It’s a sport as old as the hills, yet one of the trendiest, too. A century ago, people snowshoed by necessity. If you needed to get out and about but that snowbank was just too deep for your horse to cross, you had little choice but to strap on your wood-and-rawhide shoes and start trudging. Of course, those old-fashioned snowshoes lacked the fashion sense of today’s multicolored aluminum models, but they did the job.
Nowadays, the job description for snowshoes has changed markedly. Celebrities like Alec Baldwin, Melanie Griffith, and Justin Trudeau don them for photo-ops at western resorts. But most people just use them to get a good workout, and occasionally to avoid shoveling the driveway in order to get to the mailbox.
For Tim Schopen, snowshoeing is a great way to exercise when he can’t go long-distance biking. Armed with a backpack full of instant soup, a hiker’s stove, and matches in a plastic bag, the Fishkill resident straps on his trusted 9-by-30-inch Redfeathers and heads up Mount Beacon.
It takes him about an hour to get to the summit — longer if there’s more than a foot of snow — but it’s worth it. “You’re all alone. At the top you can see New York City on a clear day,” says Schopen, a bike-race promoter. When he descends via the trail alongside the waterfalls on Fishkill Ridge, he’ll be treated to otherworldly displays of partially frozen ice, for his eyes only.
“Snowshoeing gets you out in winter when most people are sitting indoors,” says Schopen. “You get to see things that most people would never experience. There is this stillness. You see animal tracks all around.” Moving soundlessly in his snowshoes, Schopen also has a greater chance than most of spotting one of the elusive bobcats that have been fleetingly glimpsed on Mount Beacon.
When he’s in the mood for a run, Schopen reaches for his more compact 8-by-25-inch Redfeathers and makes a beeline for Fahnestock Winter Park, where dedicated and groomed snowshoe trails enable him to move quickly. Here he can run just about as fast as he would normally, although dashing through the snow definitely puts a strain on your Achilles tendons. When he’s really ambitious, he teams up with his buddies from the Western Massachusetts Athletic Club and enters races up north. (If you’re curious to know what a snowshoe race looks like, check out the Empire State Games on Feb. 20-22 in Lake Placid, which will feature both sprint and distance races.)
Interested in giving the sport a try? You’ll need at least six inches — ideally, a foot or more — of the fluffy stuff to even think about snowshoeing. The more snow, the more lift. Too little, and you’ll just feel as if you’re walking with metal teeth on your shoes. But when enough snow is underfoot, it feels like you’re floating. After a long workout, the sensation even continues for a few hours after taking the snowshoes off. “It’s hard to describe,” says Schopen. “It doesn’t look like it could possibly be this much fun. But after people try it, they’re usually convinced.”
If you can walk you can snowshoe, but be sure to match your shoes to the type of terrain you plan to traverse
Photograph by Jakub Cejpek/Shutterstock
Walking in snowshoes is easy. Choosing them — and figuring out how to fasten the complicated bindings — is the hard part. Gone are the tennis racket-size, cumbersome contraptions of yesteryear. Here are a few basic types:
Recreational snowshoes: These are what most rental places carry. They are inexpensive and a good way to break into the sport. A good pair will cost you $100 or more. Beware of cheapo types.
Mountaineering snowshoes: Sharp crampons — which can really dig into steep, slippery slopes — and sturdy bindings ensure they won’t break halfway to your alpine destination. Expect to pay $150 and up.
Running (aka aerobic) snowshoes: Lighter and shorter than the other types, with a teardrop shape, these are also more expensive: about $200 and up.
Some models have step-in bindings, which means no fumbling with straps; however, you have to buy the boot that matches the bindings (from $100-$250 for the whole lot). If you want more support, you can use ski poles or adjustable backcountry poles, too, although they’re not necessary.
Beginner to “extreme” snowshoe trips at cross-country facility with local guide service; snowshoers can also hike independently by parking near the new Belleayre Maintenance Center or at the lower end of the Discovery Lodge parking lot
Frost Valley YMCA
Claryville (Sullivan Co.)
Presidents’ Week Family Camp: Families take part in winter sports from tubing to snowshoeing. Feb. 16-18 & 18-20
Guided snowshoe outings:
Feb. 5: Franny Reese State Park, Highland
Feb. 19: Mount Beacon, Beacon
Snowshoes not provided
Stony Kill Farm Environmental Center
Saturday afternoon winter hikes become snowshoe hikes when conditions permit; free snowshoes provided
Fahnestock Winter Park
Off Taconic State Parkway, Cold Spring
Ski center: 845-225-3998 (open when weather permits, call ahead)
Two dedicated snowshoe trails and rentals of both running and recreational snowshoes
Mohonk Mountain House
845-256-2101 ski shop
845-256-2197 for updates on trails and conditions
Snowshoeing on cross-country trails