Making the shift from no shoes to snowshoes
ONE OF THE HARDEST calls for anyone who enjoys winter is when to decide it’s appropriate to start wearing snowshoes in public. Wear them too early and you’ll look silly. Wear them too late and you’ll be floundering in deep snow.
There are many theories on determining the proper time for snowshoes. There are also tried-and-true rules such as never wearing them in a month that ends in une, uly or ust.
A knowledgeable outdoorsman once told me that I could get a good sense of when to don snowshoes if I watched deer as they traversed through snow. I quickly discarded this advice as I have never once seen a deer wearing snowshoes.
I believe the best thing to do is go to a place where people routinely snowshoe and then look for tracks.
Once there, you need to examine them carefully.
For instance, if you go to a place and see snowshoe tracks crossing grassy patches, the odds are good that you should probably wait for better accumulations of snow.
If you see snow and one set of snowshoe tracks and one set of boot tracks, it might be too early for snowshoes. Then again, hardly anyone is around, so do what you want.
If you see one set of snowshoe tracks and they do a quick U-turn back to the parking lot after confronting several sets of boot tracks of people who skilled a tracker can determine were belly-laughing then it is definitely too early.
If the snowshoe tracks suddenly deviate from the main trail and pause behind a thick tree or out building while many boot tracks pass, it is too early but the snowshoer bought a new pair and, gosh-darn it, he’s going to get some use out of them this winter. Therefore, if you bought a new pair, you should probably try them out too.
One the other hand, tracks will also tell you when snowshoes are absolutely necessary. For instance, if you walk up to a snowshoe trail and see several boot track that lead to toques sticking out of the snow, it’s probably time for snowshoes.
The point here is there is no wrong time to wear snowshoes – only highly embarrassing times to wear them.
There might even be some times that you should have worn them except for the fact that too many others wore them first. This typically happens when you get to a popular snowshoe trail late and a hundred other snowshoers have already been there tamping it down to the consistency of concrete.
Sure, you can snowshoe on that already wellbeaten trail, but you are not fooling anyone. Snowshoes are not required.
Have no fear though. It’s not even winter yet. Sooner or later you will have an opportunity to wear snowshoes. At that point, the snow will be deeper than your knees and the paths might be trodden but not too packed down.
Then, you will feel that your snowshoes are keeping you afloat on the snow and you might even feel superior to someone who is trying to traverse the trail without them – which has always been the greatest thing about snowshoeing, if you ask me.
When is that going to happen?
I don’t know, but I can tell you this. You won’t find out from watching deer.