Snow, white, fluffy, powdery, slippery. That’s what we have going up in the mountains right now. Starting at Pollock Pines, it just gets better and deeper as you drive up to Lake Tahoe.
The cold front that made our teeth chatter for the last couple of weeks has kept the snow that’s fallen from melting off and leaving large mud puddles all over the place.
One of the more affordable ways to get out into the forest — be it into the back country or just around the local snow park area — is to rent snowshoes. They aren’t that expensive to buy, but you are better off renting just to find out if you actually like walking on snow.
The learning curve for being a successful snowshoer is fairly shallow, which is to say that if you are able to walk reasonably well, you will probably be able to snow shoe. It’s not a given, because they are a bit bigger than your average boot, and if you are prone to having trouble with tripping on dry ground, it may take a day or two on the snow for you to figure it out. Not to worry, you’ll get it.
The first thing to know is that there are several different types of snowshoes, which are different from what we had just five years ago. It’s an industry that never sleeps.
Snowshoes come in different sizes, and many are gender or weight-bearing specific. There are snowshoes that have a bar that pops up under your heel when you are headed up hill, which tends to even out the forward lean you may have on the steeper slopes.
They all have a serrated set of teeth somewhere on the bottom of the snowshoe. That keeps you from sliding too much. When the snow turns icy, these really come in handy.
Some snowshoes are for general light touring. Others are for more extended trips. Still others are for the competitive crowd. Most of them these days are very strong and very light. Integrated tightening systems make putting them on and taking them off fairly easy.
Where you decide to snowshoe makes a difference in the snowshoe you might want to buy, and the gear you’ll need to take with you.
If your choice, and it would be an excellent one for your first time out, is along the shore of Lake Tahoe around Camp Richardson, then your gear choices are going to fit the experience there.
Besides snowshoes, you’ll need a set of cross-country ski poles, the appropriate clothing for the day, enough water for the time that you are out and a snack or lunch. In addition, have sunscreen, a good hat and your camera ready to go as part of your day.
The reason you don’t need as much gear is that the trip up and down the beach, or through the Tallac Historic Estates, keeps you in touch with civilization. Not to worry. There will probably be others out along the lake shore, too.
If, after a preliminary trip or two, you decide you really do like snowshoes, you may want to explore a bit of the backcountry. This takes more planning, more water, more gear and more food — especially chocolate.
Heading into the backcountry means you’ve checked the weather conditions and predictions, you’ve left your cotton clothes at home and have packed well for your outing.
Loon Lake or Hope Valley are two good choices that offer an almost backcountry snow shoe to a really “it is the backcountry” trek.
Since you will be out of sight and maybe out of touch with the rest of the world for a few hours, take more than enough water and food for the day, just in case your day is extended. You’ll need layers of clothing to accommodate the early, mid-day and late day temperatures. First aid supplies, sunglasses, sunscreen, hat and the layers that you should always wear in the backcountry.
Go with a buddy and always let someone who isn’t with you know when you left, where you are going and when you expect to be back.
Know where you are, and know how to get back to your car. Constant awareness of the weather and time can be life savers. That’s not just an idle saying — it’s a reality.
Where ever you decide to trot about the snow on your snowshoes, remember to take your time, take lots of pictures and eat lots of chocolate. Get outside.