Learn more about Jen Theisen (far right) at wanderingpine.com
photo by ryan taylor
Snowshoeing is a winter sport perfectly suited to the gentle, ambling pace of Minnesotan life. It can be almost as easy as walking—or you can ramp it up.
“I’m a Southern California transplant, and I hated winter for two decades,” says Jen Theisen, laughing. “Everybody told me, ‘Embrace it,’ but I didn’t take that advice.”
Everything changed when Crystal-based Theisen’s children joined the Boy Scouts. Even though she had little experience, teaching kids to love the wilderness ignited Theisen’s own passion for the outdoors.
During the infamous winter of 2010, with ice dams laying siege to her kitchen and the Metrodome collapsing under record snowfalls, Theisen borrowed a pair of snowshoes from her friend, to help her traverse the frosty landscape, and something clicked.
“Sometimes I think that I prefer snowshoeing to summer hiking because it’s quiet and peaceful,” she explains. “I feel more empowered and I feel more safe if I’m sure-footed, if I can see my surroundings, and I can enjoy just being in the forest without [worrying about] what’s out there with me.”
As a Women Who Hike ambassador and a snowshoeing merit badge counselor, Theisen has become an ardent advocate of winter hiking. She touts the relatively low cost and shallow learning curve of snowshoeing as an alternative to spendier pursuits like cross-country skiing or fat biking.
Nearly every park in the Three Rivers Park District—20 parks and 10 regional trails throughout Hennepin, Carver, Dakota, Scott, and Ramsey counties—rents snowshoes, including kids’ sizes, for just $5 a day, and there are 50-plus miles of snowshoeing trails.
“You actually burn more calories snowshoeing than you do running,” Theisen says. “It’s accessible to everyone. If you can walk, you can go on snowshoes.”
Tips and Techniques
“The biggest thing that many beginners experience is just remembering to leave just a tiny bit more space between your feet,” Theisen says. “Almost everybody steps on a snowshoe their first time and does a face plant.”
As with cross-country skiing, poles can be a real lifesaver on frosty terrain. “If you hike with poles, your chances of tipping over greatly reduce,” Jen explains.
Apart from a wider stance, your stride while snowshoeing should be pretty similar to your normal hiking stride—except while walking uphill, when it pays to shorten your stride for traction. If the terrain feels slippery, push your feet down to dig into the snow with your shoes’ crampons (cleats).
Walking downhill can be tricky, so try to keep your back straight and your knees slightly bent. Go as slowly as you need, using your poles for support.
Atlas Elektra Rendezvous Kit ($189.95, atlassnowshoe.com)
photo courtesy atlas snow-shoe company
Casual or flat-terrain snowshoes are best for beginners. Models like the MSR Evo and the Tubbs Xplore are perfect for first-time buyers. As your skills improve, snowshoes designed for back-country pursuits, climbing, and running are available.
Telescoping ski or hiking poles with snow baskets work best for stabilizing yourself on sloped terrain or when you want to move fast. Some beginner snowshoes come in starter kits with poles included.
Vasque Snowburban II Boots ($159.99, vasque.com)
photo by vasque footwear
Heavy-duty waterproof boots—like the Vasque Snowburban series—are your best bet, paired with thick, moisture-wicking socks. Stay dry with waterproof snow pants and dress in layers to avoid overheating your core.
Theisen recommends picking a snowshoe that a binding system that doesn’t mystify you: “Buy something that you can afford and that you’ll use, but make sure you can get those bindings on and off easily with cold hands and mittens.”
Where to Get Started
Looking for trails? Find ideas around the Twin Cities here.