Snowshoes are great fun and after your first five steps you are an expert, said Ben Carr of the Michigan Snowshoe Center in Roscommon. The great thing about snowshoeing is anyone can do it, whether you are two or 92.
Prior to 1900 snowshoeing was the primary mode of winter transportation in the north country, but roads, SUV, snowmobiles and television all contributed to its demise during the past 100 years. Its renewed popularity is attributed to various factors, including health benefits, it is easy to learn, its affordability, hikers wanting to explore trails not accessible with cross-country skis and runners wanting to stay in shape during the winter months.
We are seeing an increased number of runners getting into snowshoeing, said Jeff Gaft of Running Fit in Traverse City. There are several manufacturers making snowshoes for trail running and competitive snowshoe events are also gaining in popularity.
Gaft and other staffers of Running Fit will again be organizing the Bigfoot Snowshoe Race, January 26, 2008. This years race will serve as the Midwest regional qualifier for the 2006 National Championships; top finishers will compete in the national championships this March in St. Lake City, Utah.
While competitive snowshoeing is gaining in popularity it represents only a small portion of the growing snowshoe community.
What we offer over here at the Michigan Snowshoe Center is recreational snowshoeing, said Carr, whose facility is surrounded by trails along the south branch of the Ausable River. It is a great activity and makes parts of Northern Michigan accessible that otherwise would be off limits during winter months.
Carr also emphasis that snowshoeing is a great family activity and one of the few winter activities that you can hold your spouses hand.
Snowshoeing is affordable and a variety of shoe styles are available ranging in price from $75 to $350. Bob McLain of McLain Cycle in Traverse City suggests renting snowshoes first or trying snowshoes at several manufacturers demo days, before purchasing. Styles vary depending on what type of snowshoeing planned (hiking or running), height & weight, and shoes are available for kids as well with prices between $30 and $100.
Tim Brick at Brick Wheels in Traverse City has seen snowshoe rentals increase at his 8th Street location every year since they started renting snowshoes 15 years ago. His staff is knowledgeable and they always have the latest skinny on the best trails to explore for first-timers.
The old style, wooden Michigan snowshoes are still available for the traditionalist, but they have given way to various lightweight, heavy-duty aluminum frame styles. Bindings also vary so visiting with your local outfitter, outdoor or running shop is the best way to get fitted for the shoe that will best meet your needs.
Snowshoeing opens up a lot of trails and enables the hiker or runner access to areas off-limits to snowmobiles and even skiers.
It provides a great opportunity to enjoy the winter months and explore northern Michigans beauty. There are several events planned throughout Northern Michigan for the novice and the expert:
WEEKLY HIKES & RUNS: Several local shops that sell snowshoes organize weekly and bi-weekly walks and runs. Many have demo shoes and welcome newcomers to experience the excitement. These weekly events take place in Traverse City, Petoskey, Leelanau County, Roscommon and Gaylord. Call your local snowshoe shop for further details. The Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes offer guided hikes on weekends (1 pm on Saturday and Sundays) and reservations are required 231-326-5135 ext. 328.
WINTER TRAILS DAY: January 7, 2006 at the Michigan Snowshoe Center. This is a national event in its seventh year to promote snowshoe activities. The day consists of seminars, guided tours, and activities for kids. The American Hiking Society sponsors the event and several snowshoe manufacturing reps will be on hand with demos. For additional information call (866) 275-0300 or visit the official website at www.wintertrails.org
BIGFOOT SNOWSHOE RACE: January 28, 2006. Part of the U.S. National Snowshoe Championship series. 5 & 10 K runs at the Tubbs Adventure Snowshoe course located at Timber Ridge Campground in Traverse City. For additional info call Running Fit (231) 933-9342 or visit www.runsnow.com
TUBBS ADVENTURE SNOWHOE: Feburary 5, 2006. This event is part of the Subaru Madeline Thomas Memorial Womens Ski Tour. Ladies may choose the snowshoe 3K, 5K or 7K snowshoeing in lieu of the cross-country ski event. For additional information visit www.womensskitour.com or call 231-360-0661.
TASTE THE PASSION SNOWSHOE STOMP: February 18, 2006. A run or hike through the Leelanau Peninsula Vineyards. Particpants may choose from a 4-mile competitive run or a 2-mile fun run or hike through vineyards, woods and orchards overlooking West Bay.
For additional info call (231) 938-1811or
THE SNOW MONKEY: February 25, 2006. Competitive snowshoe race. For futher information call Running Fit (231) 933-9342.
SNOWSHOE NIGHT HIKES: McLains will again offer their popular night hikes at the former State Hospital grounds in Traverse City (behind Munson Hospital, Parking Lot K.) Hikes are every Wednesday night starting January 4, 2006 at 6:30 pm and continue till the snow is gone. For additional details call McLain Cycle (231) 941-8855. The Shielding Tree Nature Center also organizes moonlight hikes through the Sleeping Bear Sand Dune trails, for a schedule call them at
Get with it this winter, try a pair of snowshoes, it is easy, fun and affordable. Whether you just want to cross the street to get your mail, hike a trail, or go for a jog, snowshoeing will add to your winter enjoyment.