Pristine Snow Awaits Snowshoers
Just as the slow food movement has encouraged people to slow down and savour their meals, snowshoeing opens up the backcountry in a way that fast-paced skiing or snowboarding can’t.
Tim Penney, 74, has been snowshoeing in and around Strathcona Provincial Park and Mount Washington Alpine Resort for decades. As an avid photographer, there’s nothing he finds more exhilarating than breaking trail into a virgin snow area for some spectacular photos of scenery. “It’s a thrill,” he says. “You don’t have to walk on a trail or anything. Pristine snow is exciting.”
While some dedicated snowshoers venture far enough out they need to camp overnight, Penney prefers to stay closer to home. A trip to Moat Lake, 22K round trip, is about as far out as he likes to go. “A lot of lakes are nice because they’re frozen in the wintertime so instead of going around the trails you can go right across the lakes.” Battleship Lake, Lake Helen McKenzie, Croteau Lake and Hairtrigger Lake are nice hikes and offer spectacular views, he says.
Penney originally got into snowshoeing for exercise. It’s more of a lifestyle for him now, and he never goes out without his camera. As Vice-President of the Comox District Mountaineering Club, he has led numerous snowshoeing trips around the park and Resort. He recommends beginners stick to established trails, but says people looking for more adventurous trips should consider joining CDMC for the support they will receive from other members.
“Another reason I think more people are enjoy snowshoeing is the demographic of the Comox Valley, it’s an older population,” said Penney. Many former cross-country and downhill skiers still like to go outside, but are maybe feeling like they should take it easier.
“I know a lot of older people who are getting into snowshoeing and enjoying it,” added Penney, a former cross-country skier himself. “Snowshoeing can be really easy on you; you can go out and do a circuit around a lake or more in the backcountry. If you fall, the snow is softer.”
Before he started snowshoeing, Penney was involved in hiking and caving. He still hikes when the snow disappears. “Snowshoeing is an accessible sport”, he says. “Equipment has improved over the years and is more widely available. This is a good thing, because proper equipment is essential to a good trip,” Penney added.
“It’s important to go out well prepared and take clothing in layers that you can take off and put back on again. I always take a GPS with us, and spare batteries, because you never know when the weather is going to change. It’s good to have a trail that is recording or that shows you the way back. If you’re heading into the backcountry, a spot locator beacon can literally be a lifesaver.”
Snowshoe construction has changed immensely since the days of tying sinew around a branch to walk on top of snow. Many rentals are tubular snowshoes and they will get you from point A to point B. Better snowshoes have a grip edge all around the perimeter. Hiking poles with snow tips are ideal to help you keep your balance.
Depending on where you go looking for terrain, you can snowshoe well into spring. “I hike year-round but we often do snowshoeing from November to May. We’re out on snowshoes for seven months of the year as opposed to five months’ hiking,” says Penney. “ I spend more time doing snowshoeing trips than hiking.”
And sometimes you just can’t beat the weather. “Dozens of times you go out and drive up the ski hill and break through the clouds into brilliant sunshine. It’s a fabulous way of getting brilliant, sunny days in the winter. You get all your vitamin D.” Mount Washington Alpine Resort boasts 16 kilometres of snowshoeing trails in alpine meadows and old growth forests, all starting from Raven Lodge. Beginners can book guided tours and rent snowshoes, while experienced snowshoers can explore on their own. The popular Snowshoe Fondue pairs a twilight snowshoeing event with a three-course fondue at Raven Lodge.
For more information about snowshoeing at Mount Washington, visit their website at www.mountwashington.ca and follow the links for winter activities.
For more information on the Comox District Mountaineering Club, visit their website at www.comoxhiking.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy Tim Penny.