Logan, Mariah and Addison Deschler head out for a snowshoe hike in the woods near their family’s lake cabin hear Hancock, Wis.  MARLENE DESCHLER/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS
Logan, Mariah and Addison Deschler head out for a snowshoe hike in the woods near their family’s lake cabin hear Hancock, Wis. MARLENE DESCHLER/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS
This winter has provided plentiful snow and cold temps that have kept the snow pack intact. What is one to do other than sulk inside about not being able to do much outside? Strap on some snowshoes and go explore the unique outdoor beauty that winter has to offer.

Snowshoeing is a sport that has been around for a very long time and is something that people of all ages can do. The United States Snowshoeing Association explains a little bit of the history of snowshoeing, "It is known to have been practiced in present-day central Asia about 6,000 years ago. It is believed that as these ancestors to the Inuits and Native Americans migrated from Asia to North America, they brought the snowshoes with them."

Snowshoe hiking and racing has been gaining popularity recently. Randy Christenson, the art director and head of research and development at Redfeather Snowshoes in La Crosse, Wis., commented, "Competitive snowshoe racing has skyrocketed in the last five years. People have realized that snowshoe racing is a great cross-over sport - those that run in the spring and summer don't want to sit in the house all winter doing nothing, so they've taken to snowshoe racing. The national race in Vermont had more than 2,000 runners! It is becoming a very popular sport."

Snowshoe magazine's website, www.snowshoemag.com, has a full listing of snowshoe race events across the United States including events in the regional area from Sparta, Wis., to Eau Claire, Wis., to Winona and beyond.

"You don't have to race to enjoy snowshoeing," Christenson added. "Recreational snowshoeing is also great fun! We recently took a group of kids out on the marsh trails and they all had a great time."

It is a low-impact sport that easily adapts to an individual's athleticism. The intensity level can easily be changed to fit the person's goal. A person can go from a slow walk to running, to going up hills or through deeper snow to change the intensity.

This ease of change in intensity is one of the reasons that makes snowshoeing interesting to people of all fitness levels. People of all ages can enjoy snowshoeing as hiking, walking or running along trails and through woods.

"I love the fresh air and getting exercise outdoors," remarked Spring Grove resident Laurie Moen. "I enjoy nature and observing as much as I can when outside. My husband and I have owned snowshoes for about five years. I'd recommend it to anyone - it's just walking and no slipping with the metal 'claw' on the bottom of the shoes. We recently went out on the trail at night with some friends. We wore headlamps and everyone loved it!"

Another Spring Grove resident, Saundy Solum agreed. "It is just like walking and I find it enjoyable," she said. "It allows you to walk in deep snow without sinking. I love snow and being outside where it is quiet and peaceful."

"I started snowshoeing this year to find some enjoyment out of winter," said Tina Bjerke, also of Spring Grove. "I heard that it was a real good workout and safer than cross-country skiing. I've enjoyed it and would like to explore more places."

Redfeather's website, www.redfeather.com, explains the health benefits of snowshoeing, "Snowshoeing burns far more calories than related exercises without snowshoes. For instance, studies have shown that snowshoeing burns from 420 to 1,000 calories per hour, primarily because you have to lift your foot higher and because (it's cold outside) your body is burning even more calories to stay warm. The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse conducted a study which found that snowshoeing at an average speed of 3 MPH (miles per hour) compared favorably to running at 6 MPH, cycling at 14-16 MPH and cross-country skiing at 5-8 MPH. Snowshoeing is also approved by the American Heart Association as an approved aerobic activity. Snowshoeing strengthens muscles in the legs and hips. Add snowshoeing poles and you've got a great upper body workout, too!"

Not needing a lot of special equipment or an exotic location makes snowshoeing enticing and doable for many. Wherever there is snow, be it in a person's backyard, at a park or on a trail, snowshoeing can be done.

"I love walking the Norwegian Ridge Birding and Nature Trail (in Spring Grove) especially if it is snowing or after a fresh snow," commented Solum. "Everything looks so beautiful!"

"I like being outside in the snow and going where no one has walked before and especially at my grandma and grandpa's farm," added her daughter, Alisha.

"There are many excellent places for snowshoeing in our area," said Christenson. "The marsh trails, Hixon Forest and the Mississippi Valley Conservancy's website www.mississippivalleyconservancy.org also has a full list of trail options."

Locally, the Norwegian Ridge Birding and Nature Trail is a favorite spot for snowshoeing. Parking for the trail is at Red's Hometown Market and then the trail can be accessed by walking to the east and following the signs. The trail begins in the field and continues through the woods, over a small creek and near a couple of ponds, making a complete loop. More details about the trail can be found at www.sgbirdwalk.org.

Snowshoes began as modified slabs of wood and evolved into the white ash framed snowshoes with rawhide lacing. They have continued to evolve into lightweight shoes with different shapes and designs specifically for the type of snowshoeing that will be done. To find the right snowshoe and more information about the sport, visit Snowshoe magazine's website or Redfeather's website for details on how to get started, where to go and what equipment is needed.

The local snowshoe enthusiasts have a bit of advice for someone beginning to snowshoe. "Make sure to not dress too warmly because it is a workout," said Solum. "Also, make sure to have good snow boots, wool socks and definitely use poles. Poles really help make it easier with balance and they work other muscles. Before investing in a pair, I'd suggest borrowing a pair and trying it first to see if it's for you."

Spring Grove Community Education can help fill that need - the organization has 18 pairs of snowshoes and poles to rent in four different sizes, depending on the weight of the person.

The cost is very reasonable at $3 per day during the week and $5 for the weekend. There is a $25 deposit that is refunded upon return of the equipment in good shape.

To rent a pair, contact Lynn Anderson, community education director, at (507) 498-3812.