North Okanagan naturalist Roseanne Van Ee provides instruction on proper snowshoeing technique when she leads snowshoe tours in the forested area around Silver Star Mountain Resort east of Vernon, above. She often brings treats as well as her vast knowledge of local history.
Technique: The Ski Sheriff and Constant Companion Carmen soon learned that if you can walk, you can snowshoe. When you start, your feet are generally a little wider apart, so one foot is not stepping on the other foot's snowshoe. It's worse if you start by taking small steps. But you soon start walking normally - as you should - on snowshoes. And do as your mother says: don't drag your feet.
When the snow is deep, you have to raise your feet a little higher as you take each step. If the trail is packed, you can generally shuffle along.
Before you go out for the first time, put your snowshoes on and walk around the backyard so you get used to the feel of them on your boots. After you walk around for a few minutes and the laces, straps or bindings get loose from the movement, tighten them so the snowshoes are not twisting from side to side, but not so tight that they cut off circulation.
Boots: Use insulated winter hiking boots or snowshoe boots which are designed for that purpose. Big heavy winter boots like Kamiks and Sorrels are softer, don't have ankle support and will be more difficult to walk in, especially on longer trails. Likewise, suburban boots - the kind you wear to look hot on a cold day going to the mall - are not going to be comfortable after a few kilometres. Especially if they have high heels.
Size: the first general rule is one square inch per pound. Measure the length and width, and then multiply. For example, eight-inch by 25-inch snowshoes would hold up a 200-pound person (include the weight of winter boots, a backpack, other gear and clothing). In this case, don't lie to yourself about your weight.
The second general rule is: the softer the snow, the larger the snowshoes. On packed trails, like those at the ski resorts and downhill areas, you can get away with small snowshoes. If you are planning to go off-trail, you'll need larger ones. If you didn't bring the larger ones, the person with the largest snowshoes should break trail.
Clothing: It may be mid-winter but you're going to be working, so layer, layer, layer. Wicking materials like polypropylene underwear are great with fleece on top of that and a waterproof, windproof outside layer. Merino wool underwear can get wet from perspiration and will still provide insulation. Waterproof pants or snowpants are a must because you're going to get wet, either from falling or snow flipping up from the tails of your snowshoes (because you haven't learned to keep your tips up yet).
Gaiters to protect your legs from the shin to the ankle are great. Blue jeans are not. They don't protect against the cold, often get wet and don't dry until you're back inside.
Waterproof gloves with an elastic cuff will keep your hands dry, but bring a pair of chemical hand warmers in case your hands get cold. If you don't use them, leave the hand warmers in an inside jacket pocket for the next trip. Those who get cold hands should use mitts.
A tuque or warm hat is recommended. A small backpack can carry water, snacks, lunch, hand warmers, sunglasses, lip balm, a second pair of dry gloves and clothes you want to shed after starting to sweat. It's highly recommended you use that backpack or get a sports bag to carry everything you need in the vehicle so you don't forget something critical, like your gloves or hat.
Poles: Highly recommended, but make sure they have large baskets. Cross-country ski poles with small plastic baskets will sink right into the snow and not provide much support.
Poles not only help beginners maintain their balance (spread your arms a little wider at first) but are useful when climbing over fallen logs, pushing you uphill or slowing your descent. If you swing them, the person behind you who keeps stepping on your tails will back off or pay the price.
Where: If you are just starting out, don't go for a six-hour hike in the middle of nowhere, especially without a compass, GPS or map.
Instead, go to one of the cross-country ski areas or a downhill resort with established trails that are packed, marked with distances listed on a map. Start shorter and build up your strength for the all-day treks into virgin territory. Most hiking trails in the Okanagan can be explored during the winter, but keep in mind, they look much different with snow hiding the beaten path.
Go with someone who knows how to snowshoe, knows the trails and knows how much exercise you can take the first time out. And even better, someone who knows the history of the area and often brings hot chocolate, cookies or other treats to be dipped in melted chocolate around a roaring campfire.
One of those guide-naturalists is Roseanne Van Ee of Outdoor Discoveries (outdoordiscoveries.com) in Vernon. She offers a wide range of snowshoe tours at Silver Star Mountain Resort east of Vernon.
Jordie and Laurie Bowen of Selah Outdoor Explorations also have a wide range of guided tours and school programs at Crystal Mountain west of Westbank, often with treats. For those who want a snowshoe competition or just to have fun, they are organizing the eighth annual White Rabbit Snowshoe Festival and Race on Jan. 26, always the last Saturday of the month.
Men and women can enter separate five- and 10-kilometre races with boys and girls competing in a five-kilometre race. The 10-kilometre race starts at 9 a.m. at the bottom of the double chair at Crystal Mountain while the five-kilometre race starts at 9:45 a.m. at the top of the triple chair.
Pewter snowshoe medals will be awarded to the top three finishers in each category and all participants will have the opportunity to win prizes donated by local outdoor stores.
"This year, as well as the popular races, we will also have an afternoon of family-friendly, free or very affordable snowshoeing-related activities, such as free snowshoe races for kids nine and under, a family snowshoe scavenger hunt and bonfire cookout," said Jordie Bowen.