It’s Mara here. Having lived in an area of the country where we don’t get much snow, I have always wanted to go snowshoeing. It looks like so much fun. But I never thought that different parts of the country could provide different types of snow and therefore a different snowshoeing experience. Welcome contributor Maria Janowiak to the blog today as she discusses the subject.

In winter, the snow never stops. Cold winds blow from the north, pushing air over more than 100 miles of open water on Lake Superior. When that air hits land where I live in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, cloudy skies drop seemingly endless quantities of snow day after day. It’s been snowing for a month now, during which time nearly 10 feet of snow has landed on the ground.

Snowshoes or skis are necessary if one wants to go explore the outdoors, and I’m preferring snowshoes more and more.

Snowshoes need to match their owner

Not all snowshoes are created equal, and like any other piece of gear, a pair of snowshoes needs to match their owner and their use. I use an old pair of wood snowshoes that my dad bought in the 1960s and gave to me a few years ago. They are so long that they come up to my chin when I stand them up, and it’s this length that provides the superior floatation that is needed to walk on several feet of powdery snow. The wood snowshoes my husband and I use are different from the aluminum ones that our friends have. Our snowshoes work better off-trail because the larger size means provides better floatation on top of the snow. But the big size and lack of metal cleats on our old-school snowshoes make for an awkward hike on packed trails. For that reason, I avoid places where other people have snowshoed, preferring to make my own trails.

I never realized how different snowshoeing is in other parts of the country. A few winters ago, I visited my friend Kristina who was living near Seattle at the time, and we decided to go snowshoeing on Mount Rainier. I was excited (because who wouldn’t want to snowshoe on a stratovolcano?!?) and she borrowed a pair of snowshoes for me to use from a friend. Given my massive wood snowshoes, I was astonished at the teensy size of the aluminum pair that she had acquired – they weren’t even two feet long. Sure, this was the recommended size for my weight according to some companies (, but I didn’t see now they could possibly work. I mentally prepared myself for a long day of struggling against the snow on undersized snowshoes.

It was a gorgeous, sunny day at Mount Rainier. I quickly realized that snow conditions were completely different on top of the mountain; the bright sun and strong winds compacted the snow so much that it seemed as hard as pavement. Snowshoes were hardly necessary in some places, and people even took short walks without them on groomed trails. Off the groomed trails, the small size provided enough floatation to keep from breaking the hard crust, and the metal cleats provided much needed traction up steep hills. I had never seen snow like this in the Midwest, except for during short periods in the spring where snow melts and refreezes into a hard crust. I had always thought that tiny snowshoes were dumb, but I now realized their place.

Back at home, I’m using my big, wood snowshoes a few times a week this winter. I love them because they allow me to go almost anywhere. In winter, it’s easier to go places that are hard to get to at other times of the year. I go out in the forest and walk over the fallen logs, grass, and brush that make some areas impenetrable (or just unpleasant) for walking at other times of the year. I easily walk over areas that are too wet and mucky to walk through in warm weather, but are now frozen and can be traversed on top of the snow. And I follow animal tracks in the snow, seeing evidence of squirrels, deer, and coyotes that would be unnoticeable any other time of the year. For all these reasons, I’m preferring snowshoes more and more.

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