Snowshoeing 101: Getting Started

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I remember strapping on these flimsy-oversized-plastic-tennis-racket-looking-things to my knee high winter boots as an elementary child and absolutely hating snow shoeing. Waddling around hard packed snow-covered soccer field was my first experience with the sport and I really failed to give it a second chance till now. Snowshoes have changed a lot in the past decade. Gone are the waffled tan plastic one-size fits all shoes, they’ve been replaced with a high tech shoe made of ultra light aluminum, carbon fibre, rubber, and nylon. The shoes are now designed for varying conditions: backcountry, hills, rolling terrain, running, oh and did I forget… they’re still good for hiking too. If you walk into any sporting goods store, you will most likely find a rack of snowshoes just taunting you to purchase them so you can head out and crush fresh powder. This sport is back on the market and there’s no signs of it letting up. The wonderful advantage of this sport is it’s low cost of entry (between $100 to $300 to buy) and accessibility; all you need is deep snow and you’re good to go. This past-time is taking it’s hold as a sport out east as runners are now racing with them and I’m putting my money on snowshoe races becoming a prominent event here in Edmonton in the next few years.

But before you head out and purchase your first set of snowshoes, here are a few good pointers:

  • Try before you buy: Although rental snowshoes may not be the top of the line, they will give you a very good idea about the sport. The snowshoes are relatively inexpensive compared to many other winter sports gear, but make sure you enjoy it before purchasing. You don’t want a high tech piece of wall art! Here are my  top three places I go to for snowshoe rentals:
  • Go for short distances on hard pack snow first: snowshoes are quite a bit lighter than they used to be but you are still strapping a few ounces of extra weight. The quads tend to take a beating from lifting the legs up higher than usual and your calves and shins need time to adapt too. Get used to these movements and build some endurance before heading out for longer distances and adding the extra challenge of deep snow. This is also a very cardiovascular sport so get ready for a great workout!
  • There are three general types of snowshoes:
    • Hiking / Backcountry
    • Running
    • Recreational

The biggest difference in the categories are the weight, their shape, and how they distribute body weight across the shoe. You may not be able to rent according to their category as most places just rent recreational ones.

  • Snowshoes are purchased according to a persons body weight in relationship to the dimensions of the shoe so it’s best to chat with a specialist before purchasing it.
  • Although snowshoes are very versatile, they’re best enjoyed in deep and fresh snow which can be difficult to find in Edmonton. Consider the sport as a part of a great workout plan and not the be all end all and get really excited when it snows a lot!
  • Dress warm! Dress in layers as I have outlined in a previous blog.


About Chris Tse

I’m a scientist turned owner of Blitz Conditioning, a Fitness Columnist at CBC Radio on Thursdays at 8:20 am, and owner of Tse Social Strategy. Follow me on Twitter or Read my full bio.

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