Snowshoeing Puts Your Workout in a Winter Wonderland

By Jeanne O’Brien Coffey

I blame The Sound of Music for my fascination with snowshoeing. I was making a valiant attempt at a different winter sport—cross-country skiing—at Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont, when Sam von Trapp, who runs the lodge with his family, suggested I might be better suited to a different winter sport.

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“Snowshoeing is much easier than skiing,” von Trapp assured me, as he attached a pair of metal rackets to my boots. He fastened a similar pair to his own, and off we went to explore the woods. Between the soft crunch of our boots in the snow and von Trapp’s stories of the legendary Trapp Family Singers and his grandparents’ flight from the Nazis immortalized in the classic film, I was hooked. And breathless … literally.

Snowshoeing seems like walking, but it’s really a heart-pumping workout. The weight of the equipment combined with resistance from the snow makes the experience more akin to cardio. An expert moving at a fast clip can burn up to 1,000 calories an hour. For a beginner like me, 450 calories per hour is more typical— and still strenuous.

“Snowshoeing is a great workout—each person is in charge of their own pace and can moderate their speed according to their fitness level,” says Bob Stafford, activities director at the Trapp Family Lodge.

What’s more, the sport provides a unique opportunity to explore and enjoy the great outdoors in the cold- weather months. Without snowshoes, hikes like mine— through more than a foot of powder—would be nearly impossible. But because the rackets spread your weight across a larger surface, they prevent you from sinking deeply into the snow. Hence, snowshoes’ indispensable role in helping people traverse mountainous terrain for the past 4,000 years. Today they are equally pragmatic: You can use them to go places in the winter that you can’t reach on foot or even on skis.


Learning is easy—perhaps a little too easy, as my aching muscles reminded me the next day. “Since most people get the hang of snowshoeing quickly, they can overdo it the first few times out,” says Chris Varian, an REI Co-op Experiences Guide. He advises listening to your body and choosing short, flat trails for your first few expeditions, lest you find yourself exhausted and far from someplace to warm up.

While the mountains provide spectacular scenery for snowshoeing, you can enjoy an equally serious— and exhilarating—workout in more urban settings. Snowshoes are small and light enough to store under your bed or in a closet, and easy to pop on before the first snowplow passes. For city dwellers, snowshoeing can be particularly gratifying: With city noises muffled by a blanket of fresh powder and few people venturing outdoors, it’s an idyllic way to experience solitude and commune with nature in a metropolitan area.

While there are more expensive models, you can purchase a good pair of snowshoes for under $300, and no special footwear is required to attach to them. “All you need is a good pair of hiking boots, preferably waterproof,” Varian says. “Hiking boots are sturdy enough to work well with snowshoe bindings and comfortable enough for long walks on the snow. Add a pair of gaiters to keep snow from getting into the tops of your boots and you’re ready to go.” Although not essential, beginners often find that a pair of ski poles helps with maintaining balance and creating a full- body workout.

Provided you’re mindful of your limits, snowshoeing is suitable for virtually any age and fitness level. “Everyone can be an expert in about five minutes, whereas downhill and cross-country skiing can take years to feel comfortable,” Stafford explains. Best of all, “Snowshoeing helps people who are inexperienced with winter activities to venture outside and enjoy the season in a way they never thought possible.”


You don’t have to wait for a blizzard to strap on your snowshoes, says Chris Varian, REI Co-op Experiences Guide for the NewYork/tri-state area. Four to 10 inches of powder is generally the most enjoyable amount of accumulation for snowshoeing, he notes.

“With too little snow, snowshoes are more cumbersome than helpful,” he says, but “once the snow depth approaches a foot, you can expect a pretty good cardio workout.”

Where to go? “Anywhere you enjoy walking or hiking is probably also a fantastic snowshoeing destination,” Varian says. “Local parks, golf courses (get permission first), and hiking areas are perfect choices.”

Here are a few of his favorite spots.


Harriman State Park in Ramapo is easily accessible by mass transit and offers hundreds of miles of snowshoeing trails. Fahnestock State Park in Carmel Hamlet creates a Winter Park with groomed snowshoeing and cross-country ski trails. Also consider Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in Cross River, Rockefeller State Park in Pleasantville, and Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale.


Ringwood State Park and Norvin Green State Forest, both in Ringwood, are good family destinations for snowshoeing, as is Lewis Morris Park in Morristown.


Collis P. Huntington State Park in Redding and Macedonia Brook State Park in Kent offer a variety of terrain options for beginners and seasoned snowshoers.

Editor’s Note: It’s wise to talk with your doctor before attempting any new form of exercise.

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