Snowshoeing is pretty straightforward in principal; walk on the snow. That can’t be that hard, right? There are a few differences between walking on snow (and in large, rounded shoes) than walking on the ground, though. Beginners to snowshoeing will have to relearn how they should stand if they have fallen down, turn around to face the other direction, and several other actions when they are walking on the white stuff. First, of course, rent or buy a set of snowshoeing gear: snowshoes and walking poles. Ask the person recommending the gear to help you ensure that they are the right size; sizing is very important for snowshoes, as it is based on your weight. Basically the heavier you are, the wider the snowshoes need to be to distribute that weight over the surface of the snow. Be honest about your actual weight, and count in the weight of any gear you’ll be carrying, or you could find yourself sinking through the snow rather than walking on top of it! Walking in snowshoes is called stride. Your stride will be similar to walking without snowshoes, but you’ll have to straddle–walk with your feet further apart than usual–in order to keep the wide snowshoes from hitting together. Breaking trail is the term for creating a trail in the snow where it hasn’t been stepped on with snowshoes before. Breaking trail involves techniques called stamping and edging, but ways of placing weight on the edge of a snowshoe before pressing down into the middle so that the snow will pack down enough to hold your weight. To turn around, you can’t just rotate–your snowshoes will catch in the snow. Instead, step in a circle by placing one foot at a 90-degree angle from the other, then placing the other foot to face in the same direction. Repeat this twice and you will have turned around to face the exact opposite direction that you had been facing before. There are five techniques for climbing hills in snowshoes, each suited for a different kind of slope; practice in your backyard before hitting the trails.
One of the most important skills to know for snowshoeing is how to climb a hill. Ascending, as it is called, in snowshoes takes practice and precision. There are several commonly-practiced techniques for ascending, four of which will be covered here. Depending on the steepness of the slope and how well the snow packs, you may choose from several of these techniques when sizing up a particular hill.
Herringbone stepping is the term for ascending by pointing your snowshoes outward as you step up the hill. To herringbone step, you must point your feet at forty-five degree angles from your body and lean your weight onto the outside edges of your snowshoes to press the snow down enough to hold you. Herringbone stepping may be familiar to you already if you have done any cross-country skiing.
Stepping up is one of the most common ways for a snowshoer to ascend a hill. It involves facing the hill and stepping into it with the toes of your snowshoes in order to literally walk through the snow as if you were climbing a set of steps.
The scramble step, also called simply scrambling, is basically a speedy way of stepping up. Make sure to keep your weight leaning onto the toes of your snowshoes! This may be more difficult to do when moving faster.
To side step, stand so that the hill is at your side and ascend sideways. Before you place each snowshoe down fully, press down on the snow with only the outer side of the snowshoe to pack it down; this technique is called edging, and it’s a vital snowshoeing skill. Before you start side stepping, use edging to make a shelf with your first step, then step with the same foot up one step higher so that your other foot can be lifted to rest on the first shelf. As you take each new step, your other foot will end up on the last shelf that your leading foot occupied.
Always research and practice new techniques at home before you hit any mountain trails.