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Snowshoeing is a fun (and risk-free) way of enjoy winter sports.
Snowshoeing is a fun (and risk-free) way of enjoy winter sports.

Strap on snowshoes for fun and safe winter cardio

The snow may have been tardy on arrival this year, but better late than never to take advantage of winter sporting activities. There's a throng to choose from and I have learned that they are not all for me.

Downhill skiing frightens me. A three-day adventure at ski school four years ago pretty much cemented that I don't have the guts to blaze down a vertical slope nor ride the rickety contraption known as a lift. Plus, I want a workout from my outdoor activity and all that time climbing vertical feet in a basket dangling from a wire seems like a wasted opportunity to increase my heart rate and sculpt my glutes.

Obviously, snowboarding is out of the question for similar concerns.

Ice skating is OK. You get to wear a cute outfit, but going around and around and around a rink in a monotonous, eternal, dizzying circle makes me crave sugar and I end up O.D.'ing on hot chocolate. Plus, that sharp blade poses a hazard to a dinkus like me.

Snowmobiling is completely insane to me, as driving a regular vehicle on a normal road in winter makes me uneasy. Put me in a low-to-the-ground means of transportation/recreation meant to zip and maneuver at super speeds over frozen territory and I'm a quivering mess.

Basically, if I have to don goggles that cover half my grill for safety reasons or a protective suit of armor, I'm not down to participate. Plus, accelerating speed in a cold environment perplexes me. I mean, why proliferate an already nippy day by increasing your velocity?

Hence, my devotion to snowshoeing.

You feel like an Arctic adventurer with these oversized apparatuses strapped to your boots, but with poles in hand these sporting devices will convey you over the frozen tundra efficiently, comfortably and enjoyably while providing a chilled cardiovascular workout like no other.

So, why isn't snowshoeing all the rage?

Growing up a stone's throw from Klezsch Park in Glendale, I've always wondered why I didn't see snowshoers taking advantage of the flat trek of snowy wonder as a seasonal fitness modality. My assessment? Because it's hella harder than it looks.

Take a few paces and you'll feel an aerobic workout comparable to jogging, but with no impact. Use them in altitude or climb any degree and your heart will be racing in no time. In fact, you'll have to dress to account for sweat, so breathable base layers and technological fabrics are a must.

Whether on a solo venture, in a pair or within a group, snowshoeing has become my go-to winter activity. I no longer look at ski bunnies with envy. Well, maybe I feel a tinge of green for the cross-country ski bunnies. I haven't had a chance to do that yet and I'm told it's right up my alley! I did however use a Nordic Trak in my basement during my teen years, which I feel qualifies me for having "trained" like a Nordic skier.

Once you've invested in your equipment (hello Craigslist!) there is typically no additional fee for things such as a lift ticket. You can snowshoe public parks for free! Bonus for my fitnessista recessionistas: you can use your poles year 'round for hiking and "Nordic" walking. Poles can increase calorie burn by almost 20 percent!

I suggest renting a pair of snowshoes for a weekend first before diving in and buying; with poles you can expect to spend anywhere from about $75 to $225 – fraction of the investment for downhill gear! REI in Brookfield rents snowshoes for $12 a day. (Upon my inquiry, the gentleman who gave me this info said, "Geez, I haven't rented any of those in a while, let me check," enforcing the mystery of why snowshoeing is not the state sport.)

Previous winters I have used Wisconsin-made RedFeather Hike Recreational Snowshoes (available at Sherpers and Pedal Moraine in the greater Milwaukee area.) These are a great intro to flat terrain snowshoes. Traditionally engineered in the large, oval shape, Redfeathers are light, comfortable and make you feel as if you are literally floating over the snow with each step.

This sensation is caused by the way snowshoes work. They "distribute the weight of the person over a larger area so that the person's foot does not sink completely into the snow, a quality called "flotation". (Wikipedia)

This year, I was kindly sent a pair of Atlas Elektra 10 series Snowshoes to give a go. I took them for a 13K adventure at 10,000 feet on my maiden voyage with them. Specially made for uneven landscape battles, these not only look different due to their more tapered, almost "kite" like shape, (pointed wider toe that narrows to a slim heel) but respond differently because of the spring-loaded suspension system resulting in snow kick-up and the shoe staying close to the heel, increased stability and minimized calf strain.

You can really use any snowshoes on any flake-covered ground, but try to use a snowshoe tailored for where you'll be trekking if possible. According to Courtney Brunkow, PR for Atlas, "There are different suspension systems for different applications/terrain," so as you get more serious, you'll start to notice the difference in the ride and the way your body responds to the equipment. Hence, another argument to try 'em before you buy 'em!

Wisconsin is an endless snowshoe paradise. To find snowshoe activities and places to strap those babies on and enjoy the great outdoors check out the snowshoeing information on TravelWisconsin.com and the DNR website.

And please visit the RedFeather and Atlas Snowshoes websites to learn more about them.

Talkbacks

MKE.Mike | March 7, 2012 at 9:51 a.m. (report)

I have been Shoeing for over 10 years. It is just a great way to take a walk in the woods, through a field, or along the lake! Now that the warm weather has moved in, it is time to put the shoes away for another year (but keep them handy in case we get one more snow storm)!

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ffsteve | March 3, 2012 at 11:16 a.m. (report)

I agree, snow shoeing is a great cardio work out as well as just getting out there in the elements, and is super under appreciated!! When I tell people I snow shoe they look at me like wha?? But thats ok. I enjoy it. :)

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