Is Snowshoeing the Most Accessible Winter Activity?

Have snowshoes, will travel

Growing up Canadian, you would think that snowshoes are standard operating equipment. That during our youth we would trudge around the snow crunching our way through the snowy months. For me, that was not the case. I spent my childhood flying down mountains looking for speed and adrenaline every chance I could. I looked a snowshoeing as something from days gone by. Unnecessary given all the other winter toys we had at our disposal. Then I started seeing more and more people out on snowshoes. Saying what a wonderful time they were having. I thought they were all nuts! Delusional even. They couldn’t go skied so they were tricking themselves into having a good time. Well, after years of looking down at snowshoes I finally strapped a pair of MSR’s to my feet, grabbed my poles and went for a wander to see what all the fuss was about.

What a blast! Immediately my eyes were opened to the possibilities snowshoes could bring. We covered so much ground in such a short amount of time. I found myself giggling as we hiked up the mountain. And that is really what it is, hiking in the winter. If you are into hiking between spring and fall, don’t stop! Gear up with some snowshoes and keep on truckin’.

I was also struck by how accessible snowshoeing is. Beyond the initial investment of buying the snowshoes—and I recommend poles as well—the sport is not cost intensive. You can even rent snowshoes to get yourself acquainted (and hooked!). But the accessibility part should not be overlooked. I know many people who don’t have my same love for the Winter months. They would rather stay inside out of the elements and I get that. However, getting outdoors when you usually aren’t inclined to can have a plethora of benefits. There are snowshoeing groups in pretty much every community. It is a great alternative to walking the dog on the icy streets. Wouldn’t Scruffy rather run around on a snow covered logging road anyways?! My point is, snowshoeing is an activity that almost anyone can get out an enjoy. Even if they aren’t a Winter person.

So back to our adventure…We took off up a logging road just outside of Kelowna. Fresh snow below and bright sunshine above. Funny enough, the time we had wasn’t enough to go skiing so snowshoeing became the next best option (another reason why it is awesome!). We took the dogs and they loved it. They looked at us as if to say, “Finally! You figured it out, now let’s go!”. They loved bouncing around in the snow along side us.

Our original plan was to go for a little test walk. We ended up going all the way to the top of the mountain. And as with every hike in the mountains, we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the valley once we reached the top.

The MSR Lightning Ascent 25

I am a larger guy—205lbs plus whatever gear I am carrying so choosing the right snowshoe for the job is essential. The fine folks at Valhalla Pure Outfitters set us up with the MSR Lightning Ascent 25 snowshoes. The Lightnings retail for around $360 putting them in the upper range of snowshoes but there are many options at VPO starting at the $169 range (and $75 for kids!). At first, the MSRs looked smaller that I thought necessary to ‘stay afloat’ on top of the snow but they were up to the task. We were hiking around in about 20cms of fresh snow on top of the mid-winter base and were scaling some steep terrain. They did the job just fine. And being a bit smaller they were maneuverable, light and didn’t weigh me down. When trekking we were talking about longer trips. Even overnighters. That would require more gear and more weight. I was a little nervous if my snowshoe of choice could handle the weight but upon further research, you can get the MSR Lightning Tail attachment and increase your load from 220lbs to 280lbs. Problem solved!

Strapping up the Lightning Ascents was fairly straighforward and easy. They use a simlar silicone strap to the ones I use to strap my skis together so it was a familiar process. With three foot straps and one heel strap your boots are secured snuggly without constricting them. You really don’t notice the snowshoes once they are on. My boots are a winter hiker so they were good for the purpose. I wore ski touring pants but you could easliy incorporate a set of gaiters like the ones from Outdoor Research and be quite comfortable.

On the way down the MSR Lightning Ascent’s held very well. They were confidence inspiring and again, you had this feeling like they weren’t even there. Whether it was in the fresh snow or the packed logging road, they worked seamlessly. I am definitely adding snowshoeing to my repetoire of winter activities. I can especially see going for a snowshoe if skiing conditions aren’t optimal or if I only have a short amount of time. I’ll be putting these Lightning Ascents into the back of the truck for the next winter adventure. Although that might be XC skiing and I have been poohooing that for years too! Time to learn yet another lesson I suppose…

Pros:

  • Very light
  • Solid feel on the boot
  • No constriction or binding
  • Great traction on varied terrain
  • Torsional rigidity off-camber traverses
  • Available in Men’s and Women’s

Cons:

  • Higher price (but you get what you pay for!)
  • The four strap system is a bit much to do up, especially if you have cold fingers (MSR has changed the design for 2020 to a mesh strap system)