Can Snowshoes create false confidence?

The growing popularity of snowshoeing has brought with it misplaced confidence that the strap-on footwear is appropriate for venturing into icy or steep terrain, a rescue veteran said yesterday after one young man slid to his death and another couple had to be rescued from a snowshoe outing.

“People have a false sense of security that these small little cleats on snowshoes actually rate as some sort of crampon,” Tim Jones, team leader for North Shore Search and Rescue, said last night in an interview. “What we’re advocating, if you’re out in this type of terrain, you should have at minimum a good pair of mountaineering boots, an ice axe and crampons.

“And in some situations, you should have a rope.”

Mr. Jones was speaking just after wrapping up the rescue yesterday afternoon of a snowshoeing couple on Mount Seymour. The woman fell and broke her arm while her partner hurt his leg in the incident.

And on Saturday afternoon, a young man slid to his death while snowshoeing on Goat Mountain, near Grouse Mountain in Lynn Headwaters Regional Park.

The man, who was in his 20s and was accompanied by two other men, left the Grouse Mountain area and ventured into a closed area of the park, Mr. Jones said.

At the time of the accident, the man who was killed was trying to toss the end of a fixed rope to his snowshoeing partner, who was struggling on a steep part of the slope, Mr. Jones said.

The rope is in place as part of a summer hiking route.

In throwing the rope, the man lost his balance, and slid on snowshoes that provided no traction on the treacherous decline to the lake below.

He plummeted 400 metres to the lake.

North Shore Search and Rescue members were training nearby and were able to respond to a 911 call. Two helicopters were involved in the rescue.

“You don’t want to be on steep icy slopes with snowshoes, even with crampons. The snowshoes turned into surfboards and he just went,” Mr. Jones said.

The entire rescue, including the recovery of the young man’s body, took about an hour, Mr. Jones said.

Since 2000, there has been one fatality and one serious injury in the same area involving people snowshoeing, Mr. Jones said.

Grouse Mountain is a popular resort with groomed ski runs and easily accessible snowshoeing trails.

“I think the manufacturers and stores that sell snowshoes should probably be advertising a little bit more some of the risks that people are taking,” Mr. Jones said.

“Snowshoes are not meant as a replacement for crampons and mountaineering skills.

“There seems to be a need for more education out there as to what the limitations of these snowshoes – and their own skill level – is.”

Novice snowshoers often may make their way up a steep slope to the summit but get in trouble on their way down, he added.

Each year, the North Shore Search and Rescue team responds to numerous incidents of lost hikers, snowshoers and skiers, including some who venture into closed, out-of-bounds areas.



  1. My husband & I have Atlas snow shoes & find that the snow always flips up onto the back of our legs whenever we’re out. We’ve tried different walking techniques but with the same result – wet snow pants. What are we doing wrong?

    1. Author

      Hi Sylvia – The “snow flip” is actually fairly common unfortunately. It’s especially frustrating in wet snow. You’re not doing anything wrong, but you might want to take a look at either better snowpants 😉 or possibly a hinged binding system (vs the spring system you have now). That might work better for your needs. The big disadvantage to hinged bindings is less fine-tuned mobility, especially backwards, but beyond that, they might be a good option for you. Rent a pair first though and see what you think.

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