“Off we went, after twenty minutes of confusion with waxes and gear and a sack of oranges. We caught a hiking trail near the house and worked our way gently up into National Forest. A hundred yards deep in the snow-filled woods, and my God, MAGIC, sharp blues and whites, transmuted shapes, burdened bush, the woods unified by this single, consistent, surreal texture: snow. Sunlight shattered, crazed, refracted into jangling spikes of light. All the visual cliches, Japanese prints and dreamscapes. We would stop to look and breathe for a moment, and twenty yards away an overloaded limb would choose that instant to dump. No wind, no bird flight, not another additional, scale-tipping flake of snow: just this sudden, silent shower.”
-- John Jerome, Truck (Houghton-Mifflin, 1977)
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Will we be snowshoeing this winter? And if so, how often will we be out on our snowshoes? The only sensible answer is: no one really knows, but time will tell!
Yes, enough snow fell last Thursday to go snowshoeing in NYC and other coastal areas, but a lot less fell in most of the local mountain areas where the trails are.
Which is why we did regular hikes without snowshoes this past weekend. Yes, it was cold indeed, but the new snow was totally lovely in the mountains. Everyone stayed warm enough, and the cold didn't interfere with our enjoyment, believe it or not! Most hikers were in high spirits, which is the case more often than not, although exuberance appears to be especially common among winter hikers. Can you imagine why?
Good snowshoeing usually requires 8-12 inches or more of snow, except on a trail that’s relatively free of rocks (which isn’t the case for most local hiking trails).
Our ability to get out on our snowshoes this season will obviously depend on the weather, and whether we get a lot more snow or not.
Until a couple of decades ago, snow was a pretty reliable commodity in the mountain areas. Snowshoeing was feasible on most winter weekends.
Climate change has turned the weather picture upside down, and while we still get snowstorms, too often the temperatures rise afterwards and the snow quickly melts.
After a snowstorm, a period of extended, below-freezing cold like we just had will preserve the snow beautifully. But in recent years long cold spells have been rare.
The forecast for this week is for temperatures getting above freezing every day starting tomorrow, meaning there will be major melting. A big load of new snow is needed.
Our last great “snow winter” was in 2015, when we were able to go snowshoeing 11 times! Since then, we’ve averaged just 2-4 snowshoe hikes per winter. Yet even with global warming, another big snow winter still remains possible. We shall see.
If you’re new to snowshoeing, there’s literally nothing to learn other than how to put your snowshoes on, which couldn’t be easier (they’re super-adjustable and will strap onto any size hiking boot). If you’re purchasing or renting, be sure it's a model suitable for your body weight (most have a “recommended weight range”).
You can get top quality snowshoes for $100-$200 or more, but some discontinued models are available for well under $100. If you’re thinking about buying a pair, now’s a good time. Get a name brand from a trustworthy store or website. Beware of low-priced snowshoes and unknown brands, which could fall apart at any time.
I’ll have more to say about snowshoeing when we get a bigger snowstorm. Be aware that when there’s such a storm, some stores may sell out of snowshoes. Due to the recent storm, some of the lower-priced ones may already be selling out.
If you have questions about snowshoes and snowshoeing, feel free to get in touch. For more on the subject, go to the snowshoeing page.
Then, when more snow arrives, get ready to enjoy yourself on some snowshoe hikes! As many of you who are snowshoe enthusiasts would agree, fun is virtually guaranteed. Until that snow materializes we’ll be out doing our regular hikes, as usual.
-- Charlie Cook