Traversing Snow

By Anna Sachse

Posted November 13, 2008 in Mind Body Spirit

I just got back from Iceland. It was an amazing trip, including visits to Geysir (the original erupting hot spring that coined the word “geyser” in the first place), Gullfoss (an enormous, two-tier waterfall that looks like the earth was torn apart and is now gushing with icy gore) and a 100-percent sustainable geo-thermal power plant, in addition to tasting smoked puffin and whale carpaccio (I know—it’s immoral, and I’m a vegetarian, but when in Rome . . . ) and getting completely shitfaced on whiskey and Brennivín, a licorice flavored schnapps nicknamed “Black Death,” with a bunch of singing Vikings. 


One thing, however, that I didn’t see much of, was ice. Yes, there are (rapidly receding) glaciers in the interior, but Iceland is a bit of misnomer. As the locals tell it, one of the first Vikings to discover Iceland in the 800s wanted to keep the rocky, moss-covered island all for himself, so he made a map on which he referred to Iceland as Iceland and Greenland as Greenland, and then went back home to Norway and passed it around. Aside from Antarctica, Greenland has more ice than anywhere else on earth. The ice cap covers 80-percent of the island’s surface and is virtually uninhabitable. New explorers would see the name Greenland and figure it was the better of the two, only to be horrified when they landed on its cruel, freezing shores. They wouldn’t even bother with Iceland after that. 


Whether it’s true or not, the fact remains that Iceland isn’t all that icy. However, it does get damn cold and windy—40 mph gusts greeted us when we got off the plane at midnight. And, in the winter, you’re lucky to get four murky hours of semi-daylight and the interior and northern parts of the island see a fair amount of snow. This seasonal snow provides a wealth of recreation for Icelanders, tourists and what seems to be a wide variety of global drug cartels.


One of those popular Icelandic winter sports just so happens to be my favorite—snowshoeing. Historically I haven’t been a lover of winter sports. I broke my shoulder snowboarding when I was 15, and, ever since, I’ve had a slightly irrational fear of slipping even when the ground isn’t made of ice. 


But this shit is easy. Grab a couple poles and strap what looks like two high-tech tennis rackets to your feet and you’re off, suddenly able to scramble up snowy cliffs thanks to the teeth-like crampons. Today’s snowshoes sport ultra lightweight aluminum frames, 360-degree traction, quick-release buckles and varied sizes and shapes catering to different weights, genders and weather conditions. The sport doesn’t require as much balance as cross-country skiing and allows you to access more areas because the short, wide shape of the shoe pretty much allows you to tromp around where you please. Basically, if you can walk, you can snowshoe, but you get to do it amidst glittering, snowy fields and forests. 


Believe it or not, SoCal is actually a great place to go snowshoeing. You can rent shoes and gain access to 12 miles of groomed trails as well as plenty of off-trail awesomeness at the Rim Nordic Ski Area ( on Highway 18 on the way to Big Bear. There are also lots of trails near Bear Mountain (, Snow Summit ( and Mountain High ( Get in touch with the resorts or contact the Big Bear Discovery Center ( for more info on snow conditions and where the trails are located. 


As an added bonus, snowshoeing can burn about 544 calories per hour—that’s two Snickers bars, just in case you’re counting. Or 1.2 pounds of Iclandic reindeer meat.


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