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The Art of the Slow

How a Pregnant Skier Learned to Love Snowshoeing

For the last 30 years, skiing has kept me entertained in the winter. I made my first turns at just three years old, and by the time I was graduating from high school, I had signed my first contract as a professional halfpipe skier. To say it’s one of my greatest passions in life would be an understatement.

This year, however, has been different—I’m pregnant with my first child, due mid-March. I planned to ski as long as I felt comfortable, honoring my body along the way, and had some great days on the mountain. Unfortunately, around the 32-week mark, my feet started hurting in my ski boots and I started to feel less comfortable with the risks.

So, what else could I do when mother nature was asking me to slow down?

As I explored this question, fond childhood memories of making snow angels, having snowball fights, or simply sledding in my backyard in Vermont began flooding back. The pure joy of sitting by the fire and watching the snow pile up outside our windows. The hours of casually meandering through the woods on cross-country skis, creating our own path. There is more to winter than downhill skiing.

I had never entertained the idea of snowshoeing because my activity time in winter had always been fully occupied. Yet it dawned on me that snowshoeing could be the perfect substitute for skiing in the final few months before my baby arrived—but first, I had some questions.

What equipment do I need to start snowshoeing?

  1. Snowshoes – This one is obvious, but I didn’t know the first thing about different types of snowshoes. I reached out to the Backcountry Gearheads to see what would be right for me. Based on the terrain I was planning to travel, as well as my height, weight, and gender, I landed on the women’s MSR Revo Explore Snowshoe in the 25-inch size (determined by user’s weight). I’ve never paid much attention to gender-specific gear, but it does make sense with snowshoes because of how they attach to your boots. The straps for men’s snowshoes are larger and might not give a women’s foot enough control.
  2. Sturdy, waterproof boots – I invested in a taller, warmer boot at the start of this winter: the Sorel Snowlion XT Boot. I live at an elevation of 8100 feet and snow removal is a very real part of my life. These boots have been amazing for such purposes, so I figured they’d work for snowshoeing. They got the job done and the tall cuff allowed me to trek without gaiters. However, my trusted pair of Danner boots had some advantages. The Mountain 600 is a durable waterproof boot and the TPU heel frame gives lightweight stability and support. I felt that I had a lot more control while wearing these. The only thing to note is that the cuff on the Danners is on the lower side, so you’ll want to ensure you have gaiters. Many ski pants have gaiters built-in, but you can also buy an external one as well.
  3. Winter layers – If you already have winter outerwear, it will work for snowshoeing! That said, I’m an advocate for layering when doing winter cardiovascular activities–opt for a shell jacket and pants over insulation. This allows you to delayer when you start getting too warm or to add layers when you start to get cold. I’ve been wearing the Backcountry Sundial Tight and Catherine T-Neck Shirt as my base layers with the Hayden GORE-TEX INFINIUM Jacket, as well as the Hayden Pants for my outerwear. This is the same outerwear I used while ski touring earlier this winter. On colder days, I’ll bring my Wolverine Cirque mid-layer for added warmth.
  4. Gloves or mittens – A must-have for any winter outdoor activity! My go-to brand is Hestra and this winter, I’ve been living in the Wakayama mitt. It comes with a removable wool liner, so you can wear it on both warmer and cooler winter days. They also have this in a glove version if that’s your preference.
  5. Snowshoeing accessories (optional, but helpful items) – Collapsible poles for steeper more technical terrain, or if you just want a little extra balance. A hiking backpack, specifically for longer outings when you’ll need water, snacks and additional layers. Finally, you’ll want to bring along avalanche safety equipment like a shovel, beacon, and probe if you’re venturing into avalanche terrain. Even if you’re not travelling directly over avalanche terrain, but beneath slopes that may slide, you need to be knowledgeable and experienced in avalanche safety and have the proper gear.

What skills & techniques do I need to snowshoe?

The fundamental skill in snowshoeing is akin to walking. Try to keep your stride as natural as possible, but, with snowshoes on, you may need to widen your stance. This can take some getting used to. My first few times stomping around, I kept stepping on my other snowshoe, which tripped me up, like stepping on an untied shoelace.

If you do fall, it can be awkward to push yourself up in soft, powdery snow. To get up, roll to your stomach & pull one leg up to the kneeling position. If you have poles, you can cross them at the center, making an “x” shape and then press the x flat against the snow while you stand up. The increased surface area of the x helps keep your arm from sinking into the snow.

Even though the motion of snowshoeing is like walking, it can be far more tiresome if you’re breaking trail in deeper snow. Breaking trail is when you’re the first person to lay a track down through the snow. It will require you to drive your knee up for each step to get the snowshoe to clear the snow. This is also when you may notice yourself become a bit wobbly and wanting poles for added balance.

One other thing to note is that some snowshoes have heel lifts, which can be used when going uphill. Heel lifts support the back of your feet, keeping them in a more natural, flat position without needing to balance on your toes. They allow you to still engage the crampon on the bottom of your snowshoe without overstraining your calf or Achilles tendon.

Where should I go snowshoeing?

One of the wonderful things about snowshoeing is that you don’t need a pre-existing trail or route to get out there, just a bit of curiosity. I’m fortunate to live in a mountain community with hundreds of acres to explore outside my backdoor. It’s been fun to see my backyard from some new perspectives on snowshoes and the slower pace, compared to skiing, has been an asset for taking in the surroundings.

Of course, not everyone has terrain like this available to them. If you’re visiting the Park City, UT area and looking for snowshoeing locations, I have a few recommendations.

Close to town and family-friendly is the Swaner Preserve, a 1,200-acre nature preserve with 10 miles of connecting trails. They’ll provide maps if you want to go self-guided, but you can also take a guided tour through the EcoCenter for only $10. You’ll learn about the history and ecology of the Preserve as well as what kinds of plants and animals call it home.

Another great option for snowshoe newbies is the Round Valley trail system, which has groomed tracks for beginners to get used to the equipment. For those looking for a little more challenge, there are ample singletrack options that break off from the main route. You can view the current winter trail map and conditions at Mountain Trails Foundation.

If you’re looking for an even more challenging outing, I’d highly recommend heading out to the Uinta National Forest. With higher elevations, steeper terrain and deeper snow, the winter season lasts a bit longer than in town. One of my favorite trails is North Fork Loop Trail. At 3.5 miles roundtrip, it’s the perfect length for a great workout especially after freshly fallen snow! You can explore more trail options in the Uintas right here.

I’m so thankful to have snowshoes on my feet this winter. They’ve allowed me to continue experiencing the magic of freshly fallen snow, get a gentle cardio workout, and unplug from my often overconnected lifestyle. Hope to see you out on the trails!

For the last 16 years, New England native, Jen Hudak, has called Utah home as she trained to become a world champion halfpipe skier. Since retiring from competition in 2015, Jen has taken full advantage of all that Utah has to offer from its epic backcountry skiing to mountain biking, climbing, backpacking, and hiking. Her goal is to inspire others to live life fully charged by sharing her lifestyle and adventures through photography and the written word—keep up at @jenhudak