A Winter World at Your Feet:
Snowshoeing for the Entire Family
It’s a mild winter day at Petroglyphs Provincial Park and Alana Callan, her husband, Kevin, and 6-year old daughter, Kyla, are taking a break from snowshoeing. The sun is shining. It’s been a lovely morning.
It’s been even more lovely because they’ve been moving at Kyla’s speed, and, as a result, seeing the world through her eyes.
They’ve followed animal tracks that they would never have had the opportunity to see during the warmer seasons. They’ve heard the forest talk in the creaks and groans of the winter freeze.
Alana and Kevin have been pulling Kyla in a sled for the trip, but will soon be letting her graduate to snowshoes of her own. “She’s almost there,” says Alana. “But, even in the sled, she’s moving at a speed where the world is slowed down. More observable.”
They’re no strangers to introducing kids to the great outdoors. Kevin is well known in canoeing and camping circles as a world-renowned author and spokesperson, while Alana has been part of snowshoeing programs since she was a kid herself.
“It’s all about working to the child’s speed, the child’s ability, and playing off of her cues,” she says.
“With this in mind, you have the ability to experience the winter landscape in a way you haven’t since childhood. It’s pretty magical.”
But to experience the world like a child, you have to think like one. And you have to bring yourself to their level.“Start out slowly,” advises Alana. “Start out with short jaunts. This is true for the sled and for the first number of times on snowshoes.”
“And even when your child is on shoes of her own, be sure to bring the toboggan. It can be a tiring experience. Exhilarating, but exhausting if you try to do too much.”
While the Callan’s have explored countless National and Provincial Parks, they find the bulk of their snowshoe adventures close to home.
“We enjoy short trips to the Petroglyphs and Warsaw Caves,” says Alana. “There is a lot to explore in Central Ontario.”
The Callan’s are hardly alone in their passion for snowshoeing.
According to local expert, Briar Meade-Semel, snowshoeing is hitting the mainstream in a big way.
“We’re selling snowshoes like never before,” she reports from her post at Wildrock Outfitters in Peterborough. “More and more people are seeing this as a great way to get outdoors in the winter.”
And why wouldn’t they? It is an inexpensive sport that doesn’t depend on a lot of sophisticated outdoor gear.
“Really, you can start by renting shoes and hitting any number of free trails,” she advises.
For those looking for destinations, Central Ontario has no shortage of options.
Ganaraska Forest has several loop routes, the longest at 7.2km, with shorter turn-around points for younger hikers.
Northumberland Forest has roughly 35km of trails – including the brand new “Purple Trail,” that has opened up areas of the forest that were not previously covered in their trail network.
A bit further north is the Kawartha Nordic Centre – a cross-country ski centre that has just opened up 10km of dedicated snowshoe trails.
And then there are the countless parks and pockets of woods that dot the countryside in this part of world.
“One of my favourites is the Trent Nature Areas,” says Briar. “It’s just outside of Peterborough and easily accessible.”
She’s even taken to using local golf courses.
Briar thinks back on her own childhood when she thinks of snowshoeing. “One of my favourite memories is sitting, parked on a log, enjoying cookies and hot cocoa from a thermos,” she recalls. “My parent’s were awesome. They opened up a whole new outdoor world for me by bringing me snowshoeing.”
Along with the memories, Briar also carries some good advice.
“When it comes to snowshoes, you have to remember that there is more than one way of looking at size,” she advises. “You need to remember that, although the snowshoe has to fit the child, there is also a matter of body weight, amount and type of snow, and floatation ability. If you have light, fluffy, deep snow, you need more snowshoe – it needs to be wider. If it is more hard-packed, then a more narrow shoe can be used.”
Briar recommends talking to an expert at an outfitting store in order to choose the right snowshoes for you and your child.“I mean, I started out on old wood and catgut shoes,” she says with a smile. “And I loved them. But there are plenty of options out there – from traditional to high-tech.”
She also has some words of wisdom about starting out with kids.
“Do yourself a favour,” she cautions. “Don’t start out on the coldest day of the year. You’ll turn your kids off snowshoeing before they even begin. Choose a warm day and just go for short trips. Let them enjoy the experience without it being too much work.”
She also advises a good layering of clothes.
“Be sure to be able to add or remove some layers for when they start to warm up and sweat. You don’t want your child to catch a chill by building up sweat and then getting cold again.”
“Finally,” she advises. “Bring some hot chocolate, and some really fun treats. There is nothing, and I mean nothing like a hot chocolate with mom and dad on a fun snowshoe trip.”
Chris Crooks is a father of three and an outdoor education teacher at Cobourg West Collegiate. He too has a wealth of experience with snowshoeing and kids.
“It’s a blast,” he says. “I’ve taught all of my children to snowshoe, and they love it.”
Chris’ snowshoe experiences range from necessity to hilarity. “We have a cabin near Algonquin that we have to snowshoe into,” he says. “So the kids got lessons pretty early.
“I remember them using old plastic ones in the beginning – just as a means of getting them going.
“And I remember some of the amazement when the kids learned about walking on top of the snow. This was particularly amusing when they would head out to the outhouse, remove their snowshoes, and then try to walk back.
“It’s not so easy when you all of a sudden sink up to your chest!”
It is the amazement of walking on top of the snow that will hook the kids, he says.
“You won’t believe the fascination they’ll have with being able to float above deep snow – they have this ‘I can’t believe this works’ look on their faces when they first try.”
Chris likens the experience to walking on water: “If you are in snow that is more than 3 feet deep, it is a truly unique experience that will absolutely thrill your kids.”
While his kids – Nathaniel, Zachary and Danica – are all in their teens and beyond the learning phase, he still has the opportunity to teach others. His high school classes for instance.
“It doesn’t matter how old a kid is,” he says. “The first time is always a memorable experience.”
As an experienced teacher, he too has some advice to share for beginners.
“Go slow,” he says. “And I mean this for adults too. You are going to be using muscles that you don’t usually use – like your hip flexors – particularly if you are in deep snow and have to lift your knees high. Be sure to stretch afterwards.
“You’ll get the hang of it soon enough. And you’ll adjust to wearing snowshoes. But, like any other sport, it’s always wise to ease into it.”
The most important bit of advice offered came from all three experts. And that was to have fun.
“You are going to be building some wonderful memories,” says Alana. “And you are going to reenact them every time you go out. You are going to experience an outdoor world unlike the one you are used to seeing. And you are going to be creating the opportunity for a lifetime of winter adventures for your child.”
All of this by strapping some paddles to your feet.
Makes you wonder why you haven’t tried it already.
Sidebar: Snowshoeing Tips
Krista Campbell Fraser
Here’s the thing: if you can walk, you can snowshoe.
The secret is, don’t try to overcomplicate things. You are going to find your stride naturally. You’ll need to have your legs a bit further apart than usual, and you may find it a bit easier to ever-so-slightly point your toes outward, but otherwise, it is the same heel-to-toe motion that you use in your normal gait.One thing that you may have to get used to is keeping your feet flat. You don’t want to have your weight tipping the snowshoe to the side. You’ll master this in a matter of minutes.
The most important thing to consider is taking it easy at first. Parents, you may want to stretch before and after – as you would for any type of new exercise. And it’s never a bad idea to teach your kids to stretch when taking part in sports or exercise. For less achy muscles, be sure to make your first excursion a short one.
Finally, be careful out there. Make sure lakes and rivers are fully frozen, and be sure to let people know where you are going and when you are coming back.
And that’s pretty much all you need to know. It’s so simple, a kid could do it. Now, strap on those shoes and have yourself a blast!