Now is the time of year when it’s easy to contemplate hibernation — turning to comfort food, seeking solace inside and lying around for days (months) on end. But, unless you want a roly-poly bear physique and a growling personality, you should embrace the cooler weather and welcome the changes.
You don’t have to be a downhill ski enthusiast or a biathlete to get the most out of winter exercise. With the proper clothing and preparation you can walk or snowshoe your way through winter — and enjoy it — until spring’s thaw.
Lauren Brand is athletic director at the Allegria Spa in the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek, west of Vail, Colo. She excels at helping guests enjoy the outdoors. “I think most people feel much better when they get outside in the sun and the fresh air. Winter definitely scares people into staying inside. They automatically think: ‘I have to stay inside. It’s icky out.'”
But doing just the opposite can help fuel your mind and body, Brand says. “Be in the snow or be in the rain or be in the wind. You start to notice every day you go outside you feel much better and you feel more connected to your environment. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes — go outside and walk around the block. Feel the cold air against your skin, it’s really revitalizing.”
Snowshoeing is a popular way to find that revitalization. Brand says she’s seen an increase in the number of guests snowshoeing — from tots to grandparents. Downhill skiing isn’t accessible to many people because of geographics and cost, she says, but snowshoeing is easy for almost everyone.
“The gear you rent is really inexpensive and snowshoeing is so simple to learn. It gives you access to being outside in the winter and strips away any excuses. Once you experience the quiet solitude and walk through the powder, you’re hooked. Your pace and the type of terrain are variables that can make your journey more or less challenging.”
Whether you’re walking or snowshoeing, wearing the right gear is crucial, Brand says.
James Tiefenthaler agrees. He’s a sales specialist at REI‘s original flagship store in Seattle, Wash. He makes sure newcomers start with a good base layer of clothing. “It’s important that it has very good insulatory capabilities with a low bulk.” The key, Tiefenthaler says, is “getting moisture away from your body. When you have water next to your skin, heat leaves your body 500 times faster. The drier you are, the warmer you are.”
Subsequent layers should add insulation and/or serve as wind protection depending upon the conditions, Tiefenthaler says. And with the efficiency of modern fabrics, you don’t have to add a lot of bulk to get a great deal of protection. “We’re used to overbundling and looking like Frosty the Snowman out there,” he says. “But now it’s easy to stay warm, look athletic and be comfortable at the same time.
“As you get to know how you perform in different types of temperature ranges, you’ll also develop a further sense of whether you want that 200-weight fleece vest or if you’re going with the big thick down jacket today.”
The wonderful thing about dressing in layers is you have the modular capability of putting on or taking off clothes as the day gets warmer or you become more active.
Many of Allegria Spa’s guests in Beaver Creek make the mistake of showing up for snowshoe classes in their ski clothes. However, that’s probably too much clothing for snowshoeing, Brand says.
The feet and hands don’t often get the attention they deserve when it comes to insulation, but the same concepts apply. Tiefenthaler says, “Your feet can produce a pint of sweat in three hours. Make sure you have socks and gloves — and a hat — that wick and transfer moisture.”
Once you’re dressed properly, you can rent snowshoes for dollars a day if you don’t want to buy your own. Waterproof cross trainers or hiking boots will fit right into most snowshoes. It’s important to get snowshoes with a binding that’s easy to manipulate with gloves on, Brand says.
“The binding should cinch down and feel secure both forward and back and side-to-side. Definitely try them on with shoes you’ll be wearing.”
The size of the snowshoes you need has to do with your weight and the type of terrain you’ll cross, Brand says. “The longer the snowshoe, the more weight they can support.” If you’re going to go through a lot of powder, you’ll need a bigger shoe and you’ll need to educate yourself about avalanche safety.
“Poles can come in handy for balance especially on steeper slopes,” she says. “Using poles may also improve muscle tone in your arms, increase your heart rate and take some of the pressure off your knees.”
Whether you’re trekking the backcountry or negotiating the neighborhood park, you’re setting an example, Brand says. “By changing our behaviors we change the next generation. If you bring (children) up in an environment where it’s fun to get outside and exercise, it becomes natural to them.”
Jim Albert of Jamesburg, N.J., runs http://www.rockandpaddle.com, a sport club that offers a variety of year-round activities to its members. He offers free snowshoeing events for preteens and teens. “The parents usually join them and we get a lot of people mostly by word of mouth,” Albert says.
This is one activity that everyone, including the family dog, can share. And it’s a fun escape, Brand says. “Go out with the intention of just playing in the snow and feeling like a little kid. There’s almost a sense of magic when you’re out in the snow and you just stop for a look. The blanket of snow muffles the noise of the world. You may only be 10 minutes away from where you work or live, but you feel as if you’re in the wilderness.”