First rule: “Dress cold, walk warm,” says Ben VonDielingen, our snowshoe guide at the Big Bear Discovery Center. What that means is wear layered, water-resistant clothing, and possibly start out with as little of it actually on your body as possible to help set your body temperature. And don’t forget the sunscreen, and to drink lots of water during your hike.
Snowshoeing is aerobic activity, so even if you’re a bit chilly in the beginning, it won’t take long for your heart to start pumping overtime. The great thing is you’ll be so distracted looking at your snowshoes and trying not to trip and make an ass out of yourself in front of your snowshoeing companions that you’ll hardly notice your thighs and metabolism burning.
There are many types of snowshoes available today, and the technology has far surpassed the white ash wood and rawhide contraptions you’ve seen adorning the walls of ski lodges and mountain cabins. The first snowshoes developed by indigenous cultures were much more archaic, mimicking the type of critters able to walk on top of snow, such as squirrels. Newer versions distribute your weight evenly over the entire snowshoe so that your foot doesn’t sink into the snow. It feels a bit like floating.
These days, recreational snowshoes have easy-to-use bindings and are wide and round with a Western tail for better floatation. The back part of the binding is open so that the snowshoe flops along with your footsteps. This feels a bit awkward at first, but it stops your calves from cramping. On the bottom there is tread that looks like little metal teeth, which helps gain traction on the ice. That’s it for equipment. You’re set to go. You can add some hiking poles if you’re the klutzy type.
“If you can walk and chew gum, you can snowshoe,” VonDielingen assures us as we hit the trail. We were a bit skeptical, picturing ourselves climbing glaciers, but this was an easy 1.5-mile trek with very little climb to the trail. In other words, perfect for us. We were still a little sore from hitting the Bowling Barn the night before, so that tells you the sort of shape we’re in.
But don’t fret. We’re writing this, so you know we survived to tell our tale. But at that moment, looking at our beefy mountain man guide, we weren’t so sure we were made of snowshoe stock. Turns out we are—at least the 1.5 mile easy trek kind of stock.
The cool thing about going snowshoeing with a Discovery Center guide is that you learn tons about the local history and wildlife. Like, now we know why there are no longer any grizzly bears in Bear Valley—they were killed because they were a threat to the cattle ranchers that inhabited the area in the 19th century.
We also learned that a dry creek bed is an excellent trail by default. “Nature is lazy,” VonDielingen says. “Just like people.” Kind of refreshing, you know? The streams and animals find the path of least resistance, so why shouldn’t we?
So we did, for the most part. We made our way all the way to the lake and its stunning view. Our burning thighs didn’t complain too much, and as it turned out, we did feel pretty rad. Take that snowboarding.
The Big Bear Discovery Center offers snowshoe tours Saturday and Sunday mornings, 9AM to noon, through March 14. Tours cost $35 for adults, $25 for children ages 8 to 16. Reservations are suggested because only 12 people make up a tour.
The Discovery Center, 40971 North Shore Drive, Big Bear Lake, (909) 866-3437; www.bigbeardiscoverycenter.com.
For those looking to step up their snowshoeing pace, the 2nd annual Kahtoola Snowshoe the Bear race is Feb. 7, which offers a 5k and 10k race. Whether you plan to run like hell and be one of the trophy winners, or just take a leisurely walk with friends, you can still try out some Kahtoola snowshoes, receive an event T-shirt, and walk away with some raffle prizes. There are only 50 pairs of demo snowshoes available, so you must pre-register and request demos by e-mail in advance to reserve a pair.
The event includes a pre-event social Friday, Feb. 6, at Northwoods Resort with live music and a snowshoe slideshow. Registration is $25-$35 per person for the 5k and $45-$55 for the 10k. Event day registration is 7-9AM at Equada Outfitters at 663 Pine Knot Ave., in the Big Bear Lake Village. The races start in the Village at 10 and 10:15AM. There are also a free kid’s race and an expo that start at noon. The raffle and race awards are at 1PM To register, visit www.teamsole.com/snowshoethebear.html.