Should you Winter Walk or Snowshoe?

North Bragg winter

Why am I wearing snowshoes here?

Over the past few winters I have often seen snowshoers clanking over rocks and roots on icy foothills trails. Conversely I have also seen winter walkers and runners, trying to run on narrow snowshoe tracks, step off a packed snowshoe trail into knee-deep powder. Here’s a few pointers to help you decide whether to walk or snowshoe.

Early season, November to mid-February

  • Once there’s a base it’s best to use snowshoes whenever there has been 10 cm or more fresh snow.
  •  After a couple of weekends of traffic with no new snow and maybe some warm weather, walking with cleats is often a better option, especially in low snow areas of the eastern foothills such as West Bragg/Elbow.
  •  Higher up, areas such as Highwood Pass, PLPP and Smith-Dorrien are snowshoe country after the first couple of snowfalls.
  • In many years we get very little new snow in the foothills in December and January. Lower elevation trails become hard-packed, wind-glazed and often icy. Definitely walking with cleats.
  •  At higher elevations, the snow at the side of snowshoe tracks is still unconsolidated. Although you can walk on the snowshoe track, there’s nothing worse than stepping off the hardpack up to your knees in soft snow, especially if there’s a crust. Stick with snowshoes here.

Late season, March & April

  • The sun is higher, days are warmer, the snow starts to melt and the snowpack consolidate, although it’s still freezing overnight. What’s more we often get new snow from mid February on. Sometimes big dumps.
  • Get out the snowshoes again and head out as soon as possible. The good snow won’t last long at lower elevations. At higher elevations the snowpack will be thawing and freezing. Depending on aspect and elevation the snow may be well consolidated with a firm surface—a joy on snowshoes. At its worst there will be a thin, frozen crust with wet, rotten snow beneath. Going will be bad even with snowshoes.
  •  Things get tricky at this time of year whatever your altitude.  Good walking conditions in the morning may change to postholing crud by afternoon. Find a way to attach snowshoes to your pack and and carry your cleats as well.

End of season

  • Once temperatures stay above freezing overnight the lower hard-packed and icy trails will become even more icy. Cleats are a must. Trails over a deep snowpack will rotten and slushy. Time to put your snowshoes away until November.
1 comment… add one
  • thepassionatehiker Dec 6, 2013, 7:16 pm

    Great advice thanks. On many occasions I have started off with MICROspikes on the lower slopes then switched to snowshoes higher up, but then finding myself clanking uncomfortably across a bare rocky section where the snow has blown away, unwilling to take off the snowshoes knowing I will need to put them back on again a little farther along.

    On several occasions I have also taken my XC skis along, for example (among many) on the round trip from the Elbow Valley winter gate up the road past Beaver Lodge (MICROspikes), following the river around the canyon and onto the open valley floor then up the hillsides at Cobble Flats to the road (all on snowshoes), then back down the road (skis). Makes for a fun day out, trying to use everything I brought along!!

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