Snowshoeing 101

  • Bill Grove instructs new showshoers about the equipment. Photo: Ashley Murray

  • Novice snowshoers on the trail with Venture Outdoors.Photo: Ashley Murray

  • Allegheny Front reporter Ashley Murray on her first snowshoeing trek.

January 31, 2014
Originally published February 1, 2013

It may be the dead of winter but that doesn't stop the Pittsburgh nonprofit Venture Outdoors from getting people outside. A group of about 20 people recently headed to Rockwood, Pennsylvania in the Laurel Highlands for a chance to slap on some snowshoes. This trip is for beginners.  

Trip leader Bill Grove begins the session with a short talk about the equipment. He says the cleats on the bottom of the snowshoes have different functions.

“The toe pick is for going downhill or uphill.  It allows you to dig in, grab a hold of the snow.  The next bigger cleat that you see right here is underneath of the forefoot,” says Grove.

The pack of novices put on their snowshoes. Their snowshoes look like short, wide skis. Old fashioned snowshoes resemble the face of a tennis racket. Snowshoes work by distributing the weight of the person over a larger area so that the person's foot does not sink completely into the snow, a quality called "flotation."

The group crunch their way across the snow to a trail that loops for about two miles around a lake.

Tom Cosgro, assistant trip leader, slows down to ask the new snowshoers how they are faring with their equipment.

“I think I’m doing ok. Ahhh... just slid a little” says Ashley Murray. “Spoke too soon.”

Longtime Pittsburgh resident Elizabeth Engelman is also on the trek. She says she grew up in Florida and has hated winter for 32 years.

“I decided this year, I’m gonna like it… practically broke my neck to get here today, worked ‘til three this morning, but I wasn’t gonna miss this, and I’m hooked.”

As the group walks along the trail, they travel deeper into the woods. The forest and forest floor are covered in a blanket of powder. Snow can mask potential obstacles for the inexperienced snowshoer.  Bill Grove, the trip leader, tells the group to keep their eyes on the ground.

“In the snow, we want to look at the terrain.  You’ll see where the tree hump is, where the snow has covered a rock,” cautions Grove.  

Besides the need to be alert to snow covered obstacles, snowshoeing is a fairly simple, low impact sport. It lends itself to beginners.

“It gives people a way to get outside when maybe they’d be uncomfortable doing something,” says Venture Outdoors Katie Getsie.

Doreen Karas agrees. Her family skis but she’s unable to do that because she has arthritic knees.

“My choices are sit around in the lodge, read a book, or go to the spa, or stay at home.  This is much better than all of those things, although the spa’s a nice trip too,” says Karas.