Uncertain footing in snow and ice can discourage the dedicated endurance athlete, even a member of the Salomon-Backcountry running team like myself, from running during the winter.
When it gets ugly underfoot, it’s all too easy to just give and go to the gym and get on the treadmill. But if you’re looking to get your fix of fresh air and sunshine, along with a great workout, snowshoe running might be the ticket. Snowshoe running is a fast-growing sport in the US, offering a safe, low-impact alternative to running on trails, giving you a new way to build strength and fitness during the winter months.
Interested? Here are a few basic tips on how to get started:
Running snowshoes differ from trekking/hiking snowshoes in three ways. First, they have spring- loaded bindings. Your cadence and footplant are slowed down significantly when running on a very soft surface like snow, and this is exaggerated with the added bulk of a snowshoe. Spring-loaded bindings help provide a quicker return when you push off the soft ground.
Second, running snowshoes have narrower frames to enable you to run with a more natural stride, instead of forcing you into an awkward waddle. Thirdly, they are constructed with lighter materials to lessen fatigue. Running in snowshoes uphill, in soft snow, or at altitude will tire you out more than any workout you’ve probably ever done, and the lightweight materials of running shoes do actually make a big difference.
Don’t overdress. The weather outside might be frightful, but running in snowshoes kicks your internal thermostat into high gear. Like running in sand, running in snow is a lot more work, and you’re going to sweat. Light, wicking underlayers and breathable outer layers (with ventilation options if you’re going with a hard shell) are key.
In addition, keep in mind that most snowshoes kick up snow on your backside. With your body temperature rising as you run longer, the snow being kicked up on you will melt and surely turn you into a soggy mess. For that reason, waterproof or at least water-resistant outer layers are key. Avoid back pockets or hoods, which fill up with flying snow from your stride.
On your feet, you’ll want either a light hiker or a running shoe, preferably with waterproof (Gore-Tex) protection. Gaiters come in very handy to keep the snow out of your shoes; an overbootie is not a bad idea if your shoes aren’t very waterproof. Wool or wool-blend socks (ski socks) are ideal because wool can still keep you warm, even when wet. If it’s sunny, sunglasses are a must to protect your eyes from the reflection off the snow.
Start at home. Practice putting your snowshoes on and taking them off; the last thing you want is to be in a cold trailhead parking lot and not know how to work your bindings. Your run will not go well if your snowshoes are flopping around, so make sure in advance that the bindings work well with the shoes that you’re planning on wearing. You can also walk around on carpet or outside to get a feel for what it is like to move with snowshoes. For your first run, start small. Try something short, mellow and close to home—a groomed or packed trail is ideal.
Once you’re ready to venture out, most Nordic centers allow snowshoes, some parks and forest-service areas have trails that are groomed; the Northeast is known for having well-maintained snowmobile trails to run on. You should also check out snowshoes.com to find snowshoeing trails near your home or vacation spot.
Organize a group snowshoe run with friends, find a local running shoe store that is hosting group snowshoe runs, or hop in a race. There is a wide selection of races, mostly 5K and 10K distance, across the U.S. To locate a race near you, check out the following resources:
Photos courtesy of Atlas