Got your hippety-hop on, this morning? You’ll sure need it to get anywhere in the 49th state, lately. There’s more snow than most of us have seen in a long time, and aside from shoveling it all into an enormous cone-shaped configuration in the front yard, one activity in particular comes to mind – snowshoeing. Way more fun, too.
Easy to learn, relatively inexpensive to finance, snowshoeing is a fantastic way to get the whole family outside and moving around, even if snowfall prevents most everything else. Why? Ahhh, sit back and learn, AKontheGO’ers, this is way cool!
Snowshoes have been around at least 6,000 years, by the reckoning of folks in the know, like the U.S. Snowshoe Association, who sponsor all sorts of snowshoe-related events and tons of information. They think snowshoes were first created in Central Asia and, with the migration of people from east to west, (including to our own state of Alaska), design and form and function changed a bit with each generation. Their purpose, of course, is to evenly distribute our human weight onto a larger surface area, so we don’t fall through deep snow, known by some of us as “postholing.” What we associate most with snowshoes is the ashwood, rawhide-strapped version seen in antique photos, and is probably what our gold-seeking Alaskan explorers wore to get outfits and selves to the other side of their proverbial mountains. Over the years, however, lightweight snowshoes became the norm, and what was seen as a tool of survival in the north became an icon of fitness and backcountry gear. With tons of options these days for outfitting everyone, snowshoeing has fast evolved into a true family-friendly activity.
Not surprisingly, Alaskans are fans of snowshoeing. Many residents have the luxury of walking out front doors and entering open wilderness that, in most cases, is void of the noise and hustle of more urban locales. A number of Alaska communities value snowshoeing so much, in fact, they offer classes, guided hikes, and reasonable rentals just so others can enjoy what they treasure on a regular basis. We did a little research, and came up with quite a list of places who rent (and/or sell) snowshoes, poles, and other cold-weather gear to make the experience more enjoyable, especially with kids.
What do you need? Wicking, non-cotton clothing is a must for snowshoeing. One becomes surprisingly sweaty during all this exercise, and material that will wick moisture off the skin is way important. Dress in layers of wicking fabric, fleece, and windproof outerwear. Don’t forget water and snacks, either, and carry all in a backpack. Yes, this will be a great workout!
Where do you go? Anywhere, or, nowhere. The great thing about snowshoeing and kids is the accessibility. Strap their feet into the snowshoes and turn ’em loose in the yard to play tag or make funny designs in the snow. Or, take a family hike through the forest and take turns “breaking trail” (a major cool workout). Do make sure you know where you are going, and where you are, so that you can safely return to where you’ve been. Add the 10 Essentials to your pack if you’ll be out in the woods away from familiar territory, and perhaps, even if not.
Who has the stuff? Here’s the fun part. Check out this geographic listing of places to visit with your family, rent gear, and experience a little 49th state wintertime wonder.
SOUTHCENTRAL ALASKA: REI offers snowshoe rentals and periodic classes (free, btw) about the sport of snowshoeing. Their only store is in Anchorage, and staff are great about showing one the basics, fitting kids, and offering gear advice. Snowshoes are available for around $15/day.
Eagle River Nature Center in the suburbs (Eagle River community), about 20 miles from Anchorage offers the opportunity to borrow snowshoes at a fee of $10/day. They only have six pairs though, so reserve them ahead of time. Call 907-694-2108.
Alyeska Resort has snowshoes in their Alyeska Hotel Rental Shop for $15/day. With access to miles of snowy trails at the hotel’s doorstep, visitors will enjoy a spin through boreal forest land, and scenic Moose Meadows across the street. Adult and child sizes.
The Center for Alaska Coastal Studies in Homer also rents snowshoes and provides weekly guided walks. $5 is an affordable price for a day of tramping around the 160-acre Wynn Nature Center!
DENALI NATIONAL PARK: The Murie Science and Learning Center becomes the wintertime visitor center at the park, and visitors who make the effort to get there are rewarded with free snowshoe rentals and the opportunity to explore with the guidance of a NPS Ranger. It’s gorgeous up there in the winter; quiet, white, and just full of animal tracks waiting to be discovered.
FAIRBANKS: Chena Hot Springs rents snowshoes to the tune of $25/day for adults, $12.50 for youth 6-17 with a paying adult. Pretty expensive, but it might be worth a try if you are staying at the resort and wish to get outside for a while after soaking in those hot tubs.
Beaver Sports on College Road in Fairbanks rents snowshoes and other gear; call them for current rates and information. 907-479-2494. Creamer’s Field and the UAF campus are great spots to take the fam for a little snowshoe adventure.
JUNEAU: Although snow is not always a given in southeast Alaska, there are plenty of spots to head when and if it shows up, and one store, the Foggy Mountain Shop on Franklin Street, will help you find them. Check out their rates, too; $12/day or $20/two days. Eaglecrest Ski Area across the Gastineau Channel in Douglas is perfect for trying them out, too, and you can pop in to the cafe there for a hot cocoa when you’re done!