When Troy Larsen was a youngster, he bent wet ash wood into snowshoes, affixing leather straps to them. These snowshoes ushered him into a snowy world beyond the front porch of his grandparents’ home in northern Wisconsin where his family retreated every Christmas.
His love of snowshoeing did not stop when he moved to Sun Valley. At the Barkin’ Basement thrift shop in Hailey, he and his wife, Linda, found a pair of snowshoes shaped like dinosaur footprints for their son and daughter. Soon the family was outlining hearts and other figures in the snow.
Even today Troy and Linda find themselves dreaming of the first snowfall when they can shoe across snowy fields from their home out Deer Creek canyon. As the snow piles up, they head north, letting snowshoes take them to a frozen Titus Lake, along Baker Creek, and even up into the Boulder Mountains, a couple of their sled dogs at their sides.
“It’s so fun. I’ve found you get warm real quickly, even on the coldest days,” Troy said. “Sometimes, it takes me 15 minutes to warm up when I’m cross-country skiing and dog sledding. But I’m hot after 10 steps on snowshoes. And they’re practical, too. We always carry snowshoes with us when we’re sledding so we don’t have to posthole through the snow if something happens.”
Snowshoeing has been gaining in both popularity and access, and for good reason. If you can walk, you can snowshoe—no need to worry about balancing on skinny skis. And in recent years, patrollers for the Blaine County Recreation District and Sun Valley Nordic Center have begun packing two-foot-wide snowshoe trails for those who aren’t quite ready to cut across an untracked field or head straight up a mountain.
“Last year we saw more snowshoers on our trails than ever before,” said Jenna Vagias, marketing manager for the BCRD. “We sold close to 6,000 snowshoe-only day and 60 snowshoe-only season passes. And anyone with a Nordic ski season pass can access the trails as part of that pass, so it is a bit tricky to know exactly how many additional snowshoers were out there.”
There are 35 kilometers of snowshoe trails around Galena Lodge, all accessible via a $5 trail fee or a $65 season pass. There are also packed snowshoe trails at Billy’s Bridge, and behind Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters. The snowshoe trail at Billy’s Bridge offers fabulous views of the Boulder Mountains, while the packed snowshoe trail behind SNRA takes people on a flat trek along a picturesque creek.
The Psycho Ridge Loop at Galena takes snowshoers up a hill for spectacular views overlooking Gladiator, Galena and other peaks. And the 1.7-kilometer Cowboy Cabin Trail leads enthusiasts from Galena Lodge across the Wood River past a barn worthy of a selfie.
Also at Galena, forest rangers offer 90-minute guided treks free of charge every Thursday at 11 a.m. The rangers recount the history of the area and its natural resources. Guided interpretive tours are also available for a fee at Sun Valley Nordic Center.
The snow conditions aren’t as important in snowshoeing as they are in skiing. You can snowshoe if the snow is powdery, and you can snowshoe if it has turned crusty with the crampons digging in.
It was snowshoeing, rather than skiing, that attracted Alex Engs to move to Sun Valley from the Bay area this past year. “I was snowshoeing around Galena last Christmas, and I had such a marvelous time,” she said. “I thought: ‘I want to be doing this all the time.’”
Hailey resident Mila Lyon organizes weekly snowshoe hikes for friends, taking them across the fields around Indian Creek and up the steep hills overlooking Elkhorn. She often pairs them with a picnic or a brunch or, even a potluck dinner following a full moon snowshoe trek.
“I like being outdoors, tromping around in snow up to my knees off the trail where I like to imagine no one has gone before,” she said. “I’m out in quiet, in sunshine, and the snow allows me to go places I can’t in summer.”
Trails packed down by Blaine County Recreation District and Sun Valley Nordic patrollers provide opportunities for those wishing to expend less energy, Lyon said. “They’re a wonderful introduction for beginning snowshoe users because you can’t get lost following them. And they always lead to some really great terrain and views.”
Snowshoes have been steadily improving over the past 20 years to the point where they’re durable and easy to put on and take off, said Bob Rosso, owner of The Elephant’s Perch in Ketchum. “They’re a wonderful thing for people who want exercise but might be intimidated by skis,” he said. “And they’re useful for those who want to climb straight uphill with their skis on the back, then stash their snowshoes in their pack while they ski down. And you can wear anything with them from low-cut ski boots for walking around town to Sorels. I would recommend the better insulted boots, however, for really cold days.”
You will burn lots of calories snowshoeing and, thus, it provides you with a happy excuse toeat.
Even on frigid days you can get dehydrated with a vigorous workout.
Wear layers of clothing that can be peeled off to avoid overheating.
Keep an eye on your dog.
They may have trouble in deep snow or breakable crust. And have booties for dogs that get snow build-up between
Don’t walk on cross-country ski tracks.
It is ok to do so if you are trying to get from one side to the other, but snowshoes mess up the manicured tracks for skiers! And please don’t walk on snowshoe trails without snowshoes, as boots will punch through and gouge the trail.