‘Everybody and their dog’ strapping on snowshoes

By David Redwood, for Hike Nova Scotia

Fran Wyman was struck by snowshoeing’s broad appeal near the end of a hike last year near her home in Pictou County. She was among 20 snowshoers, including a young family with a 6- and 8-year-old, descending a trail when they met a very different-looking group of snowshoers bounding their way up.

It was a bunch of teenagers who were members of a mountain bike club.

“That’s their training in the winter, because it does use the same muscle groups.

Those big leg muscles are the ones they need for mountain biking and they exercise with snowshoeing in the winter,” said Wyman.

Wyman, who organized the more leisurely walk, is running more events this winter. Several are part of a series of 25 guided snowshoe events around the province sponsored by Hike Nova Scotia. Last year some hikes in the series attracted up to 100 people, a sign of the popularity of the world’s fastest growing winter sport.

“I don’t think any of us saw it coming that we would get these kinds of numbers on our hikes,” said Garnet McLaughlin, a Hike Nova Scotia board member and chair of the Cobequid Eco-Trail Society.

McLaughlin and Wyman say snowshoeing’s simplicity drives the sport’s growth. Essentially, if you can walk, you can snowshoe.

And there’s also the appeal of not actually needing a trail.

“The beauty of snowshoeing is you can just explore, you can go anywhere you want in the woods, because the snow has covered all the blowdown. It’s clean. You just travel,” said McLaughlin.

Wyman, also an active cross-country skier, says snowshoeing is not as restricted by snow conditions. Crusty snow is hard to ski through, so she turns to snowshoeing on those days. She also enjoys going off trail to find signs of wildlife.

“(It’s) the whole idea of getting out in the winter, the stories of the animals who’ve been there is told in their tracks. I love to see who’s been around,” said Wyman.

The widespread availability of simple, no-fuss bindings and lightweight aluminum snowshoes has also boosted the sport. Many municipalities and school boards now stock dozens of pairs to lend out.

“Schools have jumped on the snowshoeing bandwagon big time,” said Bruce Roberts, co-owner of Hub Cycle, a Truro store that rents and sells snowshoes. Hub Cycle has sold close to 1,000 pairs to schools in the last few years, he said.

Roberts and his wife Daisy run events such as weekly Saturday snowshoe walks in the upper end of Truro’s Victoria Park, night hikes by headlamp, and longer, more challenging hikes in the Wentworth area. Roberts also predicts the popularity of snowshoe racing in other parts of North America will soon spark competitive events in Nova Scotia.

“Everybody and their dog” is trying the sport, he said.

Roberts said the ease of using snowshoes is finding appeal among ultra-runners, and at the same time he’s got snowshoes that will fit 2-year-olds.

“One thing I hear a lot of people say: ‘We have a long winter, may as well do something to make it pass quicker, to enjoy it rather than mope around and say I hate winter.’”

For more information on guided snowshoe hikes in your area contact Hike Nova Scotia (www.hikenovascotia.ca)

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