It’s time for the fresh, chilly air and peaceful scenery offered by winter sports. If you’re looking for a way to improve balance and spatial awareness, and to get exercise at a level that you can set for yourself, consider adaptive snowshoeing this season.
Snowshoeing is the “quiet” snow sport, according to Tom Iselin, Executive Director of Sun Valley Adaptive Sports in Ketchum, Idaho. “It allows you to experience the stillness of the backcountry,” he said. “No lift lines. No screaming kids… You hear the crunch of the snow and feel the wind in your face. Time seems to slow.”
Who Can Snowshoe
Walking through the snow can be relatively easy or quite difficult, depending on the slope of the terrain and the type of snow on the ground. Because the sport does require walking, adaptive snowshoeing is best suited for people with disabilities who are ambulatory, such as people with traumatic brain injuries, amputations or hemiplegia.
“Basically, if you can walk, you can snowshoe,” Iselin said, adding that it’s a good idea to use Alpine ski poles at all times to help with balance and posture.
However, various adaptations have been created so that people who are not able to walk are able to snowshoe using a sled.
There are many things to learn and enjoy in snowshoeing programs around the country. In the Sun Valley Adaptive Sports program, participants learn the different types of snowshoes, types of snow and slope conditions, avalanche awareness, walking techniques, and the facts on hypothermia, nutrition, hydration, and balance. Iselin said, “We even teach you how to make the perfect cup of hot chocolate!”
Whether you want to take it easy on flat ground and firm snow, or go for a bigger workout on a steep slope with fresh powdered snow, consider the tranquil sport of snowshoeing this winter.
Can’t find a chapter near you? Make sure to check in with your local ski resorts of local parks that have cross country ski trails. There are also numerous other adaptive sport organizations throughout the country that have snowshoeing programs.
Snowshoes: The light aluminum snowshoe, with criss-crossed thongs, sometimes can look like a racquet that you strap to the bottom of your shoes. “Walking in snowshoes is almost as easy as walking regularly – it’s just that your shoes are the size of Shaq’s,” Iselin said. The snowshoes’ size distributes your weight over a larger area so that your foot won’t sink completely into the snow. There are three general types of snowshoes: flat terrain, rolling terrain, and mountain terrain.
- Flat Terrain Snowshoes: These are best for those just starting out in the sport because they are the easiest to walk in.
- Rolling Terrain Snowshoes: These snowshoes are meant for exploring terrains that involve both flat and steep elements.
- Mountain Terrain Snowshoes: These are used for the iciest and steepest terrain. Only those who are extremely experienced in snowshoeing should use these.
Apparel: When snowshoeing, it is best to wear the following apparel.
- Insulated, waterproof boots or leather hiking boots that are waterproof
- If you are using trail-running snowshoes, lightweight tennis shoes should be worn.
- Wool or synthetic socks with wicking liners to keep your feet warm and dry
- Gaiters, which keep snow out of your boots
- Be sure to wear multiple layers. The bottom layers should be synthetic, polyester, or wool to wick away moisture. The outermost layer should be waterproof and a windbreaker.
- A wool or synthetic hat or headband
- Waterproof gloves
- A backpack filled with water, healthy snacks, and a first-aid kit.
Snowshoe Poles: Snowshoe poles are similar to ski poles in appearance, but have some differences. Snowshoe poles help provide balance and traction for the individual and have wide snow baskets a few inches from the bottom to help prevent the individual from sinking too far into the snow.
Prosthetics: For those with lower limb amputations, a prosthetic foot that is used to walk on flat surfaces will suffice. For those who are exploring more difficult terrain, a prosthetic foot with a multiaxial ankle or one made especially for uneven terrain works well.
Sleighs: For those who cannot walk but who want to snowshoe, riding in a snow sled, a Pulk, may be an option. Two other individuals are needed to help operate a Pulk. One person is in the front pulling the sled, while the second is at the rear pushing, balancing, and guiding it. If the individual who is riding in the Pulk is able, he may be able to help move the sled along by pushing with shortening ski poles.
Crutches: For those who use forearm crutches to walk, Sidestix has created snowshoe accessory kits to modify forearm crutches so that they can be used while snowshoeing.
Other upright walking aids and devices used for balance can also be adapted for snow, such as the walkers sometimes used in four-track skiing. Similar to four-track, the walker can be bracketed to two skis, allowing for greater balance.
As you are climbing hills, make sure you always make sure your poles are in front of you and that you place your feet firmly on the snow with each step using your toes.
Once you start going down hills, make sure to keep your poles in front of you, your knees bent and relaxed, and your body weight back on the heels of your feet. Make sure you are stepping heel to toe.
“Walking down steep – even medium – pitch slopes in soft, deep snow can be tricky. You may punch into a soft ‘hole,’ a shoe may turn and burrow to one side, or the toe of the shoe can dig in,” Iselin cautioned. “Any of these mishaps can cause a fall or muscle strain.”
Walking downhill in heavy, wet snow is also tricky. “The shoes can stick as the heavy snow piles on top,” he said. That could make walking difficult, to the point of stumbling.
Iselin advised, “The secret to walking downhill in either deep, powdery snow or heavy, wet snow is to walk slowly and deliberately. Take medium-length steps, keeping your back fairly erect, and planting your poles out to the front and slightly to the side for balance.”
He said, “The most important thing is to keep your pace under control.”
Traversing is also known as side-hilling and is used when exploring steep or uneven terrain. When using this technique, you are turned sideways so that you are facing across the hill instead of up it. As you climb the hill, push into the slope to create a shelf with the side of each snowshoe that is on the uphill side of the mountain. Also, make sure to use your poles for better balance and grip. Your downhill pole must be extended further than your uphill pole so that they are even.
Always snowshoe with a partner. Anytime a person is out in the snow, there are dangers. Falling upside down in a few feet of powder can be fatal. While snowshoes are fun, they can be awkward and could get tangled up if you fall head over heels.
“Even getting up after falling on your side can be a little challenging until you get the hang of it,” he said.