A Hiker for All Seasons

A Hiker for All Seasons

A ferocious December blizzard, a January storm dropping over 18 inches, and still more snow in the forecast; winter has certainly outdone itself with its impressive arrival.  By now, most people have put away their hiking gear, hoping to shovel their way out of the winter season and fast-forward to Spring.  But don’t be so quick to trade in your hiking boots for cozy slippers – there are still plenty of fun ways to enjoy the trails during this snowy season!

SnowshoeingOne of the best approaches to winter hiking (and also my new favorite mode of transportation) is snowshoeing.  Hearing the snow crunching underfoot lends an oddly gratifying feeling to the trail experience, while allowing hikers to cover all sorts of terrain. With the amount of snow that has currently covered the state, snowshoes may be necessary to safely navigate the trails in some areas. Snowshoeing is as simple as walking, so it’s a great activity for hikers of all abilities.  Still, be sure to know your limits and keep in mind that the more snow there is, the more work will be required.  Trekking through deep snow is similar to running on sand – quite the workout.

For those seeking even more of a challenge, cross-country skiing is another unique way to enjoy the trails. Gliding along on top of the snow, cross-country skiing provides an incredibly fun cardio workout and can prove to be a great release after being snowed-in during a storm.  Many state parks even have designated areas, transforming standard hiking trails into fast winter tracks.

Whichever method you choose to explore the trails, make an effort to experience the thrill of the outdoors during the winter.  Even the most familiar spots take on a completely different atmosphere when blanketed with snow. The quiet nature of the woods during winter allows visitors to hear the smallest of sounds, the tiniest signs of life that often go unnoticed.  It is as if your senses become heightened by the pure peace of the forest.  Animal tracks in the snow let you know that you are not alone, as if they too were enjoying a day of winter fun.

Cross-country Skiing with Dog
Winter Hiking Safety

As eager as you may be to set off along the trails, remember to take extra precautions when hiking during the winter.  This season is characterized by some of weather’s harshest elements, so  be well-prepared. Always dress in layers and make sure to fully bundle-up.  Thick wool socks will help keep your feet warm, but more importantly, make sure your boots are waterproof. And if you don’t want to wear snow pants, I recommend gaiters.  These will help keep your lower legs dry, even if you are stepping in deep snow.

If you decide to forgo snowshoes and attempt the trails in boots, I highly suggest attaching crampons to the soles.  There may be ice slicks buried beneath the snow and crampons will help you keep your grip.  Poles are definitely recommended to assist you in keeping your balance in these slippery conditions.  They will also help you locate hidden aberrations in the trail like rocks or ditches.  In addition, make an effort to follow the designated trails, reducing the risk of running into concealed obstacles.

With the dry winter air, it is easy to become dehydrated without realizing it.  Drink as much water as you would normally while hiking, even if you don’t feel like you need to.

Lastly, learn to recognize the first signs of frostbite.  If any part of your body starts to lose feeling and/or drastically change color, get back indoors as soon as possible. Keep in mind that you may be a few miles from the car, so it is a good idea to keep a pair of extra gloves or socks in your trail pack. Remember that wintertime trail traffic is usually very sparse and moving through snow drains energy quickly. If you wind up in a tight situation, you may not always be able to rely on passing hikers to help… nor will it be all that easy to limp out of the forest in a foot of snow. Don’t let this deter you from hitting the trails during winter, but keep it in the back of your mind. Pace yourself and avoid taking chances that might lead to injury.

By taking these precautions, you can fight the cold weather and take advantage of winter’s various activities. Whether you love to play in the snow, or are normally counting the days until spring, try experiencing the trails in a new way. Whichever way you choose to spend your winter days, I encourage you to make the best of the season.  So put down your shovel, pick up some snowshoes, and come join us on the trails!

Snowshoeing Under the Sun