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My children often ask me what my favorite time of year is. I can never really provide an answer. Each season offers something that I love. The freshness of spring, the warmth of summer, and the crispness of fall all draw me outdoors. In winter, it's the snow that calls to me. What's not to love? If you're dressed for it, winter offers countless opportunities for outdoor adventures.

Snowshoeing is my winter activity of choice. I like that I can stop at a moment's notice and enjoy the silence of a wintery world. While I've tried the newer models of snowshoes, with neoprene base and a metal frame, I'll take a nice ash frame, carefully woven with babiche (rawhide) any day. I love the spring I feel in my step as I move forward.

I do not profess to be an expert. I enjoy snowshoeing because it's easy to feel confident without a lot of practice. I tell first-timers that it's a lot like walking--once you've gone a short distance and found your rhythm, you'll be fine.

Children seem to get the hang of snowshoeing in a flash. Maybe they're less concerned about falling, or maybe falling is fun for them. They understand that it doesn't matter how many times you fall, only that you get up every time.

When my own children came along I encouraged them to enjoy winter. We made snowmen and forts, and I towed them on the toboggan. In deeper snow, I'd wear snowshoes. The winter of 2006-07, my girls were ready to try snowshoeing for themselves, so we bought each of them a pair of snowshoes for Christmas. Jennifer was seven, and Lauren was four.

Both during and after university, I worked at a number of nature centers where I taught snowshoe lessons in the winter. I had provided basic instruction to plenty of kids, and was ready to do the same with mine. When the snow came, we bundled into our snowsuits and headed out to our backyard. Upon reflection, I should have set up lawn chairs for them to sit in while I strapped on their snowshoes, or perhaps put the boots on the snowshoes before putting the girls in the boots. As it was, I spent the first half hour bending up and down, adjusting bindings and wiping drippy noses. Not the beginning I had envisioned, but eventually we were ready, eager for an adventure.

We spent more time in the snow than on it, but had a great time. Taking tentative steps forward became "watch me" moments. I watched as they stamped out trails for each other to follow, or followed in the trail I made with my snowshoes. We had fun spelling out our names in the snow. When Dad arrived home, he knew we'd been out by all the tracks in our front and back yards.

Soon, any small dusting of snow brought requests to get the snowshoes and head outside. Multi-tasking was not a problem for my girls. Building a snowman or being towed in the toboggan were equally well accomplished with or without snowshoes. Afterwards, we'd warm up inside with hot chocolate and popcorn. We were put to the test when a February storm dropped 16 inches of snow. The girls thought it was pretty funny when I stepped out of my snowshoes and stood beside them. They were "taller" than me as I sank up to my knees and they floated above me.

That was seven years ago. The girls have since outgrown their original snowshoes, and we've expanded our fun beyond our backyard. These days we check out trails at nature centers and parks. We are fortunate that New York has so many wonderful places to explore on snowshoes.

I cherish the adventures and memories that snowshoeing provides my family. And I love that my girls enjoy spending time outside during winter.

Author's note: If you want to try snowshoeing, check out DEC's Five Rivers and Reinstein Woods Environmental Education Centers, in Delmar and Depew respectively. Both have trails, and there are classes with equipment available.

Gina Jack is an environmental educator at DEC's Five Rivers Environmental Education Center in Delmar.
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Title Annotation:Back Trails: Perspectives on People and Nature
Author:Jack, Gina
Publication:New York State Conservationist
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Dec 1, 2014
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