The advent of smaller, lighter and more flexible snowshoes in the last several years has made the sport more appealing to more people.
The compact stainless-steel frames are easier to use than their long, wooden ancestors, for one thing. And because of innovative clamps and clips, the work involved in putting them on and taking them off has gotten much simpler.
All of that has certainly spawned a renewed interest in snowshoes and snowshoeing in recent years. But Jon Andersen, the owner of Mankato-based sporting goods retailer Flying Penguin, says there’s only one true predictor of the equipment’s popularity.
“Snow,” Andersen says. “Interest always increases when it snows.”
The best snowshoeing scenarios come after a foot or more is on the ground.
“It doesn’t pay to go out snowshoeing in just a couple inches of snow,” says Joel Moline of St. Peter. “You might as well just go for a walk. You need deeper snow, probably a foot or two, so the snowshoes can hold you up and keep you from sinking to your knees.”
When the snowfall in southern Minnesota isn’t heavy enough, Moline takes his snowshoes up north. They’re especially helpful when he and friends collect sap from the maple trees near Moose Lake, where there’s often enough snow to make snowshoes a necessity.
But when he can, he also likes to tromp around locally as well. The Linnaeus Arboretum, on the Gustavus Adolphus College campus, is one of his favorite places to go. “When we get a good snowfall, that’s a great place to go,” he says. “It’s fun to get out and walk through the pine trees there.”
The trails that cut through Seven Mile Creek and those that meander behind the Traverse des Sioux Treaty Site History Center are also local favorites. Ben Leonard, the executive director of the Nicollet County Historic Society, which operates the center, says snowshoes and ski poles, as well as a few pairs of cross-country skis, are available at the center and can be rented for $2. Equipment is also available to rent at the St. Peter Community Center.
Leonard admits that requests for the equipment go up and down depending on the weather — snow is good, and cold is bad. But he sees it as a great opportunity to get outside and do something that doesn’t require any formal training or advanced skills.
“The nice thing about snowshoes is that they’re pretty user-friendly — and beginner-friendly too,” Leonard says. “You don’t need lessons. You can just come out here for a couple of hours and enjoy it.”
Andersen says their ease of use gives snowshoes a boost with people who want a good winter activity but don’t want to risk breaking bones with a bad spill.
“Some people might be afraid to try skiing,” he says. “But snowshoeing is quite easy to do. You don’t have to be good at it. There’s absolutely no skill required. You just walk.”
But while snowshoeing may be as easy as walking, it’s far more beneficial. Although it is low-impact and relatively safe, it provides an incredible cardiovascular workout that engages almost all of the major muscle groups. It also burns an estimated 45 percent more calories than walking or running at the same speed. (Which is, in fact, possible on snowshoes. Anderson reports that special equipment is available for runners.) The increased calorie burning is due in part to the weight of the shoes and the lifting motion required for each step, as well as the resistance of the snow.
“It’s great exercise,” Andersen adds. “And I think it’s more fun than going jogging. I would much rather go tromp around the woods for an hour any day of the week.”
Every now and then, Andersen does exactly that. “I like to take my dog out, let my dog get some exercise, too,” he says. “He’s a big Lab, so he has big paws that are kind of like snowshoes, themselves. And if he sinks in, he doesn’t care — he just loves the snow.”