Monday, November 2, 2009

Snowshoeing 101

With the winter right around the corner, it's time to start thinking about winter activities, like ice climbing, and skiing and...snowshoeing?

Snowshoeing is one of the least technical things that we teach at the American Alpine Institute. But it is a skill that we commonly use on ice climbing trips and on expeditions. And indeed, it is a very good way for backcountry travelers to practice their wilderness skills in the coldest months of winter.

It is incredibly important for mountaineers to spend as much time as possible in the field over the winter months. You usually don't need snowshoes during the summer on the hard alpine snow, so you might question why this is important.

It's not about the snowshoes. Instead, it's about getting out. It doesn't matter if this is on skis or on foot or geared up with crampons and ice tools...the reason that it is important to get out is because the winter presents us with extremes. And the better you are at dealing with those extremes, the better that you will be on your next expedition.

Many people look at snowshoeing and see an uninspiring backcountry activity. And perhaps it is... But it is still an important skill to have a grasp on. And surprising enough, this is one backcountry skill that you can probably master with just a little bit of research. The following videos will help you to do this.

In the following video, two very boring people explain snowshoe styles in a very boring way. And while the video might not be very exciting with its elevator music and monotone explanation of the snowshoe, it does have some good content. The video does a great job of defining the different types of snowshoes that you might want to purchase.

While snowshoeing is not skiing -- and thus doesn't really require much skill -- there are still a few tips that will help you when you are traveling in the backcountry on snowshoes. In this first video, a snowshoeing guide describes the skills required to move uphill. This is incredibly important for those who are thinking about large mountain expeditions to places like Denali or Mount Vinson.

In the second video, the guide describes some important techniques for descent. This is a very good introduction to the specific problems that you will encounter on steeper slopes when descending.

And the last video describes traversing on snowshoes.

--Jason D. Martin

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