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Snowshoeing comes of age

01/14/03 12:00AM By Mary McKhann
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(Host) Commentator Mary McKhann says that this is one of the best winters in years to get out and enjoy a traditional, rural activity that has come of age as a sport.

(McKhann) When I first moved to Vermont in 1981, I found myself in possession of a pair of old-fashioned snowshoes, the kind made from wood and rawhide, beautiful to look at but not so great to use. When I strapped them on, I felt like I was walking with a beach ball between my legs, not to mention that I kept tripping over my own feet.

That was pretty much the extent of my snowshoeing experience until a number of years later, when the new generation of lightweight aluminum and plastic shoes came along. I got some and made another discovery. Small snowshoes do not keep you on the surface of snow that is three feet deep.

Since then, I've discovered a number of things about snowshoeing, including how much fun it is. There are snowshoes for deep snow. There are also snowshoes made for running. There are women-specific shoes, recreational shoes, and shoes made for serious mountaineers.

And there are lots of good reasons for snowshoeing. You don't need to learn any new skills, and most likely the only equipment you'll need to buy are the shoes. It can be done on hiking trails, back roads, jeep trails, golf courses, flats and steeps, hard snow, soft snow, even icy trails can be navigated using the crampon-like attachments featured on many of today's snowshoes.

It's as easy as walking; it's inexpensive and a good way to keep that New Year's resolution to get more exercise. It can be easy or challenging. It can be done alone, with your dog, or with a bunch of friends. It can be as contemplative or sociable as you choose.

I hear people who live in Vermont complaining all the time about winter. But - and this is particularly true this year - winter is a great time to enjoy the beauty of nature. The woods in winter are a magical, spiritual place, and snowshoes give you easy access. To that end, there are a number of Vermont events coming up for snowshoe fans of all age and skill levels, where companies like Stowe's own Tubbs Snowshoes will show off their wares, conduct guided "walks" and even advise on how to "dress for winter success." This coming Saturday [January 18, 2003] a Winter Trails Day will be held at the Green Mountain Club in Waterbury Center. And later in the month, Stratton Mountain will hold a breast cancer benefit walk.

Snowshoeing has become a full-fledged sport with its own sanctioning body and world class competition. The U.S. Snowshoe Team raced in its first international competition this month and the third annual U.S. National Snowshoe Championships will be held in Utah in March. Not bad for an activity that started out simply as a practical way for people living in the backcountry to get around in the winter.

This is Mary McKhann in the Mad River Valley.
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