Life in the Snow Lane

By Mike Morris December 15, 2011 15:05

If you can walk, you can snowshoe.

That’s the beauty of this popular wintertime sport. Unlike skiing or ice skating, there’s not much of a learning curve.

“It’s easy to learn and takes almost no skill,” says Irene Patton, 65. “Plus, you’d sink in the snow without them.”

Snowshoes, which are attached to the boots, distribute the wearer’s weight over a larger area, keeping his or her feet on the surface of the snow.

Traditional snowshoes have wooden frames and latticework lacings, while newer models are lightweight and aluminum or molded plastic.

Irene Patton

Snowshoes vary in price from as little as $50 for youth shoes, to $100 to $200 or more for adult styles, and are available from local shops and area ski resort shops, and also from large retailers such as Costco and Cabela’s.

Patton, who lives in the Cedar Ridge area, recently purchased a new pair of snowshoes from REI for $200.

“People used to think of snowshoes as these giant tennis rackets, but that’s not true anymore,” she says.

Marie Malo, an interpretive specialist with the Stanislaus National Forest, recommends renting snowshoes before buying them to make sure you enjoy the sport.

She offers these tips for first-time snowshoers:

• Use a wider stance than if you were walking in regular shoes.

• Use poles if you need help with stability or to ease knee pain going downhill.

• Dress warmly and in layers, and make sure to wear waterproof boots.

When in the mountains, Malo says, it’s important to use snowshoes with crampons on the bottom to help with going both uphill and downhill.

“They look like little metal teeth,” she says.

Women’s snowshoes tend to be narrower, while men’s snowshoes are designed to fit larger boots and heavier weight. The heavier the person, the larger the snowshoe.

Patton says when carrying a backpack in the snow, snowshoes provide agility that skis don’t.

She uses poles, mostly because it helps with her stability while carrying a pack, especially uphill.

Patton has a passion for the outdoors: Her day job is helping visitors at the Summit Ranger Station near Pinecrest. In her free time, she volunteers for the Pinecrest Nordic Ski Patrol and Stanislaus Wilderness Volunteers.

She began snowshoeing in 1994, after taking a snow camping class from the Sierra Club.  She has been a volunteer assistant leader with the club’s Snowcamping Training Section since 1996.

“You can get to places you can’t get to with just boots,” Patton says.

While snowshoeing can be a fun way to stay in shape during the winter, it’s also practical: Patton has strapped them on to check her Cedar Ridge mailbox when snow has piled up on her front yard.

Long Barn resident Patricia O’Gara brings her dogs to the high country for snowshoe outings.

“They’re perfect for walking dogs. Skis are too fast,” the 70-year-old says. “It’s great exercise, and it’s fun to be outside, especially when it’s snowing.”

Snowshoeing is relatively safe, although there’s always the potential of tripping on something like a tree root or rock. You could also trip on your snowshoes as you adjust to your new, and at first awkward, form of transportation, experts say.

If you do fall, chances are there will be plenty of snow on the ground to make for a softer landing, Malo says.

Carol Crouch, who is in her early 70s, enjoys trekking in snowshoes in the backcountry off Calaveras County’s Highway 4 corridor.

“What I love about it most, I think, is that you’re outside at a beautiful time of year when snow’s on the ground,” she says.

Another advantage to the sport? Snowshoeing burns more calories than walking.

“It’s more difficult than just hiking,” Malo says, “because you’re using more muscles.”


Where to Snowshoe


Tuolumne County

Marie Malo, an interpretive specialist with the Stanislaus National Forest, will lead free morning snowshoe hikes in the Pinecrest area on these days: January 7, 14, 15, 21 and 28; February 4, 11, 18, 19 and 25; and March 3, 10, 17, 24 and 31.

The hikes, lasting for one to two hours, will start at Dodge Ridge Wintersports Area.

For information about the guided hikes or specific snowshoe routes in the Pinecrest area, such as Crabtree and Gooseberry, call Summit Ranger District, 965-3434.

Snowshoes can be rented from Dodge Ridge from 8am-5pm daily for $15 per pair.

They can also be rented from Heidi’s Ski Shop along Highway 108 in Cold Springs, as well as Sierra Nevada Adventure Co. in downtown Sonora.


Calaveras County

Calaveras Big Trees State Park offers guided snowshoe walks each winter Saturday at 1pm. The park, off Highway 4 just east of Arnold, offers snowshoeing trails among giant sequoias; there’s also a warming hut open on weekends. Day-use fee is $8 per vehicle. 795-2334.

Farther east, check out Bear Valley Cross Country & Adventure Co. along Bear Valley Road. The resort offers 35 groomed trails for snowshoeing, from flat meadows to steep hillsides. Trail passes ($10-22 per day, depending on age; $1 for 8 and under) include amenities such as warming huts and stations to pick up water and tissues. Call 753-2834.

Rentals are available in Bear Valley or at Sierra Nevada Adventure Co. in Arnold.


Yosemite National Park

Any trail in Yosemite with snow on it is considered open to snowshoeing.

Each winter day, park rangers lead free snowshoe hikes starting at the Badger Pass A-frame. A $5 donation is requested for snowshoe use. Call 372-0200 (this is also the number for snow conditions and chain control information).

DNC Parks and Resorts, the park’s concessionaire, offers a variety of guided snowshoe treks to places such as Dewey Point and Crane Flat. They include guided full-moon walks ($18.50, includes snowshoe rental). Reservations required, 372-1240.

Snowshoes can be rented from the Badger Pass Nordic Ski Center, Crane Flat Gas Station and Mountain Sage in Groveland.

© 2011 Friends and Neighbors Magazine


By Mike Morris December 15, 2011 15:05