Snowshoe Know-how

Snow on the ground? Strap on some snowshoes. This simple, budget-friendly activity is a fun winter workout.
Snowshoe Starter Kit

A few years ago, Kim Dixon wanted to add some winter zing to her fitness-and-weight-loss regime. "I knew that I needed aerobic activity in life," she says, "and I also wanted to get out in the snow."

Living in Waterbury, VT, Dixon didn't have to look far to discover the perfect outdoor physical activity: snowshoeing.

She joined a group of snowshoe enthusiasts who used poles during their walks (this is known as Nordic walking), and started to hike on nearby trails twice a week. Since then, Dixon has lost 45 pounds.

"Immediately I fell in love with the sport – the fresh air and the adrenaline created by the constant movement," she says. Now, Dixon teaches snowshoeing at StoweFlake Mountain Resort and Spa in Stowe, VT, where she also works as the director of marketing.

As it turns out, snowshoeing is an ideal winter activity for just about anyone. "Within a few steps, you move from beginner to intermediate," says Kathy Murphy, director of marketing at Vermont Ski Areas Association. "Within 15 minutes, you're an expert." Other winter sports, such as cross-country or downhill skiing, introduce the fear factor of sliding and not being in control. With snowshoeing, the shoes don't slide; instead, they give a solid sense of stability.

It's also an affordable sport to try. Rent a pair of snowshoes at a local snowshoe center for about $12 per day, or invest in a pair of lightweight snowshoes (prices range from $50 to $300).

Snowshoeing provides a complete lower-body workout, exercising the quadriceps, hip flexors, and gluteal muscles. A 150-lb person will burn approximately 650 to 700 calories in an hour of snowshoeing. If you also use snowshoe poles, you'll increase the intensity of your workout and burn more calories. For the walker with poles, the shoulder, arm and back muscles of the upper body are also used. Though similar in weight to ski poles, Nordic poles can be adjusted to your workout. You can lengthen them for descent and shorten them for uphill climbs, relieving pressure on the quads and legs.

Smart-start snowshoe tips

Dress in layers. "Since snowshoeing is a high-energy-output sport, you'll warm up as you go along," explains Murphy. Wear a series of lightweight layers that you can peel away as you walk. And wear a hat, so you don't lose heat through your head. In addition to snowshoes, wear a pair of waterproof hiking boots that cover your ankles, advises Tarallo.

Hydrate. Carry a 16-ounce water bottle in a backpack or fanny pack.

Protect yourself from the sun. If the sun is out, don't forget your sunglasses. The glare can be particularly intense off the snow's white surface. Apply sunscreen to your face and carry sunscreen to reapply throughout the day, even if the sunlight is dim.

Tap into a network. Many people don't realize there is a vast network of nature trails not far from where they live. Check out community parks, nature reserves, or other public parks in your area.

Beginner snowshoe workout
To get started, try the following simple workout designed by Jo Garuccio, a USA triathlon-certified coach who leads snowshoe tours and teaches alpine skiing in Park City, UT.

1. Before taking to the trail, do a series of five arm circles, rotating your right arm in full circles, and then repeat rotation with your left arm. Reverse direction and repeat motion with each arm. Swing your right leg forward and back for 10 repetitions. Repeat with left leg. Begin walking slowly for about 10 minutes. Be sure to walk on flat terrain.

2. Increase your speed, walking at a more brisk pace. Your breathing will become heavier, making your sentences shorter. Start with 20 minutes, and then increase the length by 5-minute increments each week.

3. Cool down by walking for 5 to 10 minutes at a slow pace where it's easy to carry on a conversation.

4. As you feel stronger, try trails that include easy, rolling hills. Also, try walking on ungroomed trails. "As you break trails, you'll burn more calories because the snow will add more resistance," explains Murphy.

Do this workout two to three times per week.

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