Sunday, December 21, 2014

Family Snowshoeing Super Guide

Let me know if any of the following questions on snowshoeing sound familiar:

Why should we take the kids snowshoeing when skiing is so much more fun?  (Right??)

Where is the best place to buy snowshoes for kids?

What should we look for when buying a pair of snowshoes?

At what age can children start to snowshoe?

Where does one go snowshoeing with kids?

Are there specific trails for snowshoeing or do you just head out anywhere into the wild?

Family Snowshoeing is FUN


Why should we take the kids snowshoeing when skiing is so much more fun?

Snowshoeing is extremely fun - when done right!

To answer this question, I direct you to the story I just wrote for Snowshoe Magazine which seeks to explain why snowshoeing is so much fun!  Yes, it is not skiing.  It is a different sport entirely.  But, if hiking isn't boring, why would it suddenly become boring just because you've added snow??

"Perhaps we should stop comparing snowshoeing to skiing and embrace it for what it is – a different sport with its own rewards and appeal."

Here is the full story to read:  Snowshoeing is Boring (and other myths I once believed.)

In the story for Snowshoe Magazine I cover the following topics:
  • How to hike with a sled (yes, there is a technique)

  • Why to always bring a sled

  • Games to play on snowshoes

  • Games to play on the trail to get you to your destination

  • How to make snowshoeing FUN with kids

  • How to choose a trail

  • What a snowshoe trail looks like Vs. a ski trail
Powder for the WIN on Snowshoes

Buying Snowshoes for the Family

There is no science in choosing snowshoes for kids.  Go down to Mountain Equipment COOP, Campers Village, or check out the selection online at All Out Kids Gear. Look at the weight limits on the snowshoes, and pick a pair that fits your child's current weight.  That's it.  Really!

Most kids are not out there doing hard core snowshoe climbs so you don't need to worry about choosing the most technical pair of snowshoes on the market.  Children will be tromping around in snowy meadows for the most part so as long as the snowshoes have crampons on them for ice and small hills, you're good.

Daddy snowshoes, Mama snowshoes, and Baby snowshoes

My son is currently wearing the MSR Shift Snowshoes for Kids. Read my review here.

Durable and Strong MSR Shift Snowshoes

You can also find more inspiration and trail suggestions in my story for Calgary's Child:  Snowshoeing:  Family-friendly, Affordable, and Easy

This is the kind of trail you will often find yourself on with kids

At what age can children start snowshoeing 

There is no set age that children will be ready for snowshoeing.  Basically, as soon as they can walk, they can snowshoe.  BUT, you'll want to start on packed trails.  Children 3+ should be able to handle some light powder.  By the age of 4-5, children should be able to tromp around in a field of fluffy snow and even help break trail for short sections.  Kids 6+ will probably enjoy helping with trail breaking and eagerly take up the challenge.

Breaking Trail (age 5)

If hiking with small children follow these tips for success:
  • Always bring a sled!

  • Take your normal summer hiking distance and chop it in half (maybe even more than half.)  In summer, my child can easily hike 12 km.  In winter, I'd start with 6 km. 

  • Use a Chariot with ski attachment or a ski pulk and hike on wider groomed trails (this is where ski trails actually work in your favour) - just stay off the ski tracks I beg!

  •  Bring a Strider ski bike for preschoolers and let them ski out.  They can snowshoe up the trail while you carry the bike (just strap it on to your backpack) and then ski out.  It's a LOT of fun.  And Brett at Run Bikes YYC can hook you up with skis for your Strider bike.

Chariots with ski attachments are great for the little ones
Ski Pulks are cozy and our preferred method of getting a single child into the backcountry
Carrying the Strider and a sled into the backcountry (both got used this day)
Skiing out on Strider Ski Bikes

The Top 5 Places to go Snowshoeing with Kids

1.  City golf courses.  City golf courses make great practice spots for learning to walk in snowshoes.  They are flat with the occasional hill and you can easily bring a sled with you in case your child tires out.  In Calgary, Confederation Park is our golf course of choice for winter snowshoeing.  Shaganappi Point has more grooming and folks there would not be as receptive to seeing snowshoers on their trails.

Snowshoeing at Confederation Park

2.  City natural areas and parks.  Go to your favourite natural area that you visit for summer hikes, and bring your snowshoes.  One of our favourites in Calgary is 12 Mile Coulee. To find others, follow this link to the City of Calgary's list of Parks and Natural Areas.

Snowshoeing in 12 Mile Coulee (helmet worn for the ice we hoped to play on)
Ice in 12 Mile Coulee (bring your skates)

3.  Campgrounds.  Most campgrounds are closed for the winter and are perfect for beginner snowshoers.  Hike on the campground roads for easy hiking and search for playgrounds.  Alternately, look for the summer hiking trails located in the campgrounds and hike those for a a bigger adventure.

Top picks near Calgary:

Hiking on the Paddy's Flat Trail

4.  Your favourite summer trail.  Try hiking your favourite summer trail and see how it looks with snow.  Just make sure to check with a visitor centre first or do a bit of research to make sure there is no avalanche danger.

Snowshoeing at Wedge Pond, Kananaskis

How to get started choosing a trail:

5.  Hike where you can't go in summer! Here's your chance to hike up a creek that is full of water in summer, hike across a beautiful lake that you'd have to hike around in summer, and explore those secret places off the beaten path. (Just make sure the water is frozen before you go hiking across a lake or up a creek!)

Personal favourites:
  • Bow Lake, Icefields Parkway (hike across the lake rather than following the trail)

  • Mosquito Creek, Icefields Parkway (follow the creek rather than the hiking trail)

  • Johnson Lake or Lake Minnewanka, Banff NP (hike across the lake rather than following the trail)

  • Jura Creek Canyon or Grotto Creek Canyon, Kananaskis

  • Anywhere along the Spray Lakes Road (see the Beginner Snowshoeing Guidebook for suggestions, link above under #4)

  • Wedge Pond, Kananaskis

  • Lake Louise (hike right across the lake)

  • Troll Falls, Kananaskis (you won't get to see a frozen waterfall in summer)

For information on the above areas, visit a local information centre or visit the appropriate Park website.

Also check out my winter hiking guide here. (It has links to all stories written of our favourite winter hikes.)

Yoga on Bow Lake - and you can't do this in summer!
Hiking up Mosquito Creek (no trail here in summer - just running water)
Jura Canyon (full of water in summer)

For route information on Jura Canyon, read the story I wrote last year.  You won't find this in many guide books!  Total local's secret.

Troll Falls in winter
Lake Minewanka, Banff
Ice in Grotto Canyon, Kananaskis

Graduating to Bigger Trails with Older Kids

Once the kids are able to hike 8+ km, bigger options open up.

We have three favourites here:

Chester Lake, Kananaskis
Rawson Lake, Kananaskis
Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

See you on the trails and for one piece of final inspiration, check out this story I wrote for Snowshoe Magazine:  Raising the Next Generation...On Snowshoes.