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Snowshoe running 101: Your guide to a new kind of winter training

— By David Robinson

Hundreds of years ago fur traders used snowshoes to navigate across frozen tundra. Fast forward to 2017, and we find thousands of people in snow-bound countries strapping on snowshoes as a way to get outside and get some exercise in winter. The snowshoes are lightweight aluminum and the clothing is high-tech, breathable fabric. It all makes for a totally different type of workout.

I started in triathlon in 1982 – one of the originals of the sport here in Ontario. A few years ago, I got into snowshoe racing and have found it to be a great running experience. As much as I love cross-country skiing, it does not provide the same work out as good run. Snowshoeing really fits the bill and allows me to get into the snow-covered, wooded trails, which I love to do. Running on snowshoes is slower and requires considerably more effort than a regular run. A 40-minute run on snowshoes over snow-covered trails feels like a hard one hour run. I work a lot harder and I am going quite a bit  slower. I have to pick up my feet more and run with a wider stride to avoid tripping. I also find I use my arms a lot more, making for a much more all-around workout.

Getting into snowshoe running involves an investment of about $250 to $300 for a pair of high-tech racing snowshoes and a good pair of trail shoes – preferably with high tops to avoid snow getting down by your ankles. The racing snowshoe is smaller than the walking version, and the binding has been engineered to facilitate running. Wearing clothing made of breathable fabric is advisable because you will sweat a lot from the effort. The equipment can be purchased at most sports stores that carry winter sports gear.

In terms of technique, snowshoeing is pretty simple to learn. Start with walking, then a slow jog, getting the feel of navigating the trail wearing snowshoes. Once you start getting more comfortable, pick up the speed until you are running at a pace you are comfortable with.

Finding a place to snowshoe is not that difficult. Most of the Nordic and downhill ski centres across the county have built snowshoe trails on their property and maintain them. In addition, most of the municipal, provincial and national parks have made provisions for snowshoe trails.

Snowshoe Canada has a Ontario Cup series going in southern Ontario throughout February and early March. They also sanction an event in Edmonton and the Canadian Championships are in Gatineau, Que., on Feb. 18, 2018. The North American Championships are in Saranac Lake, N.Y., on Jan. 14, 2018, while the World Championships are in northern Spain on March 3.

For more information, go to snowshoecanada.ca

David Robinson is the president of Snowshoe Canada.