SNOWSHOEING RENAISSANCE ON MOUNT WASHINGTON
Snowshoeing began as a method of winter transportation among Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples. It wasn’t until 1843 when a group of a dozen Montreal businessmen got together to hike through the wilderness on snowshoes as a form of recreation.
More than 150 years later, snowshoeing is enjoying a Renaissance as people have discovered its health benefits and ease in using the equipment.
Nearly 6,000 people strap on the snowshoes and walk the marked trails at Mount Washington Alpine Resort every year. The sport is becoming so popular that Nordic Supervisor Marc Lyster is repeatedly increasing his fleet of rental snowshoes.
"The attraction with snowshoeing is that everyone can do it," Lyster said. "It’s just like walking."
Equipment is simple as well: all you need is a good pair of hiking boots and gaiters or winter boots, warm clothing and snowshoes.
Whereas early snowshoes were made of white ash, tied with rawhide latticework and weighing about four pounds each, technology has lightened and streamlined the snow footwear.
Mount Washington offers a Discover Snowshoeing program, and their seven marked trails cover a variety of skill levels and lengths.
The Resort sees a lot of families and teenagers who come up to snowshoe, and photography enthusiasts like the sport because it gives them a more stable platform for taking photos as well as access into less-travelled scenic areas.
The marked trails take snowshoers in loops around Raven Lodge, all following different coloured poles. The longest trail is approximately seven kilometres, routing through Great Big View to Finger Glades.
The Old Cabin route, about two kilometres, is outfitted with reflectors on the poles so one can go out with a headlamp and do a nighttime hike.
Lyster said Resort staff spends a lot of time setting up the trail system, which in turn attracts more people to the sport. The winter snowshoe trails basically follow the summer hiking trails.
Still, he urges snowshoers to exercise caution and come prepared. None of the marked trails go as far as Lake Helen McKenzie, although there are numerous unmarked trails throughout the park, Lyster said.
It’s easy to start following someone else’s snowshoe prints and, if you don’t lift your head and look at your surroundings once in awhile, you’ll find yourself lost.
"People should stick to the trails or known areas. Knowing the area or taking a map (Mount Washington has a trail map showing its marked trails) is always a good idea, and bring a compass," he added.
The Resort hosts moonlight snowshoe tours and fondue dinners on Friday and Saturday evenings. Extremely popular, the "snowshoe fondue" requires pre-booking. The tour takes participants on an hour-long trek through the trees of Strathcona Provincial Park, followed by a three-course fondue dinner.
The annual Yeti Race is slated for January 26. Racers in this stop on the Canadian Snowshoe Series run or hike a 10-kilometre route.
Snowshoeing has also been added to the Royal LePage Snow to Surf Adventure Relay Race, taking place April 28, 2013 at Mount Washington.