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Snow bound: whatever your level of skill, snowshoeing can proved an enriching winter experience.

The storm is over, cheery rays of sunlight sparkle on snow-laden conifers, and the temperature has risen to a toasty ten degrees Fahrenheit. You're feeling a twinge of cabin fever, so perhaps it's time to strap on your snowshoes and enjoy the wonders of winter. Unlike skiing, which requires considerable practice to master, snowshoeing is a user-friendly activity that allows participants to explore terrain that may be inaccessible in other seasons.

"Learning to snowshoe isn't hard," claims Gary Koy, who manages the sled dog kennel at Denali National Park in central Alaska. "Anyone can snowshoe without much training. Although you have to swing your legs wider as you walk, it's a movement that comes naturally," he explains. "It does take practice to become efficient, and to recover when the tips of your shoes break through the crust."

Exploring a snowy trail as a dusting of new powder falls can be an exhilarating experience. "With snowshoes, any patch of snow can become a playground," says Rob Burbank of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), a recreational organization founded in 1876. "You're not limited to a trail, but you do need to know how to use a map and a compass. Any winter activity in a backcountry setting requires proper preparation.

No one knows for certain when the first dweller of snow country laced wooden frames to his or her feet with strips of rawhide. Native North Americans and early European explorers in the 17th century used snowshoes that mimicked the shape of a beaver's tail -- the wide, rounded tips tapering to slender training edges. Snowshoes suited for light, powdery snow sometimes measured six feet long to achieve enough flotation to buoy heavily laden trappers.

In the northeastern United States and Canada, snowshoes have traditionally been fashioned from strong, easily bent ash or hickory frames laced with untanned cowhide. Within the past quarter-century, however, shorter designs that mimic a bear's paw have become popular, especially in the West. These employ synthetic neoprene decking mounted on metal alloy frames. Typically, they have cleats on the toe and heel to allow safer travel over packed snow or ice-covered slopes.

Whatever your chosen shoe or level of experience, snowshoeing can provide an enriching winter experience.

A popular area for snowshoeing is the northern part of the Appalachian Trail, a 2,000-mile hiking path that stretches from Maine to Georgia md is administered by the National Park Service. The AMC operates a visitor center where the trail passes through Pinkham Notch, New Hampshire, in the midst of White Mountain National Forest. From January through March, AMC instructors offer a wide range of guided snowshoe activities. Walks range from three hours to five-day explorations. Fees include equipment rental and, if applicable, meals and lodging.

For those who prefer to navigate on their own, follow the Appalachian Trail south from Pinkham Notch to Lost Pond, a fairly level round-trip of 1.5 miles. Views of Mount Washington provide an especially scenic backdrop beyond the shores of the frozen lake. By taking the Appalachian Trail north from Pinkham Notch and then circling on Connie's Way Ski Trail and Crew Cut Trail, adventurous trekkers can traverse through boreal forest to Lilas Ledge, a notable viewpoint. This hike covers two miles and gains about 400 feet in elevation. Along the way, watch for the tracks of ermines and pine martens, members of the weasel family that remain active throughout the winter.

For more information about winter snowshoe workshops or accommodations at Pinkham Notch Lodge, phone the Appalachian Mountain Club at 603-466-2727. Lodging, meals, and equipment rentals are also available in the nearby towns of Gorham and North Conway, N. H.


Winter in Alaska's Denali National Park can be a dismal time, with temperatures dropping to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit. In December and January, the sun hugs the horizon, emitting a feeble glow only three or four hours each day. Although park headquarters and the main campground remain open, visitors are rare at Denali in deep winter. By late February and March, however, the daylight lasts longer, temperatures are inching upward, and snowshoe outings can be pleasant.

While skis may provide the best means of travel in areas of the park above the treeline, explorations in the spruce and willow forests near headquarters are well suited to the slower pace and relative safety of snowshoeing. Wandering about on the packed snow also offers the rare perspective of peering directly into the treetops, where gray jays and boreal chickadees dwell. Moose, lynx, a-nd snowshoe hares are all fairly easy to see, and chattering red squirrels remain active in the spruce forests throughout the winter.

For information on winter visits to Denali, phone 907-683-2294. The village of Healy, which is 12 miles from park headquarters, offers a hotel and two restaurants that remain open throughout the year. Otherwise, plan to buy supplies and rent snowshoes in Anchorage (240 miles to the south) or Fairbanks (120 miles to the north.)

To ensure that your snowshoeing trek goes smoothly, bring a map and compass. Check the local weather forecast and remember that conditions can deteriorate quickly.

Lassen Volcanic

Under a blanket of winter white, the raw landscape of Lassen Volcanic National Park becomes a surreal panorama of fire and ice. Perched at elevations ranging from 6,000 to 10,000 feet where the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountains meet in northern California, Lassen receives abundant snowfall. But several areas on the surface of the volcano, which erupted violently in 1914-15, still bubble with caustic gases. The juxtaposition of frost and fumaroles, of soft snow and smoldering mudpots, provides a fascinating study in contrasts.

From late December though April 1, park naturalists give guided snowshoe walks for participants aged eight or older. The two-hour walks proceed from the ski chalet at the southwest entrance and traverse gentle grades. One route follows the park road to Sulphur Works, a hydrothermal area with steaming gas vents and hot bubbling mud. An alternate path explores an old-growth red fir forest along West Sulphur Creek. Participants who do not have their own snowshoes may rent a set from the park for a non-anal fee.

Winter hikers may park outside the gate at the northwest entrance and snowshoe into the Manzanita Lake area. The route passes through open stands of Ponderosa and sugar pine near the lake, then climbs into a mixed coniferous forest at Chaos Jumbles. Round-trip distance is approximately four miles. Since Chaos Jumbles was denuded by a fast-moving volcanic avalanche early in this century, lodgepole pine and white fir have predominated the landscape.

Southwest Campground in the park is open during the winter, but campers should bring all of their provisions. For information about interpretive activities, call 916-595-4444. Lodging, food services, and equipment rentals are available in the nearby towns of Chico, Red Bluff, and Redding.


Winter comes early to Voyageurs National Park, turning this watery wilderness on Minnesota's northern border to a vast expanse of ice and snow. Once the open water freezes, snow-lovers look forward to traveling the Rainy Lake Ice Road, a seven-mile thoroughfare across the frigid surface of Rainy lake. Here park naturalists lead snow-shoe-dad visitors along the wooded shoreline to howl in their best imitation of an eastern timber wolf Their breath crystallizes in the cold stillness as they pause to listen to a mournful reply.

"The real beauty of traveling by snowshoe," says interpretive specialist Carol Moss, "is that you can go into the fairy-tale, snow-laden black spruce bogs." These are places visitors usually avoid at other seasons because of biting bugs. "In winter, there are no other signs of people, but the signs of animals are quite legible in the snow."

Visitors discover spots where deer have fed or bedded for the night. Mysterious holes reveal that grouse have divided into the deep powder in the evening, then exploded from their chilly lodgings the following morning. The meandering tracks of mice sometimes end in a swoop of outstretched wings, a sure sign an owl dined there.

Rainy Lake Visitor Center remains open through the winter, providing refuge for chilly hikers. Classes offer visitors an opportunity to construct their own snowshoes from kits similar to the native Ojibway style of winter foot-wear. For information on these or other park activities, call 218-283-9821. Winter camping is allowed at Voyageurs and in adjacent Woodenfrog State Forest Campground. Lodging, restaurants, grocery stores, and other services are found in the gateway communities of International Falls, Kabetogama, Ash River and Crane Lake. Area resorts rent or provide snowshoes for guests.

Here are some recommendations to ensure your safety while snowshoeing:

* Understand your limits and turn back if necessary.

* Make sure someone knows what area you plan to explore.

* Instruct your backup to follow up if you do not return by a designated time.

* Dress in layers; carry high-energy snacks and plenty of water.
COPYRIGHT 1998 National Parks Conservation Association
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Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Excursions
Author:Toops, Connie
Publication:National Parks
Date:Jan 1, 1998
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