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view from the top : Numerous trails of Mount Naomi lead through some of the most spectacular alpine scenery found in the intermountain west./ Photo by Melissa Kamis
Today's word on journalism

Tuesday, September 7, 2004

"The First Amendment gives everyone -- including nuts -- free speech,
but free speech has a purpose: that the people may judge for themselves
and bury the nuts with indignation. We fail our founding fathers if we
let blowhards rage on talk radio, in little magazines and in nasty
books without delivering counterattacks.

   -- Barron's, Aug. 9, 2004 (Thanks to alert WORDster John Mollwitz)

Snowshoeing a real nature trip -- but not a walk in the park

By Danielle London

March 18, 2004 | If the thought of traveling down a snow-smothered mountain at hurdling speeds on skis, a snowboard or sled sounds all too ineffective in providing a safe, relaxing way to enjoy the winter wonderland, strap on some snowshoes and take a hike.

The beginning snowshoer may find the sensation of trudging atop a snowdrift in plastic rafts spanning three times the length of one's foot somewhat awkward.

But the postcard view of pure white snow rolling effortlessly past 25-foot pines breathing the mountain air is enough to make even a beginner forget about the wider gait needed to accommodate the beaver tails bound to her foot.

For snowshoer Angela Olsen, bundled in layers of thermals and fleece, the feel of nylon bindings strapped around her water-proof hiking boots is all too familiar as she takes another step, lifting and stepping with ease.

Snowshoeing is the way Olsen enjoys the mountains she loves hiking, even when the dirt paths of Logan Canyon are suffocated under the pressure of mounting snow.

"I'm not much for winter sports and activities," said Olsen, a native of Cache Valley. "In fact, I've never snowboarded and only skied once. But, after trying snowshoeing as part of an environmental studies class in high school, I knew I had found a solution to my winter hiking dilemma."

Olsen, a senior in American studies at Utah State University, has been snowshoeing for seven years. For the first couple years she rented her shoes for $8 a day.

But after meeting and dating an avid snowshoer, she realized the cost of snowshoeing every day for a couple of hours more than merited her own pair of shoes.

"Snowshoes can be pricy," she said over the strum of the Grateful Dead rolling out of her stereo as she sat cross-legged on her lime green couch in her living room. "Mine only cost $160, which is a mid-range price for shoes."

The 3-foot-long, foot-wide shoes resting vertically against the wall next to Olsen's two guitars and two ukuleles are a far resemblance from the wood and rawhide shoes of history. Olsen, herself, has never been on wooden snowshoes, but assumes modern shoes are lighter and better built for the conditions.

"Today, wooden shoes are more or less a ‘hang on the wall' commodity, although I suppose some still use them," Olsen said.

Only avid, die-hard snowshoers still use them, according to Ben Larsen, owner of Trailhead Sports in Logan. Scott Datwyler, who used to own the store, said he is only aware of one company, Faber in Canada, that still makes and sells shoes made of ash and rawhide.

"Ash is a strong wood that is steamed and bent to make the rims," said Datwyler. "Rawhide, which is basically animal guts, is then stretched perpendicularly from rim to rim."

Fifty-two-year old Datwyler has made his own shoes, not out of wood and rawhide, but of aluminum and woven parachute cord. Trailhead Sports sells equipment needed to build snowshoes and Larsen said there are a lot of people in Cache Valley who make their own.

"I made my own once," said Datwyler. "They didn't turn out very good so I never used them. But I've gone snowshoeing with people and Boy Scouts who have made their own and they worked out great."

Modern shoes are much smaller and easier to walk in than their predecessors.

Most have 1-inch aluminum rims with the center of the shoe being made of hard plastic. Snowshoes weigh anywhere between 1 and 4 pounds.

"A great advantage of today's snowshoes is the cleat," said Datwyler, "which is directly under your foot. The cleat usually pivots and has 1-inch metal jaws that bite into hard, crusty snow, making it easier to walk."

The length, or loft, of each snowshoe is relative to the weight of the person using the shoe. The more an individual weighs, the longer the shoe. Special shoes are also made for certain circumstances. For instance, hiking snowshoes are longer in length, whereas snowshoes made for running and racing are shorter.

"It is so important that snowshoes fit correctly," said Olsen, "otherwise you're gonna sink, not like quicksand, but a more slow and cold descent. The resistance of the snow without sinking is enough to wear you out, you'll just be miserable trying to pull your feet out of holes deeper than a few inches."

This year, Olsen has only been able to go snowshoeing on weekends due to a lack of friends to go with. Her routine consists of a six-hour hike on Saturdays in Logan Canyon.

"I love to go at night, usually to Sunrise Camp or anywhere towards the top of the canyon where I can look and see Bear Lake," Olsen said. "Night hiking is incredible, the way the moon glows off the snow and your breath crystallizes in the cool air is so relaxing and mystical."

Though Olsen has taken a step back from snowshoeing in only going once a week, more and more people across the nation are stepping out and making tracks in snowshoes. According to The Boston Globe, snowshoeing, once limited to trappers in the North, has been the fastest-growing winter sport in America. There are an estimated 6 million active snowshoers in the country.

Sticking with this trend, the Cache Valley community has also increased its participation of snowshoeing this winter. Employees at USU's Outdoor Recreation Center (ORC) reported rentals of snowshoes to students and faculty are at an all time high, renting all 70 pairs of snowshoes out every weekend.

"The increase of snow in the valley this year has led to an increase of participation in all winter activities," said Brian Taylor, a USU student who works at the ORC. "Every month we host a midnight hike for snowshoers at some location in Logan Canyon and so far we've filled the 20-seat capacity each month."

It isn't just USU students and faculty tromping around in this year's snow. Larsen said he also rents every pair of snowshoes out each weekend to citizens in the valley.

"Snowshoeing is a great family activity and many people are catching on to the idea," Larsen said. "Whether you're a 95-year-old senior or my 3-year-old daughter, you can snowshoe. It's just that simple."

Larsen said the lack of skill involved in snowshoeing allows for high participation of all ages. People who generally aren't involved with winter sports will start out snowshoeing and after a few times of doing that will wind up advancing to cross-country skiing, he said. For this reason, snowshoeing has become a great stepping-stone to other winter sports.

Larsen, a native of Cache Valley, said he prefers cross-country skiing to snowshoeing because it's faster and requires more skill. However, snowshoeing does have some advantages.

"To cross-country ski it helps if you have a track already blazed, but with snowshoeing you can pull off the side of a road, jump out of your car, land feet first into untouched snow and take-off on an unbeaten path," Larsen said.

Agreeing with Larsen, Datwyler, who has been snowshoeing since he was a boy, said many times a terrain will be too narrow or steep to ski on and sometimes the snow is just too crusty for anything other than snowshoes.

"You can go at your own pace when you snowshoe," said Larsen. "Just like hiking, if you're more advanced you take a more steep and difficult trail. If you're a beginner, you stick with a more level trail. Either way you'll probably get a good workout."

The Montreal Gazette said an individual can burn 450 to 550 calories an hour snowshoeing, depending on his or her weight and the speed in which he or she walks. Snowshoeing targets the muscles at the front of the thigh, but with the addition of poles for stability, the back, arms and shoulders are also worked out.

"Snowshoeing isn't difficult -- even when I first started it wasn't difficult," said Olsen. "You just have to get the right steps down. But don't be fooled, it's no walk in the park. You're going to sweat and your calves are going to burn."

A runner and skier, Datwyler said the extent of a person's workout from snowshoeing would ultimately depend on how fast she chose to walk, how fit she was and the type of terrain she was traveling on.

"I go snowshoeing for exercising purposes, but not always," said Datwyler.

"Sometimes I go just to enjoy nature. Snowshoeing is slow enough that I can notice the snow resting on a pine branch or admire a chickadee chirping on a bare oak tree."

Although Datwyler wouldn't disclose his favorite location for snowshoeing, he said he enjoys walking by water because it is relaxing. Larsen said Logan Canyon provides an assortment of places to snowshoe, his favorites being Woodcamp and Tony's Grove.

As for Larsen's 3-year-old daughter, she hasn't advanced past their back yard.


Copyright 1997-2004 Utah State University Department of Journalism & Communication, Logan UT 84322, (435) 797-1000
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