March 3, 2024

Snowshoe Mania

This is one hot winter sport
By Alexandra Dailey | Jan. 7, 2023

A renewed interest in one of the oldest forms of bipedal transportation—at least for the winter months—has bloomed in the last decade, blending ancient cultures with technological advances that have made the sport more accessible and enjoyable.

Combine a fascination with nature, a need to disconnect from the buzz of daily life, and little required equipment, and you’ve got three reasons people are chomping at the bit to give snowshoeing a try.

Nick Wierzba of Grand Traverse Bike Tours weighs in on the recent snowshoe mania: “Snowshoeing has become extremely popular because it is a super fun way to experience the beautiful snow-covered landscape of our area,” Wierzba says. “Nothing beats snowshoeing in fresh snow—it’s like walking on clouds, and all the snow on the trees gives you the feeling of walking through a snow globe.”

Sounds pretty magical, right? Even though they don’t have “snowshoe” in their name, Grand Traverse Bike Tours is certainly in the right place for some winter exploration. Their Vine to Wine Snowshoe Tours take participants on a private trail to three stops—Suttons Bay Ciders, Ciccone Vineyards, and BigLittle Wines—on Leelanau Peninsula, with a catered lunch from MI Market included. If you’ve been to any of the above, you know those are some hard to beat views, especially when you get a mix of blue sky, white snow, and verdant evergreens.

But it’s not just the majestic scenery that is getting people out on the trails—snowshoeing is also an affordable activity for individuals and groups, with prices well below the cost of a lift ticket at most nearby ski hills.

“Snowshoeing is an inexpensive way for anyone to get outside as there are no passes, tickets, or even maintenance required for a full season of use,” says Joe Robb of Brick Wheels in Traverse City, which rents snowshoes for kids and adults at daily ($15-$20) or weekly ($75-$100) rates.

“Accessibility for snowshoeing is the highest out of all winter sports, and inventory levels are high enough to meet demand without forcing customers to search for the product they want,” says Robb.

Last but not least: Snowshoeing can be a legitimate workout, and your Fitbit will love the steps and the cardio. If a run or a hike isn’t in the cards, snowshoeing is a solid alternative.

“Snowshoeing is a great form of exercise,” shares Merrith Baughman, director of interpretation and visitor services at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (SBDNL). “Because of innovative equipment like lightweight snowshoes and easy-to-use poles, snowshoeing has become a popular option for safe outdoor activities and winter exercise.”

Who’s on the Trails

So, we know why people are flocking to the trails, but who’s actually taking advantage of this sport?

“We see a lot of tourists,” says Wierzba. “The snow, so many options for trails, and beautiful winter landscapes make it worth the trip to come up north to snowshoe. But we see quite a few locals too.”

Robb also sees plenty of tourist rentals—he notes Brick Wheels rents to groups as diverse as bachelorette parties, groups of college students, and families enjoying the holidays.

“Students from U of M were up here renting skis and snowshoes several times last winter,” says Robb. “And thanks to our stock of kids’ snowshoes, many families find this is an easy way to get everyone outside without having to purchase extra gear. Snowshoeing is also a great option for couples because of the low price, ease of use, and trails between the wineries.”

He adds that “some locals rent [snowshoes] before buying” and that Brick Wheels will apply one day’s worth of rental charges toward their purchase as a discount.

Tourist or local aside, the northern Michigan trails see snowshoers of all stripes.

“We see all age groups and demographics out by Sleeping Bear Dunes,” says Baughman. “Families, newbies—everyone participates in snowshoeing.”

SBDNL offers guided snowshoe hikes for all ages, as well as snowshoe programs for school-age kids during January and February. The park provides snowshoes and helps the kids explore the sport from a cultural and winter experience perspective.

“We see over 2,000 kids each winter,” shares Baughman. “We provide them with snowshoes and take them out on the trails to try something new and spot wildlife, which can be much easier to do during winter.”

Where to Go

Ready to hit the snow? (If it's around, of course.) Wierzba recommends Whaleback Natural Area, part of the Leelanau Conservancy, and the Black Star Farms snowshoe trails. As for the latter, “They have four loops through their vineyards, around their orchards, and through the woods. This is the perfect spot to bring friends. [Black Star Farms] also has their Vines to Wines event every Saturday throughout the winter, so you can stop into the tasting room after a hike and taste their amazing wines,” he says.

Robb suggests VASA and Hickory Meadows for snowshoeing locales. “Hickory Meadows is in town, free, and extremely accessible. VASA is a free resource with plenty of beautiful trails running through state forest land off Bunker Hill Road with trails for most skill levels.”

While Baughman favors Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, Heritage Trail, and Platte Plains, she also recommends calling the park ahead of time to make a reservation for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore’s snowshoe hikes—they tend to fill up quickly!

With increased popularity and overall interest, snowshoeing is a hot winter endeavor for all ages and skill levels, so it’s time to get walking. As Wierzba says: “Go for it! [Snowshoeing] has a very small learning curve. Within a few steps, you are comfortable with the equipment and out having fun.”

Pro Tips for Winter Workouts

When it comes to enjoying your snowshoe experience—whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned snowshoer—winter preparedness is key.

“Dress in layers, stay hydrated, and let someone know where you’re going, or talk to the rangers at the visitor’s center before heading out,” advises Baughman.

Exercising in cold weather can cause overheating and an increased heart rate if you’re not acclimated to the activity. Wearing layers that can be vented or removed is a good rule of thumb, and cotton socks should be avoided because they hold moisture and stop insulating once saturated. Instead, opt for wool whenever possible.

“Start small,” says Robb. “Go for a couple-mile hike in clear weather and continually judge clothing layer performance in different conditions. Also, use trekking poles and bring a backpack filled with warmers, water, and extra layers.”

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