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:
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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. 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 help make 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. Then, 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.
Read More: Ten Tips for Making Snowshoeing Fun With Kids
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 while snowshoeing, and get some exercise. 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. Just remember, it needs to be quite cold (0 degrees) so the snow will hold and not collapse.
Plus, a snow hut or “quinzee/quinzhee” is fun to make. Here are the steps:
- First, clear a circular area about seven or eight feet across in the snow.
- 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 to make an elevated sleeping area. This technique 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 shelter’s exterior 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. A ventilation hole 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 recommend trying this out close to home the first time, in case the kids get too cold or don’t like it. For some children, the fort-like aspect will outweigh the slight discomfort. They are pretty comfortable if you pile in lots of sleeping bags and quilts.
Read More: The Snowshoe and Quinzhee Experience
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 to help make our snowshoeing outing extra fun.
Find an open space and give kids an assignment. Then, all of you can draw a snowflake, a tree, or whatever you want. The trick is that they have to think about it a little ahead of time because they will “draw” their object by stomping its likeness out in the snow. That means a line can’t end in one 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 they can muster to “draw” than to hike up a trail.
Read More: The Snow Artist Simon Beck: The Art of Snowshoeing, Snowshoeing as Art
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. You can also try letterboxing or geocaching. Outside of these, here are a few other ideas:
Make a list before you head out (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.
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. Next, the elk must run in their boots and can’t lift their legs out of the snow, which means a stiff-legged walk, pushing the snow in front of them. Finally, the moose races in boots, too, but it can lift its legs over the snow since it has articulated knees. So, who’s the fastest? Who has the easiest time moving on snow, and why?
Read More: Let the Snowshoeing Games Begin: Ways to Play Games on Snowshoes
5. Animal Tracking
Whether you are specifically looking for animal tracks or just taking advantage of finding them during your walk, add some fun to your snowshoeing by trying to identify who was there. It’s a fun way to understand a place better.
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? For example, 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. However, cats, including mountain lions, bobcats, and lynx, have retractable claws that don’t show in prints.
- Is there a line in the snow? For example, 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 analysis helps tell whether the animal is big or small and traveling quickly or slowly.
Then, after answering some of these questions, pull out a track book (like this one for the Rocky Mountains or this one for kids) and see if you can identify the animal.
Read More: A New Found Passion: Wildlife Tracking and Identification
Bonus: Make a snack
After all that digging, game playing, and track identifying, you’re going to be hungry.
You can pack real maple syrup, ice cream cones, or paper snow cone holders. Fill the cone with clean, edible snow, and drizzle maple syrup on top. Easy and delicious.
What other recommendations do you have to change how you’re using your snowshoes and make snowshoeing extra fun? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
This article was first published on December 17, 2015, and was most recently updated on December 21, 2021.
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