The White Stuff : Snowshoeing one of the fastest growing winter sports
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Come winter, the local Georgian Bay area is likely to be a lock to have the right stuff of the white stuff to indulge a new twist on a traditional pastime.

The hoary old mode of transportation of snowshoeing has become one of North America's faster-growing winter sports over the last 15 to 20 years. The reason is simple and two-fold. High technology has come to the sport/hobby while it stays close to its roots by keeping things simple.
“If you can walk, you can snowshoe,” says Kelly Sinclair, a spokesperson for Highlands Nordic at Duntroon.
The facility is known for its Nordic skiing, but snowshoeing is creeping not-so-stealthily up on the skiers.
“It's one of the fastest-growing winter sports,” says Sinclair. “It's growing huge and it's really obvious to us that it's what people are interested in.”
The property features access to approximately 300 acres of trail networks, including about 25 kilometres of ski trails. While the snowshoeing is more limited at seven kilometers, that's set to grow this winter with the addition of new mountain biking trails being converted to winter use. That will add perhaps another two kilometres to the network.
“They're pretty new,” Sinclair says. “We had a lot of people interested in snowshoeing. They were generally people who didn't want to go skiing, and there was a lot of interest. It kind of just grew from there.”
The trails consist of three loops at the moment, forming a rough figure eight pattern, all of which interconnect and offer varying levels of challenges.
The third loop is the most challenging, offering spectacular views from the escarpment on to Georgian Bay.
“You can kind of stack them one on top of the other,” Sinclair says. “I really love the long loop. It runs through pine trees and is really picturesque. And remember a 4-K snowshoe isn't always easy.”
As you might expect, the trails aren't groomed in the sense of the more familiar ski trails or snowmobile trails, they are busy enough to be fairly well-packed most of the time. That can change after a heavy snowfall, of course.
The great thing about snowshoes is there's no need to stay on a trail. You can literally go anywhere, particularly with the new high-tech styles that are a far cry from the traditional wood-framed shoes that so many people learned to loathe in bygone days.
Those shoes, while having considerable aesthetic appeal, are likely responsible for turning many people off the sport. While highly functional in the broadest sense, they were also heavy and cumbersome and prone to causing a hip/leg ailment known as mal de raquette. Simply put, the need to waddle along with your legs splayed caused muscles you might not know you had to remind you of their existence. Often, that didn't take long to happen.
The new high-tech shoes, ranging from all-plastic models such as those offered by MSR and Tubbs and formerly Salomon, or their aluminum-frame counterparts, are much smaller, and allow for a nearly normal gait. They often sacrifice something in floatation compared to traditional shoes, but most people don't mind the trade-off. They also come equipped with various built-in traction devices, called crampons, to vastly improve climbing.
“And snowshoeing is great for togetherness and family time,” Sinclair says. “You can talk and stay together, so it's great for people and families. It's something great to try out and it gets you moving in the winter instead of getting into that lull of not wanting to go outside.”
Snowshoes are sized primarily by weight, meaning the heavier you are the bigger the shoe. However, the new shoes increasingly are available by gender and to a much lesser degree, by body type and dimensions. That means if you are short or short-legged, and heavy, there are options available that traditionally have been more limited. Even in traditional snowshoes, though, you can find men's and ladies' shoes, if you look hard enough.
Keep in mind that after a large, fresh snowfall, you won't be drifting effortlessly over the snow. In some cases, you could strap a couple of card tables to your feet and still sink to your waist.
For exercise, snowshoeing is comparable to Nordic skiing and is a good workout, especially when breaking your own trail.
The Georgian Triangle Snowshoers are likely the premier recreational group in this area. The snowshoers are a Facebook-based group of outdoor enthusiasts who meet once or twice a week year-round. In the warm months, they are the Georgian Triangle Hikers.
The group also has a unique claim to fame in that the majority of its active members are female. Many of them are notable athletes in their own right, having met originally at a fitness boot camp.
Susan Brindisi and Dr. Shelby Worts are two of the group's core members. Brindisi was the brains behind the idea.
“I started the group in 2009 just so that people could enjoy hiking,” she says.
Brindisi is a safe bet for being the most active snowshoer in the club. She used to live at Swiss Meadows at the top of The Blue Mountains, which gave her ready access to the Bruce Trail.
Most of the excursions in the winter involve the trail, as well as climbing the Blue Mountains. The outings usually last about two hours.
This winter, the club is also organizing moonlit snowshoe hikes. Snowshoeing under a full moon on pristine snow is an experience not to be missed for outdoor enthusiasts.
Members also typically participate in the relatively few high-profile snowshoe events in the region, notably the Ontario Tubbs Romp to Stomp event at Scenic Caves Nordic Centre, as well as the Nordicfest. Last year, member Annie Pilon also participated in the inaugural Yeti race held in the mountains.

 Destinations and Events

The great thing about snowshoeing is that it can be done virtually anywhere from your backyard to fancy trail systems.
Locally, some of the top paid destinations are Highlands Nordic at Duntroon; Scenic Caves Nordic Centre, just outside of Collingwood; and Blueberry Trails in Wasaga Beach.
There are, of course, a myriad of free spots to try out, including county forests; the Georgian Trail; the Bruce Trail; the Tom Thomson Trail and the Trout Hollow Trail in Grey County; and various provincial parks and reserves, particularly the Bayview Escarpment Nature Reserve.

The top events for snowshoeing locally are all generally held in February when snow conditions are most predictable.
The Tubbs Romp to Stomp will be held Feb. 9, 2013 at Scenic Caves Nordic Centre. Nordicfest will be held at the same location on Feb. 2, 2013 along with the second Yeti race.
A tentative date of Feb. 10, 2013 has been set for the Snowshoe Switchback Race at the Craigleith Ski Club.


Snowshoeing is a highly personalized sport, requiring the equipment be matched to your weight, and to a lesser extent, your height and body proportions.
Equipment is available from a wide variety of sources, including local outfitters and cycle shops, Canadian Tire, Wal-mart and assorted other stores. You can expect to spend around $100 for a good introductory pair of snowshoes, while hi-tech and more advanced models can run between $250 and $300.
Top manufacturers include Tubbs, Atlas and MSR. Canadian manufacturers include GV Snowshoes from Quebec as well as Faber from Quebec.


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