Every once in a while, you run into someone who genuinely looks at the year’s weather from the old perspective of “Nine months of winter and three months of bad skiing.” (Or perhaps bad snowmobiling, depending on where you live.) As you head farther north in the Midwest, you meet more and more of these folks who have genuinely adopted winter as a season to be embraced rather than gritting teeth for a few months of teeth-gritting until we can realistically pray for better weather starting around April 1.
You may call these winterphiles crazy, but I might submit another word: “content.” Because if you insist on living in a place that tries to freeze you solid for a few months each year, you might as well make a game of it. And as a first step in that process, let me suggest snowshoeing. This is the winter sport for anyone who can’t stay upright on skis or skates, can’t afford a snowmobile and generally can’t understand why anyone would go ice fishing.
If you can walk, you can snowshoe. Seriously. Dana Garry, an instructor for South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks near Deadwood, describes learning to snowshoe as a six-step process: After six steps, you’re a pro. Dana has had elderly folks recovering from hip surgery strap on the shoes as part of their therapy. And at the same time, extreme athletes run marathons in the shoes.
Along with providing a great cardio workout, snowshoeing carries an undeniable exotic edge for many of us. Modern shoes (below) are smaller, lighter and more manageable than the sinew-and-wood models the old trappers used (above). But it still awakens your explorer gene to gear up (key element in embracing winter: loving gear) in a new way and tromp off into the deep stuff under the trees. And you can do it just about anywhere without spending a penny. No need for lift tickets, groomed trails or fuel.
You can buy a pair of shoes for a little over $100, but there are plenty of opportunities in most states to try them out, or even use them all season, at low or no cost. In my town, which isn’t even in the winter-centric lands of Minnesota, Michigan or Wisconsin, the local parks department has free snowshoeing clinics several times each year. A nearby wildlife refuge has shoes available for free use in the visitors center all winter.
As the post-New Year’s doldrums threaten, try a walk in the snow. You just might find yourself wishing for another couple of weeks of powder come spring.
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