December 3, 2002
Snowshoeing basics with Cathy Anderson-Meyers
Cathy runs a snowshoe
guide company. She has taken courses in avalanche training,
maps and compass, first responder, etc. Anyone can snowshoe at
any age. The major limitation is the altitude adjustment: people
can get winded just by walking at high altitude.
The snowshoe is made up of several parts:
- The frame, made out of a tube of aircraft aluminum. It's
bombproof and will last forever.
- The flotation surface. It is made of Duratec or neoprene.
The surface can be punctured, but it is tear-proof.
- Binding straps on top of the foot and around the heel. Try
the snowshoes with the boots that you will be wearing.
- The claw system. For mountaineering, in either deep powder
or on ice, use an aggressive claw. For packed powder, use smaller
claws, since you can trip on larger claws. Be careful about
the claws: they can cut. Newer snowshoes now have rear claws
to help prevent slippage when traversing or going downhill.
- A pivot system. For your toes dig into the snow, then the
back of the snowshoe either flicks up only a little (unhinged
style), or flicks up to be parallel to the bottom of your foot
(spring loaded style). The spring loaded style flicks up a lot
Use shorter snowshoes for racing, or for packed powder, or
for smaller people. For kids up to 5 years old, you can use the
bear paws plastic snowshoes. They are a little wider than optimal.
There is also a slightly large, somewhat narrower kids version
that is more comfortable. You need a longer snowshoe for powder,
or for snow camping where you are snowshoeing in powder with a
- MSR: tail stays flat. You can get snowshoe extensions to
handle powder. But it is a little hard to slide with them.
- Tubbs can take a heavier boot, and has a ratchet binding
so you can get them on and off with gloves.
- REI rents Atlas (no longer made), Tubbs, and MSR.
A 25" snowshoe is about right for normal people.
Poles are a must. They help your balance and give you an upper
body workout. Adjustable snowshoe poles are about $60. you want
your forearm at a right angle to your body. don't use cross country
poles: they are too tall. When traversing, you can adjust the
snowshoe poles so that the uphill pole is shorter. When going
downhill, you can adjust the poles shorter.
Specialized snowshoe boots are very sturdy but lightweight,
with a thick sole, a stiff upper, and a hard heel for protecting
against snowshoe straps. Lightweight is better: every extra pound
on your feet is equivalent to 5 extra pounds on your back.
When you snowshoe, your feet are a little further apart, so
you get sore muscles in your groin and on the outside of your
leg. Snowshoeing will strengthen your lateral leg muscles.
You should use two layers for your feet: sock liners and socks.
You can also use neoprene booties that are used by road bikers.
Gaiters are required, even for snowshoe boots, otherwise snow
will get in your boots.
- If in deep powder, the snowshoe will sink up to 2 feet, so
blazing a trail can be really hard work. Sometimes your snowshoe
can get stuck in brush that is under the snow.
- When you slide down the mountain, don't edge: slide straight
down, puting more weight on the back of the snowshoe. You need
a steep angle and fresh powder to get a good slide.
- If you fall forward and your legs bend, you can hit your
head with your snowshoe. If you slide off a cornice, be aware
that you will likely tumble forward when you land: it takes still
to land on both feet. Also be careful about stepping on your
snowshoes: you can easily trip yourself.
- You can use a snowshoe as a shovel in a pinch.
- Don't wear any type of cotton.
- Put sunscreen on the bottom of your forearms, under your
chin, under your nose, and under your ears.
- Snowboarders can wear snowboard boots and then board down
the mountain. Snowboarders sometimes hike up Castle Peak. Camelbak
has a pack that can hold onto either a snowboard or snowshoes.
- TSL snowshoes
with the aventure binding can accept ski boots or rigid hiking
- Snow park permits are $5 per use, or $25 for the year. Eagle
mountain at Yuba gap is no longer open since the fire.
- If you light a fire, you must have something under the fire
to keep it from melting the snow, like sheet metal.
- There are various huts around Tahoe. There is a hut at Peter's
Grove, about 4 miles in to Castle Peak, which holds 15 people.
- The time of a 5K snowshoe race is about the time of a 5K
race + 10-15 minutes.
- If snowshoeing with dogs, don't take them out when the snow
is more than 10" deep: they will hate it.