wood pegs and a volleyball. Be sure to brush up on how to keep score in bowling.

What about croquet? Use 6 or 8-inch inflated rubber balls of varying color, small 18 to 24-inch hula hoops or bent metal coat hangers for croquet wickets, two wooden stakes and actual croquet mallets. Set up the game according to croquet rules and start hitting away. What about golf in the snow and on snowshoes? I’ll let you create the necessary modifications. What would you use to substitute a golf ball? Or if using an actual golf ball, what color should it be? What clubs do you use? And, what about holes? See if you can play golf in the snow.

For physically demanding ball games, be sure to keep safety in mind. Players can be injured with snowshoes, if someone is kicked or stepped on. And falling on hardened snow or ice can result in injury as well. For example when playing kickball, lifting a snowshoe too high when kicking can result in the tail catching in snow and landing the player on the ground. Alert players of potential hazards when playing games on snowshoes.

In the good old summer time

A rare and unique example of playing ball games on snowshoes that ultimately became a popular annual tradition since 1961, takes place in the good old summer time in Lake Tomahawk, Wisconsin. It is hard to believe, but the Snowhawks, a team of local players, compete in baseball on snowshoes against other community teams every Monday night beginning the end of June through the end of August. Games begin at 7:30 P.M.

The small town of Lake Tomahawk (population 1,043 in 2010) take pride in their summer sport, as their town sign reads, “Welcome to Lake Tomahawk, Home of Snowshoe Baseball.” Snowshoe Park is the setting for these festive weekly events. Ball players wear traditional wood-framed, modified bearpaw snowshoes, and they do not wear baseball gloves. The ball is yellow. And they play ball on woodchips rather than snow.

As A Spectator

Snowhawks up to bat!

The games have no admission cost. However, a butterfly net is passed during the game for donations and the proceeds go to various charitable projects within their community. You can purchase soft drinks, brats, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and popcorn at a concession stand, sponsored by local service clubs. A large assortment of homemade pie slices are also available. I sampled apple and pecan pie during my visit.

The games are always exciting. I enjoyed watching the Snowhawks pull an entertaining gag when they pitched a grapefruit in lieu of the ball. As the fruit splattered against the opposing team’s bat, all the Snowhawks in the field fell to the ground on their buttocks simultaneously. The crowd went wild with laughter! And in the seventh inning stretch, the announcers led the crowd in singing “Take me out to the ballgame.” What a hoot! And what fun!

The opponent picks up a grounder and sends it to first base. Photo by Lisa Kuczmarski

To find out more about Lake Tomahawk’s snowshoe baseball and the 2019 snowshoe baseball schedule of games, go online to They should have the schedule up sometime this spring. It may be worth a trip to Lake Tomahawk just to watch a ball game.

Go Play!

Whether bases are loaded in a college class playing softball on snow in snowshoes, or in a summer baseball game at Lake Tomahawk on woodchips in snowshoes, the thrill and excitement flourishes. For any group planning snowshoeing activities, such as a school, club, church, scouting or community recreation program, consider playing a ball game. Game activities teach recreation skills, enhance creativity, help build team camaraderie, and provide healthy physical activity for kids and adults. When the bases are loaded, you can feel your adrenaline moving and the blood start flowing!

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Snowshoeing in Allegany State Park, New York Wed, 10 Apr 2019 20:54:52 +0000 Allegany State Park is located in the beautiful southern tier of New York. The park has some of the best cross-country ski trails and snowshoe trails in Western New York, and the trails vary in skill level from easy to … Continue reading

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Photo by Paul Crawford

Allegany State Park is located in the beautiful southern tier of New York. The park has some of the best cross-country ski trails and snowshoe trails in Western New York, and the trails vary in skill level from easy to difficult. The trails are very well marked and easy to follow. Maps are available at the Red House Administrator Building and the Summit Hut/ski shop.

In the winter, there is no entrance fee for Allegany State Park. After Memorial Day, you can purchase a day pass or a long term (annual, multi-year, lifetime) New York State Park pass, the Empire Pass. This pass provides unlimited day entry to most facilities operated by the park. Please note, only certain roads in the park are plowed in the winter, so please be prepared. Trails are not affected by the road closures.

Snowshoe Specific Trails

Photo by Jo Ann Dombeck

The Bear Paw Trail is a 2.5 mile trail designed for hiking and snowshoeing. It is located in the Summit Area, which is in the northeastern corner of Allegany State Park. The rolling Bear Paw trail takes you through various education sites and points of interest in the Summit Area of Allegany State Park. A written guide is available and coordinates with marked locations along the trail. The trail was added to the Allegany State Park system for snowshoers in the winter months, but is just as enjoyable to visit any time of the year. Parking is located near the Art Roscoe Trail System.

The Hemlock Trail, I believe, is the newest trail in the park. It’s a 4 mile out and back trail located at the entrance of the Red House Area. The trail is perfect for snowshoeing. It has considerable elevation gain, but is a wide, well marked trail. The Hemlock trail intersects the Conservation Trail at the top. If you turn left at the crossroads, it will bring out in the back of the Red House Administrator Building. If you turn right, it will intersect with a section of the North Country Trail, and bring you out at Bay State Road. Both end destinations of the trails are somewhat of a distance from where you started, which can be seen on the Allegany State Park map.

Trails For Additional Activities

Photo by Jo Ann Dombeck

The Art Roscoe trails, located northeast of Red House Lake, are all groomed for cross country skiing and mountain biking. Unfortunately, the area is off-limits to snowshoers, but if you’re a skier you should definitely check them out. There is a ski shop located across the street from the trails, where you can rent skis and snowshoes. Also, facilities are available if needed.  At one point, there was a downhill ski resort in the park at the Bova area, and the chairlift poles still exist. There was also a ski jump in the park behind the Red House Administrator building, and you can hike to that location, where a cement stand still exists .

If You Go

I would highly recommend traveling to Allegany State Park when you travel to Western New York State. It is one of my and my father’s favorite places to visit in any season. It always has something to offer. Camping and cabin reservations are available throughout the year. And be sure to stop in Ellicottville afterwards for a beer at the Ellicottville Brewery and have a bite to eat there. It’s only 2 hours driving distance from Buffalo, NY.

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Snowshoeing Right in Your Own Backyard Wed, 10 Apr 2019 18:01:55 +0000 Participating in any outdoor activity, snowshoeing included, we often wonder where to go in terms of the best terrain, distance and travel time.

When the snow arrives, these questions are much easier to answer than one would think. The need … Continue reading

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Participating in any outdoor activity, snowshoeing included, we often wonder where to go in terms of the best terrain, distance and travel time.

When the snow arrives, these questions are much easier to answer than one would think. The need to travel isn’t necessary, but simply a matter of going out your front door or for a short drive. Just as you could decide to run around your neighborhood, the same process can be applied to snowshoeing.

Snowshoeing Close To Home

While growing up on a hobby farm in the Eastern Townships in Quebec, I was introduced to snowshoeing. There was no shortage of land, and there were plenty of hills and deep enough snow. It was a thrill to be snowshoeing so close to home, and I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else until I moved to Vancouver, Canada.

In the city, I never thought of snowshoeing close to areas nearby until the day it snowed heavily. The only way to get around the city was to snowshoe. I was close to a trail and golf course, but I chose the golf course. While I was snowshoeing around the course, I saw a bobcat and the whole experience was exciting; especially to be close to home. I received comments from others as I walked, like what a great idea and where did I get those (snowshoes).

Why Urban Snowshoeing

Golf course snowshoeing at Lakewoods Resort in Cable, WI

There are many benefits to snowshoeing near a city, or urban snowshoeing.

  • You don’t need to book time off from work
  • Inexpensive, since less transportation required
  • Environmentally sustainable activity
  • Less time involved, especially for those who lead a busy lifestyle
  • Family and friends may be more inclined to join you by staying close to home
  • Discover a new area close to home
  • See some city wildlife

Read Next: The Art of Urban Snowshoeing

Where To Go

Parks and golf courses are easily accessible, and there are often fewer people so you can enjoy the serenity. Consider exploring the following in your area:

Golf Courses – The grounds can be flat or challenging, depending on the number of hills. As a word of advice, check with the golf course before going as there may be specific rules.

University Grounds – Snowshoe by your favorite lecture room and park your snowshoes to grab a coffee or hot chocolate.

Urban Trails – These trails are naturally accessible and washrooms are typically available. There is also a chance to see wildlife.

Farmland – Snowshoe for miles on vast open spaces and often deep snow.

Keep In Mind

Humber Arboretum in Toronto

Before going, check the terrain difficulty, and natural lighting. If not enough light, wear a headlight. In addition, check the trail for safety issues.

Be mindful of other users, such as skiers or snowmobilers on the trail.

Bring your dog with you on the trek depending on the type of trail.

Always check your snowshoes to make sure it is suitable for the type of terrain.

Read Next: Humber Arboretum: Nature In The Heart of Canada’s Largest Urban Centre

Tips for Staying Fit and Having Fun

  • Go up a hill a few times, especially at those hilly golf courses or parks
  • Do a few laps around the trail by timing yourself
  • Make it social by having a snowshoe fondue
  • If there are no areas to snowshoe right near you, choose a mountain near you. In Vancouver, there are a variety of trails that are easily accessible via the Grouse Mountain Skyride.

What other areas have you snowshoed near home? Let us know!

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Japanese Bonfire Festival and Snowshoeing on Mt. Gozu Sun, 31 Mar 2019 03:32:26 +0000 One particular day, fate treated my wife and me to three adventures. After a spectacular snowshoe trek and hot bath, we saw a fantastic village festival. There were towering bonfires, salmon stew, a one-legged shoe-tossing competition, as well as near-naked … Continue reading

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One particular day, fate treated my wife and me to three adventures. After a spectacular snowshoe trek and hot bath, we saw a fantastic village festival. There were towering bonfires, salmon stew, a one-legged shoe-tossing competition, as well as near-naked men running while waving torches in the crispy evening air!

Our First Adventure: Mt. Gozu

We found ourselves at this festival after exploring Mt. Gozu (五頭), in Agano, Niigata, Japan. The kanji characters for Mt. Gozu mean five heads. So as the name implies, Mt. Gozu has five peaks, which some say resemble heads. Each peak is also supposed to represent different aspects of Buddha. In Japan, many mountains have holy characteristics.

Hikers and snowshoers can choose from trails on Mt. Gozu ranging from short and sweet to demanding and dangerous. We snowshoed a trail to the 910-meter-high peak known as Ichi-no-mine, the most well-known of the five heads. We embarked from the nearby hot spring village of Deyu Onsen.

Inexperienced climbers should not attempt this trail in winter. Last year, two unprepared climbers lost their way and perished on Gozu. Aside from that, the scenery and geography of Mt. Gozu offers experienced climbers aesthetically pleasing, athletic experiences in a relatively pristine environment.

Starting Out On The Trail

At first, the trail slowly ascends next to a gently splashing stream through a forest of tall cedars. Climbers must cross the stream by walking over narrow snow-covered, rickety wooden planks someone placed there long ago. Some people balk and turn around. However, if you choose to go on, you’ll not regret it. While on the plank, look for a cup that is attached by a chain to a large rock on the other side. Use it for drinking clear and mountain sweet water from the stream.

From there, the trail steeply ascends. Climbers will sink into powder after a fresh snowfall. Pink plastic ribbons dangling from cedar branches at intervals indicate the route. Snow can quickly cover the prints of previous hikers. Look carefully for signs indicating how far you are from the top.

Getting Closer To The Top

About halfway up the mountain, you’ll leave the woods of cedar and come to a sacred rock. For thousands of years, Japanese have believed that spiritual beings reside in objects, including trees, rocks, and even used hotel sandals. Stop to thank the mountain and appreciate the quietness of nature. The only sounds you hear could be your breathing or snowflakes gently crashing onto your jacket. Above you, the sky and mountain peaks beckon. Below you, valleys spread out into a flatland of thousands of minuscule rice fields that lead to the ocean.

Continue ascending. The trees become thinner. Leafless branches end with rime ice fanning out from the tips. Near the top, the sharp mountain transforms into a treeless round plateau. In the distance, you will see two icy posts supporting a beam of ice. As you approach, a metal bell the size of a man’s head becomes visible.

Reaching The Top

All year round, the metal bell waits for hikers to ring out their joy at a successful ascent. The icy posts are wooden beams surrounded by clusters of what appears to be albino mussels, but they are thick constructions of wind-crafted rime ice. Ring the bell! Then head back down to a well-deserved bath at one of the nearby hot spring villages: Deyu Onsen, Murasugi Onsen, or Tsukioka Onsen.

Read Next: Celebrating The New Year On Snowshoes in Japan

Our Second Adventure: Hot Springs

My first choice for a hot spring after a hike is Murasugi Onsen’s community outdoor bath. It is named Murasugikyodorotenburo, which means public outdoor bath of Murasugi. Hikers from afar should consider staying at one of the local hotels there.

Chouseikan, also in Murasugi, is a Japanese inn with a hot spring that is reported to be Niigata’s largest. Seikokan in Deyu Onsen is a gorgeous old-fashioned hotel that the government designated as a valuable cultural asset.  Kahou is Tsukioka Onsen’s most elegant and luxurious hotel.

Tsukioka Onsen lies between Mt. Gozu and my house, so my wife and I drove there in the early evening. We pulled over for a relaxing dip in a simple public hot spring named Bijinnoizumi (美人の泉), which translates as the spring of beautiful people. The silky thermal water is naturally emerald green.

Our Third Adventure: The Dondo Festival

By chance, we had arrived in Tsukioka Onsen during the annual Dondo Festival. The festival is partly a memorial service for the spirits of traditional Japanese wooden clogs, geta. Strolling through hot spring village towns in clogs and loose cotton robes is part of Japanese culture. Japanese hotels and inns provide these to their guests.

Every February, Tsukioka hotels respectfully burn the geta in giant bonfires. Attendees pray for the geta spirits as well as their own health and happiness. The Dondo Festival also teaches ancient traditions to the town’s youth.

Olympics At The Festival Before Sunset

Before sunset, locals and visitors gather at Tsukioka Carillon Park for festive snacks, dances, and games. Activities vary from year to year, but one popular one that has withstood the test of time is the “Geta Olympics.” This is similar to the Olympic javelin event except that instead of tossing a spear, geta athletes stand on one foot in a snowy field while kicking a geta as far as possible down a narrow field. The clogs sometimes fly into the crowds or even behind the geta flinger.

Besides typical modern Japanese festival snacks, such as popcorn, dried squid, yakitori, and chocolate-dipped bananas, a thick bowl of miso salmon stew is available for less than one US dollar.

The Ceremony Begins

Around sunset, between sixty to one hundred young men and women congregate for an evening purification ceremony at the source of the town’s thermal mineral water. Many jobs and incomes depend on that hot mineral water.

A Shinto priest in silken garb blesses the young people while they pray. The men are naked except for thick loincloth-like white fabric worn around the hips, but the women wear robes. The color white represents purity. Then they run toward the park while loudly chanting and waving lit torches in the growing darkness.

In the center of the park, two towers made of wood and bamboo are stuffed with used geta, old votive plaques, discarded sacred lamps, and flower holders. They stand almost ten meters high. The runners circle the structures and plunge their torches inside. Many small flames morph into two crackling bonfires, spitting out red and orange embers at the silver stars in the black night.

The crowd gasps as the towers consumed by fire, totter sideways before crashing onto the snow. Flames hiss and with a last gasp of steam, drown in the snow. The runners board buses and go to warm restaurants for a well-deserved feast. Most visitors drift toward home, hotels, or hot baths. For me, that day was a perfect combination of Japanese nature, festivities, and hot springs.

Getting to Tsukioka Onsen

Tsukioka Onsen is located on the outskirts of Shibata city. You can reach Tsukioka Onsen by bus from either Shibata Station or Toyosaka Station. Both are on the Hakushin Line from Niigata city.

Getting to Niigata


Japan Railways (JR) Joetsu Shinkansen super-express from Tokyo (about 2 hours) to Niigata Station. Niigata Station Tel: 025 248 5211


Long-distance bus services from Ikebukuro and Shinjuku (Tokyo) to Niigata. Niigata also has bus links to Sendai, Kyoto, Nagoya (7 hours), and Osaka.

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Snowshoeing Dress Code – Here’s What You Should Wear with Your Snowshoes Wed, 27 Mar 2019 19:24:04 +0000 Snowshoeing is one of the most popular winter activities for fitness and recreation that a lot of people tend to enjoy, and it’s not without its fair share of history. Once a mode of transportation, snowshoeing has evolved a … Continue reading

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Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Snowshoeing is one of the most popular winter activities for fitness and recreation that a lot of people tend to enjoy, and it’s not without its fair share of history. Once a mode of transportation, snowshoeing has evolved a lot since those ancient days. There are a lot of great benefits that come from snowshoeing. It’s a perfect way to extend your running and hiking season into winter.

Depending on what you want from it, it can be a social activity or a perfect opportunity to enjoy winter solitude.

Snowshoeing is also a great workout, as it offers an aerobic, low-impact exercise that will sure help to stay in good shape during the cold months. In addition, there’s versatility since you are the one who determines whether you’re going hard or easy.

The learning curve doesn’t require the same amount of time as snowboarding or skiing and you can do really well with only a few techniques up your sleeve: pole usage, traversing slopes, going up and down hills, and widening your stance. It’s fun and easy and it doesn’t require a person to spend tons of cash to do it.

In fact, it’s pretty much inexpensive, since once you get your gear, that’s pretty much it. The required gear includes a pair of poles, appropriate clothing and footwear and, of course, snowshoes.

Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

Before you embark on your winter adventure of a lifetime though, be aware that what you wear will greatly influence your experience. Since these are harsh weather conditions we’re talking about here, having proper clothing and footwear is of the utmost importance.

We’ll go through a few useful things that you should know so that you are able to properly dress for some on-snow recreation.

What to Wear

When it comes to snowshoeing, these are the two most important things you need:

  1. Moisture-wicking clothing layers (clothing that pulls moisture away from the body)
  2. Suitable footwear


The winter means quick-changing weather, so you need to make sure that you’re both comfortable and safe. The best way to do that is dressing in layers. Now, your clothes should allow you to move comfortably and freely, without restraint while keeping you warm and dry at all times.

The best materials for outdoors activities are synthetic, silk, and wool. Aside from your outwear, you need to take care of mid and base layers as well. Following a proper dress code will ensure preparedness, comfort, and warmth. Therefore, layer your clothing so that you can easily adjust it to the weather and your activity.

A jacket built to retain heat is critical on those cold days! Image by Timothy Giilck

Base layer

  • Synthetic or wool socks
  • Synthetic briefs and sports bra
  • Long underwear top and bottoms (mid-weight)

Insulating layer

  • Fleece pants
  • Wool sweater or fleece jacket

Avoid cotton since it dries slowly due to absorbing moisture (sweat) from your body. Instead, go with polyester, as it’s just perfect for making an excellent insulating mid-layer. Polyester is great at retaining heat when wet, which will come in handy, and it allows your skin to breath during your exercise.

Outer layer

  • Waterproof and breathable pants
  • Waterproof and breathable insulated parka or shell jacket

The jacket and pants need to be both waterproof and breathable to fend off wind and, most importantly, keep you dry and warm.

Read Next: Winter Wrap Up: The Gear That Got Me Through


Waterproof boots are so important! Image by Muazzam Mohd Zaki from Pixabay

Whether you’re running, climbing, backpacking or walking, always try to match your snowshoeing style. Just like with your clothing, footwear also requires a bit of special attention. Since boots are obviously the best choice, you need boots that are both waterproof and insulated, with leather or rubber uppers and thick soles. Waterproof leather hiking boots will do great as well.

You need synthetic or wool socks with wicking liners as this helps promote dry and warm feet, which is incredibly important for snowshoeing.

Gaiters are also recommended because they help keep snow from getting into your boots. The last thing in line is that your boots should be lightweight for some additional comfort.

Additional Accessories

Your hands and head should be covered at all times, not only to prevent body heat loss or protect you from sunburn, but to keep your head and hands warm. Therefore, a hat and gloves are a must. This is also where synthetics or wool do the best work. A balaclava, headband or an ordinary hat will do just fine at retaining heat.

Wool gloves and hats will help keep the heat in and pull moisture away from the body, Image from MaxPixel

Mittens or gloves should be waterproof as this is paramount for keeping your hands warm and dry. When it comes to accessories, it all depends on what you intend to do. Typically sunscreen, sunglasses, nutrition, and hydration are the top four things to think about. Having a small day pack with snacks and water is highly recommended, as snowshoeing burns a lot of calories per hour.

Also, a first aid kit, lighter or matches, as well as a multi-tool for repairs, might just come in handy in case of an emergency. Now that you know what to wear and take with you, it’s time to get started. When it comes to snowshoeing, it’s always better to come prepared.

Read Next: Basic Safety On The Trail

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Snowshoeing Fun in Colorado: Trails and Tours at Frisco Adventure Park Mon, 25 Mar 2019 01:56:37 +0000 Frisco, Colorado offers a winter wonderland of activities and is only about a 1.5 hour drive west of the major metropolis of Denver. Close to 6 major ski resorts and at the center of Summit County, this small mountain town … Continue reading

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Beautiful view on the trail

Frisco, Colorado offers a winter wonderland of activities and is only about a 1.5 hour drive west of the major metropolis of Denver. Close to 6 major ski resorts and at the center of Summit County, this small mountain town draws crowds from all over to witness the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. The area also has a fairly long winter season and typically receives snowfall October- May.

The majority of travelers are skiers and snowboarders, which leaves plenty of unexplored terrain for us snowshoers. Within the town of Frisco is Frisco Adventure Park, which offers dedicated space to experience a multitude of winter activities in one single day. The Frisco Nordic Center at the park has 27k of ski trails and 20k of snowshoe trails on site. They also have equipment rentals available, if you don’t have your own.  A daily trail pass costs $25 for ages 13-64 and $20 for those over 65. Kids under age 12 can explore the trails for free.

Snowshoeing at Frisco Adventure Park

Heading out on the tour

There are two snowshoe specific trails available to use: Chickadee Ridge and Snowshoe Hare loops. Chickadee Ridge is an excellent 2.5 km beginner trail, and perfect for testing out the sport of snowshoeing. For more advanced snowshoers, the 4.5 km Snowshoe Hare loop may provide more of a challenge.

Several tours are offered throughout the season, if a guided tour is more of your style. The Nordic Center offers afternoon tours every Saturday and Sunday from 2:00-3:15pm. The tour costs $50 for adults and youth over 12 years old, and includes a trail pass and snowshoe rental.

I went on the Nordic Center’s 1 hour Snowshoe Tour and Dinner, which includes a guided tour and refreshments.  With a group of approximately 15, we snowshoed 2 miles along the fat bike trail in the park. Before embarking on the tour, our group was fitted with local Crescent Moon snowshoes, poles, and headlamps (included in the cost).

Our guide Malin showing the group the anatomy of a snowshoe

Both of our guides, Malin and Gunnar, have several years’ experience snowshoeing. Malin actually mentioned that she has been a guide for 4 years. They noted that sometimes, they’ll have travellers come on the tour who are seeing snow for the first time! No matter one’s experience with winter, snowshoeing can be a great entry level sport into the realm of winter sports. This is the case because you can push yourself to your own comfort level of activity.

Interesting Sights Along The Tour

Along the tour that evening, Gunnar and Malin pointed out interesting sights and shared some fun facts with the group. Personally, I love learning about nature and its intricacies, so this was my favorite part of the excursion.

Pointing out the snowshoe hare tracks

Within our first 10 minutes on the trail, we noticed animal tracks, including snowshoe hare tracks (how fitting!). We learned from our guide Malin that the snowshoe hare actually puts their front feet behind the rest of their body to move forward. Hence, their tracks look like snowshoes! However, if you see the snowshoe hare in the summertime, you’ll want to look out for a brown hare, since they only turn white in the wintertime.

You may see tracks of other animals on the trails as well. We saw scuffle marks in the snow, potentially those of a coyote and his/her prey!

In addition to animal tracks, we stumbled upon a grove of young Lodgepole pine trees, re-growing after a fire in the area several years ago. Fire for the Lodgepole pine is actually a helpful tool though, as it uses heat to reproduce and open the blossoms of the tree. Trees in this area have experienced a number of calamities in addition to fire, like the pine beetle. Unfortunately, the pine beetle is tough to get rid of when it sets in as it can survive temperatures as low as -40 inside the tree!

After The Tour

After our tour around the area, we returned to the Nordic Center and had drinks and an absolutely delicious snack of ginger carrot soup, bread, and dessert provided by Food Hedz World Cafe. The Snowshoe Tour and Dinner is $65 for ages 21+, and $45 for those under 21.

To experience this tour and the trails of Frisco, check out Frisco Adventure Park for yourself!

My husband Paul enjoying our snowshoe outing

Thank you to Frisco Adventure Park for having us on the tour! As always, the views expressed in this article and of the experience are entirely my own.

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Tree Identification While Snowshoeing: Pines Aren’t The Only Evergreens Sun, 24 Mar 2019 21:13:17 +0000 Have you been like me and for every green tree that you see in the winter you call it a pine tree? If so, this article is for you. Why? Because all of those evergreen trees you see aren’t just … Continue reading

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Have you been like me and for every green tree that you see in the winter you call it a pine tree? If so, this article is for you. Why? Because all of those evergreen trees you see aren’t just pine trees. Being able to identify different trees is not only an interesting skill, but it can be useful for animal tracking, and for emergency situations. So if not all green trees are pine trees, what are they? There are a few key characteristics that can help answer this question.

The term evergreen corresponds with pine trees because the needles of a pine stay on the tree throughout the winter, hence they are “evergreen”. But there’s another term you should be familiar with, coniferous, which is an important indicator in tree identification. Coniferous plants reproduce via seeds from cones. Pine trees are both coniferous (reproduce via cones) and evergreen (keep leaves all year). However, not all evergreens are coniferous, and not all coniferous trees are evergreen.

Larches are a good example of a coniferous tree that drops its needles in autumn, making it one of the few conifers that does so. On the other hand, holly plants are evergreen but not coniferous as they keep their leaves year round, but reproduce by flowering and not by cones.

Let’s breakdown how to identify some of the most common evergreen trees.


Pine trees have been used throughout our history to make candles, salves, glue, and even soap. Most pine trees have edible seeds and their needles can also be used to make a delicious tea. They are a popular Christmas tree around the holidays and pine pitch makes an excellent water proofer for winter boots.

How do you tell if that evergreen tree is really a pine tree or something that just looks like one? Look at the needles. Are they grouped in clusters? All pines grow needles in clusters of 2-5 needles per bundle/fascicle.

5 Needles/Cluster

Easter White Pines grow needles in bundles of 5. The length of the needles are 2-4” and are soft and flexible to the touch. The cones are slender and long, ranging from 4”-10” and are not thorny like some other pine tree varieties. These trees are common in the Great Lakes region northeast to Maine and southern Canada stretching south along the Appalachian Mountains to the Carolinas. In fact, the Eastern White Pine is the only 5-needled pine in the Eastern United States. The Western United States houses the other 5-needled pines, of which there are 8 different varieties.

2 Needles/Cluster

Pine Trees have needles in clusters from 2-5 in each fascicle

Some pines, such as Red Pines, grow 2 needles per cluster. Red Pine trees grow needles 3”-8” long and their cones are 1½”-2½” long and thorn-less. Another distinguishing feature of Red Pines is the reddish bark, as red pines have a very nice reddish color to their wood. Other varieties of pines that grow 2 needles per cluster include Scotch, Jack, and Scrub pines.

3 Needles/Cluster

There are also several varieties of pines that grow 3 needles per cluster. Pitch pine is one of these. These trees grow needles 2”-5” long with cones 1”-3” long that are significantly thorny to the touch. They’re found mostly in the southern northeastern United States, but can be found as far south as Georgia and eastern Tennessee. They thrive in areas most trees find difficult to propagate, such as in very dry and acidic soils. Swamp and Longleaf are two other examples of pines with 3 per cluster.


Spruce wood is an excellent tonewood, and is used in soundboards of several musical instruments such as the violin, guitar, and piano. The needles can be used to make tea and the shoots of new growth can even be made into a spruce tip syrup. Just bring equal parts water and sugar to a boil, stir in spruce tips, and let steep overnight. They are also a popular Christmas tree, but their needles tend to be sharp to the touch and are not retained well once the tree is cut.

Spruce trees are commonly confused with Pine Trees

They are often confused with pine trees, but spruce needles are attached singly, rather than in clusters. As mentioned earlier, they tend to be rather stiff and sharp to the touch unlike pines. Their cones are brown and the scales are rather thin, unlike some pine cones which can be quite thick and thorny.

Common Spruces

Norway spruce trees have needles that are dark green and its branches droop towards the ground as it ages. It has softer needles than other varieties of spruce trees. It also has one of the more distinguishable cones, ranging from 4”-6” long, somewhat flexible, with stiff scales.

Colorado Blue spruce trees have very sharp needles, one of the sharpest of all conifers, and its needles range from a very dark green to the classic bluish silver that makes these trees easily identifiable. The cones range from 2”-4” long with flexible scales and are pale brown when mature.


White stripes characteristic of Fir trees

Firs make some of the best Christmas trees, as their needle retention is excellent and they have a very pleasant aromatic smell. The needles can be used to make tea that’s high in Vitamin C and to make fragrant essential oils. The sap is an excellent antiseptic and analgesic. It has been used to treat colds, sore throats, and muscle and joint inflammation.

Fir trees look very similar to spruce trees, which they are often confused with. Firs also have needles that are attached singly, but when the needles are removed, the twigs remain smooth. This is different from the Spruce, because the needles are attached by a base that resembles a small suction cup. A common way to differentiate a fir from a spruce is to take a needle and roll it between your fingers. Firs have very flat needles and do not roll between your fingers like spruce needles.

Balsam Fir

Balsam fir trees have very dark green needles and have 2 white stripes underneath each needle. They have cones that are 1” to 3” long and grow upright on the branches. This is a distinctive feature that helps distinguish them from Spruce trees when the cones are present. Sometimes when the cones of a Fir tree have fallen apart upon ripening, the slender central core remains in an upright position.

Fraser Fir

Fraser Fir trees have been used as the White House Christmas tree more times than any other tree. These trees were named after John Fraser, a Scottish botanist who explored the southern Appalachian Mountains in the late 18th century. The combination of soft needles, excellent needle retention, shape, and strong branches able to hold heavier ornaments make this one of the most popular Christmas trees in the United States. It’s the official state Christmas tree of North Carolina. These trees also have 2 silvery white stripes underneath each needle with cones 1.5”-2.5” long that stand erect on the branches.


There are many other varieties of evergreen trees such as Cedars, Hemlocks, and Junipers to name a few. If you’d like to learn more about these or other varieties of trees and find out how you can help in the growing conservation effort, visit the Arbor Day Foundation.

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Choose Your Own Adventure In The Canadian Rockies This Spring Tue, 19 Mar 2019 02:06:06 +0000 Spend a weekend in a remote off-the-grid cabin with a glacier out your back door. Alternatively, check in to a deluxe cabin with hot springs located close enough that you can make a run for it in your bathrobe. These … Continue reading

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Spend a weekend in a remote off-the-grid cabin with a glacier out your back door. Alternatively, check in to a deluxe cabin with hot springs located close enough that you can make a run for it in your bathrobe. These are just two of the “choose your own adventures” that await you in the Canadian Rockies this spring.

Option 1: Backcountry Wilderness Getaway in Banff National Park

Backcountry Wilderness Getaway in Banff National Park

I jokingly refer to the HI Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel as a “shack”, but my girlfriend yells at me every time, insisting that it is a “magical palace.” While “palace” is a bit of a stretch for a wilderness cabin, Hilda Creek is certainly magical. You’d be hard pressed to find better views on a bluebird day.

The HI Hilda Creek Hostel is located off the remote Icefields Parkway, connecting Lake Louise and Jasper National Park. The hostel is operated by Hostelling International Canada. The HI Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel sleeps 6 people and access is via a short 5-minute hike down off the highway. (And you’ll definitely want the snowshoes for that walk.)

The Icefields Parkway that you’ll drive to access the HI Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel

Visitors should be prepared for a winter camping type experience at this remote property. You will be without electricity, indoor plumbing, or Wi-Fi (you won’t even find a cell signal here.) Drinking water comes from melted snow, and bathrooms are located in an outhouse building. And don’t expect a hostel manager on site here. This is complete DIY accommodations, with access to the property via a keycode given before each stay.

The hostel has two cabins on the property, one for sleeping and one for eating/common room space. Fortunately both have propane heaters in them along with solar powered lights. A propane stove, dishes, and cooking supplies are available in the kitchen. Bring your sleeping bags, food, and personal belongings, and you’re good to go.

Hiking up the creek behind the HI Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel

From the hostel we like to hike up the creek to go sledding off glacier moraines. We usually take a short drive up to the Columbia Icefields Centre, where you can walk to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier. Tangle Creek Falls and Panther Falls are great objectives from the hut because each is a short 10-15-minute drive away.

Panther Falls, a short drive away from the HI Hilda Creek Hostel

Note you will be traveling in backcountry terrain and it is recommended you have avalanche skills training. We try to stay out of avalanche terrain as a family, but without the training you won’t know where that is (or isn’t.) The Icefields Parkway requires winter tires for all travel during the winter season.

For further information or to make a booking at the HI Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel please visit the Hostelling International Canada website. The Lake Louise Visitor Centre recommends that you check in before starting your trip. There you can find out about any travel advisories, road closures for the Icefields Parkway, and to check the current avalanche forecast. (Some of the hikes we enjoy would not be recommended in times of high risk.)

For additional info on backcountry overnights, read: Easy Ways To Stay Overnight In The Backcountry Year Round As A Family

Visiting the Columbia Icefields Centre from the HI Hilda Creek Hostel

Option 2: Hot Springs Getaway in British Columbia’s East Kootenay Rockies

If “winter in the backcountry” doesn’t scream “comfort” to you, this next adventure sure will. Spend a couple of nights in the East Kootenay Rockies at the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort in one of their new deluxe cabins. The cabins are a short walk away from the hot pools along with hiking trails leading down to the source of the hot water in the creek below.

Deluxe Cabins at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort

When we stayed here, we opened our front door to find a herd of deer grazing only a few feet away. We also loved the proximity to the main lodge, where we enjoyed afternoon appetizers and pizza in the Bear’s Paw Bar and Grill, and a decadent Sunday brunch in the Antlers Restaurant.

Each cabin sleeps 4 people in two bedrooms. One bedroom has bunk beds for the kids and the other bedroom has a queen bed for the parents. The cabin contains a well equipped kitchen with microwave, full sized refrigerator, and dishwasher. No camping here!

You’ll also find other amenities including a barbecue, Keurig coffee maker and a TV with Netflix. The kids can be entertained while you enjoy the views from your balcony with a glass of wine. Suffice it to say, you’ll feel very comfortable here and you might want to check in for a week.

Comfort “Camping” at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort

During our time at Fairmont Hot Springs, we enjoyed multiple dips in the hot pools and spent a day at the family ski area located up the road from the resort. Other nearby activities include ice skating on the Lake Windermere Whiteway, which is the longest skating path in the world. Or you can visit the quaint town of Invermere on the Lake to browse the art galleries and shops along the main street.

For more information on Fairmont Hot Springs Resort or to make a reservation, please visit their website.

Fairmont Hot Springs pools (warm swimming pool on the left and hot soaking pool on the right)

Option 3: Glamping Getaway in Kananaskis Country, Alberta

I’ve always said that you could not pay me enough money to sleep in a tent when there’s snow on the ground. However, I make an exception when it comes to Mount Engadine Lodge in Kananaskis. The lodge has recently built 5 canvas glamping tents for guests to enjoy. In addition, they have lodge rooms, pet-friendly suites, and cabins available for overnight stays.

Glamping tent at Mount Engadine Lodge

While you will be sleeping in a tent, this is where the similarities with camping end, and you can leave your sleeping bags at home. Each elevated tent comes furnished with a large king-sized bed, which can be split into twins if you’re traveling with a friend. There’s also a gas fireplace and a pull-out, which is great if you’re bringing the kids. Yes, these tents have indoor plumbing too with an ensuite bathroom!

Best of all, each stay at Mount Engadine Lodge includes all of your meals. You’ll receive afternoon charcuterie, dessert, and tea/coffee when you arrive, as well as a gourmet evening three course meal, breakfast the following morning, and a packed lunch to go for your adventures that next day.

Camping was never so comfortable.

I recently spent a night here with a girlfriend and we enjoyed the luxury of being able to drive into the wilderness lodge after spending the day skiing nearby trails. We also loved that we could snowshoe right out the main door of the lodge and across the road to the Rummel Lake Trail. At this trail we enjoyed views over the entire Spray Valley on a hike to a scenic backcountry lake.

Bring your partner for a romantic weekend away, gather your friends for a fun girls’ getaway, or bring the kids for a family escape. There are no shortage of trails surrounding the lodge. You’ll find an adventure suitable for every member of your group.

For more information or to make a reservation, visit the Mount Engadine Lodge website and read: Mount Engadine Lodge: Alberta’s Front Country Lodge With Backcountry Charm

Views from the Rummel Lake Trail across from Mount Engadine Lodge

Option 4: Mountain Town Getaway and Tiny Home Stay in Fernie, BC

Fernie is one of our favourite mountain towns for a multi-sport getaway any time of the year. Overnight stays have just gotten a whole lot more interesting as well with 6 new tiny homes built near the river on the Snow Valley Lodging Property.

Tiny homes in Fernie, BC

The tiny homes are simple trailers that have been converted into a living space with loft. While they don’t look like much on the outside, they are well decorated, modern, and bright on the inside. Never for a second did I feel like I was “camping” despite spending a weekend in a trailer.

Each tiny home comes furnished with a pull-out sofa, a small fold up table and two stools for daytime use when not requiring the sofa bed. There is also a queen-sized bed upstairs in the loft. Aside from these basic furnishings, each house has a full bathroom with shower. There is a small kitchen with oven and mini fridge, but no microwave or dishwasher I’m afraid. In addition, for all your baking needs, you’ll have basic cooking supplies/dishes, including a toaster and coffee maker.

Tastefully decorated tiny homes in Fernie – a far cry from winter camping!

As a family of 3, it was a little tight for us on our recent stay. We laughed each evening as we’d convert the tiny home into sleeping mode by folding up the table and pulling out the sofa bed, and then convert it back into daytime mode the next morning. It really was no different than what you’d get with many camping trailers (shared table/bed space). At least we had indoor plumbing and electricity! So for winter camping we certainly didn’t suffer.

The Snow Valley Lodging Property is located a short walk from the river and the town pathway system. Borrow a free fat bike from the lodge (included with all stays) and ride over to the river for an enjoyable tour of the town. Alternately, take a walk along the river or enjoy cross-country skiing on the multi-use trail system. Whatever your mood, you’ll find an activity right outside your door.

Island Lake Lodge Snow Cat Tour – Ride the snow cat to the lodge for a gourmet lunch and afternoon of snowshoeing around the lake

Other recommended activities in the area include taking a snow cat tour up to Island Lake Lodge for lunch, where you can rent snowshoes for a tour around the lake. Another options include hiking around the Montane Trail network a short distance outside town, or visiting Fernie Alpine Resort for a day of downhill skiing. There’s also a great Nordic Centre if you’d like to try cross-country skiing for an afternoon.

Please visit the Snow Valley Lodging Company’s website for more information on their tiny homes or to make a reservation.

There are no shortage of great places to stay across the Canadian Rockies. Each property featured in this story is open year-round if you don’t make it out this spring. So you can still access the large variety of trails nearby for hiking or biking.

Cozy little kitchen in our tiny home in Fernie at the Snow Valley Lodging Company

The post Choose Your Own Adventure In The Canadian Rockies This Spring appeared first on Snowshoe Magazine.

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