The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 129: A Snowshoe Primer

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

MIKE WHITE: The winter can be extremely beautiful... The wilderness in my mind gets a lot bigger in the winter time.

STEVE: This week on The WildeBeat; A Snowshoe Primer

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News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number one twenty nine.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE: Exploring the wilderness in the winter can be an amazing experience to someone who's never tried it. And the easiest way to get out there is by hiking using modern snowshoes. Author Mike White has written several guidebooks to snowshoe trails in California.

STEVE: So Mike White's about to take us on a snow shoe hike up here in the Tahoe National Forest near Donner Pass. So, Mike, what are we going to need to start out on this adventure?

MIKE WHITE: Well, the first thing you're going to need is good, adequate clothing... Jeans and T-shirts are probably the worst thing you could wear in the snow. And what you want to start out with is a good base-layer of polypropylene underwear... It's going to trap your body heat against your flesh to keep you warm, plus it's going to allow any moisture, via perspiration to be able to transfer to those outer layers of clothing and then out to the air so that you will not be wet, and then hence cold. Over that base layer, then what you'd preferably have, are some fleece pants and maybe a fleece vest, or a fleece jacket. And so over your intermediate layers of fleece, the best thing to have is a waterproof-breathable type jacket, that has a hood, pit zips and pockets to store things like gloves and snacks and things like that, and then also a pair of waterproof breathable shell pants that are going to black the wind, and also prevent you from getting wet if it happens to start snowing, or worse raining when you're in the snow.

MIKE WHITE: And then, you'll also want to protect your hands. A good pair of fleece gloves or mitts, and maybe an over-glove for really cold conditions, or an over-mitt. And also for your head, most of your body heat is lost through the top of your head, so you want to make sure you have something to fit over your head that's going to keep the top of your head warm. And then also socks. You want to have good quality synthetic, or wool-blend socks. And then, you can either get by in our area, in the Sierra, with a pair of waterproof-breathable hiking boots that are good enough for winter conditions, or you want to go ahead and purchase a pair of winter boots.

STEVE: OK. So, we've got a trail here that's going to lead us up a fairly steep hill, and then across some rolling, relatively flat land here, in a valley. So, show us how to get ready.

MIKE WHITE: OK. Well, my basic little credo is if you can walk, you can you can snowshoe. And people that are kind of new to the sport look at a pair of snow shoes, and they might get a little intimidated. And once you've got your foot in and out of the binding for the first time, you've pretty much mastered that technique. But what you want to do, is depending on what type of snowshoe you have, is put your boot into the binding, and then make sure that ...the toe of your foot right over the crampon, but not too close to the inside edge of your snowshoe... But basically just get your foot in there in the right position, put the straps on, and you're ready to go.

STEVE: OK, so you're not wearing a lot of clothes. Like for example, you're not wearing ski bibs and a parka and all of that. Are we going to be warm enough?

MIKE WHITE: Oh, absolutely. Once you get going you're going to generate quite a bit of your own body heat... So you want to start out being kind of mildly uncomfortable as far as temperature-wise, because almost instantly, once you start working that hard you're going to produce a lot of body heat, and your body is going warm up really quickly.

STEVE: I noticed that you have a pretty big backpack full of gear here.

MIKE WHITE: You know... you want to be out here enjoying yourself. But you also want to be prepared if something happens. And if you, you know, get injured or somebody in your party gets injured, then all of a sudden you've got to go into crises mode, you want to make sure that you have the stuff in your pack that will enable you to survive if you have to. And so that would include extra clothing, plenty of food and water, the ten essentials that apply to backpacking, also apply to snowshoeing. You want to make sure you have a good first-aid kit, sun glasses, snow shovel if you're going to be in avalanche-prone areas.

STEVE: Are these like the ski poles that you would buy for skiing, or are they the hiking poles or trekking poles? What do you need for these?

MIKE WHITE: Well, actually you can go either way. If you've got an old pair of ski poles that feel comfortable to you, they will certainly work... A lot of people don't use poles. They're certainly not necessary ...for the sport, but I like to have them because, not only do they give you a little bit more stability, but also it takes a little bit of load off your legs, which are going to bear all the weight and pounding by themselves without them. Plus it gives your arms something to do; gives them a little bit of a workout as well.

MIKE WHITE: OK, you all ready to go?

STEVE: Yeah, let's go.

MIKE WHITE: Let's head out.

[SFX: Footsteps on snow]

STEVE: Why do we need snow shoes? Why can't we just go for a walk in the snow?

MIKE WHITE: Well, it'll take you just about two seconds to figure that one out. What happens is that you walk onto the snow and all of a sudden, you sink. Because most people's feet, unless you've got really extraordinarily large feet, they're not going to provide enough surface area to support your weight on something that's as soft as snow. So you're going to be sinking in what we typically call post-holing, and that's a very tiring way to get from point A to point B over the snow.

STEVE: Well, OK. Now we're to a pretty steep uphill. What do we do here?

MIKE WHITE: Well, you just keep on going, obviously, but what you need to do when you approach a steeper hill like this, is if you've got ascending bars on your snowshoes you can flick those up... So what that accomplishes is your foot is going to get far less fatigued less quickly than it would otherwise when that foot is going to have to go all the way back down to that snowshoe.

STEVE: This hill here starts out kind of shallow, and then get's pretty steep. How are we going to manage this?

MIKE WHITE: Well, we'll just see if we can get up it and do our best. It's going to be a little bit of work, because it requires a lot more physical stamina and stuff like that. But, with the proper techniques can get up this hill without too much trouble.

MIKE WHITE: OK, let's head up!

MIKE WHITE: OK. we're getting to a point here where the terrain is definitely getting a little steeper. So rather than just go straight up here we're going to kind of angle over to the left and traverse this slope, which will make it easier to negotiate, rather than just going up steep... This is one of those places too where poles come in really handy, because you're in a little bit more precarious terrain and it's nice to have those poles for balance.

STEVE: Well, a couple miles-in we stopped for a lunch break here. And, well it's certainly a different sight than when I've hiked here in the summer.

MIKE WHITE: Yeah. The winter can be extremely beautiful. I mean we're sitting here in this open meadow, not a cloud in the sky. The sun is just wonderfully warm on our backs, we're just surrounded by mixed forest of pines and firs. It just doesn't get any better than this, and if you're quiet, and listen, there's just not a sound to be heard, except for a few birds chirping.

MIKE WHITE: But the nice thing about winter is when the snow falls, it closes a lot of the roads and access that normally people would be using motorized vehicles or equipment or whatever during the summer months. And so the wilderness in my mind gets a lot bigger in the winter time because access is limited by all the snow. So if you're willing to basically step off the highway or step off the road and go in a mile or two, you've got the place pretty much to yourself unless you're going to a very popular area. But you don't necessarily have to go to a specific destination. You can just pull off, head into the mountains and just kick back and enjoy the peace and serenity.

STEVE: Well, I certainly have worked up an appetite getting this far.

MIKE WHITE: Yeah, and that's why you might want to make sure that in that pack you're carrying, you've got plenty of snacks, plenty of high-energy foods... and one of my favorite things to do on a cold winter day is to put some hot chocolate or another hot beverage in a thermos, and you pull that out when you get to your halfway point or your lunch stop and have a nice cup of hot beverage.

MIKE WHITE: OK. Well, looks like lunch is over, so let's get going. See if I can get up here and throw my pack on. Get buckled up.

MIKE WHITE: OK, let's head out.

STEVE: Well, we're back at the trailhead, Mike. Thanks so much for taking me out on the trail.

MIKE WHITE: Well, you're quite welcome. Boy, what a great day to be outside, huh?

STEVE: Aww, it's beautiful out here. And this is really easy, I mean, I can't imagine anybody who can hike, not being able to do this.

MIKE WHITE: Yeah, well, like I said, you know, if you can walk, you can snowshoe.

STEVE: We'd like to hear your about your first experiences snowshoe hiking in the wilderness. And we always like to hear any other comments you might have about our show. You can call our toll free comment line at 866-590-7373. You can find links to Mike's books, and download a high-quality, extended stereo version of this show, on our web site.

STEVE: WildeBeat members can download an extended interview with Mike White featuring more detailed tips for getting started, from our WildeBeat Insiders web pages.

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Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. If we helped you get into the wilderness, could you help us do the same for others? Just click on our support link and become a member. The WildeBeat is produced by Steve Sergeant, with help from Jean Higham, as a nonprofit educational project of Earth Island Institute.

This has been The WildeBeat, program number one twenty nine. Thank you for listening.

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Next time -- Skiing for Skiers.

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