The winter landscape wrapped in white may be intimidating to some, but it beacons others, who strap on a pair of snowshoes and relish a sport that’s finding new enthusiasm in the state.
“It’s really catching on. It’s kind of a go-to thing now to do in the state parks in the winter, because it’s so friendly to a lot of different user groups,” says Kristin Byram, the public information officer with the N.D. Parks and Recreation Department.
“Statewide, we have a lot of trail opportunities with packed trails. The state also lends itself to opportunities off-trail,” she says.
Snowshoers can hike the Maah Daah Hey trail near Medora in western North Dakota or take advantage of trails in 11 state parks. Or they can simply go off-trail in the parks or elsewhere.
And the sport leads to other experiences, Byram adds.
For example, snowshoers can hike two miles to reach a year-round, pack-in and pack-out backcountry cabin with a wood-burning fireplace at Lake Metigoshe State Park.
“People will snowshoe out to that cabin and enjoy a private and peaceful getaway. It’s a pretty cool experience,” Byram says.
For beginners, snowshoe rentals are available at Cross Ranch State Park, Fort Stevenson State Park or Lake Metigoshe State Park for $15 per day.
Since snowshoeing is a form of hiking on snow with specialized equipment, it’s an easy sport for the entire family to learn. Snowshoes distribute the weight of the person over a larger area so the person’s foot does not sink completely into the snow.
Traditional snowshoes have a hardwood frame with lacings. Some modern snowshoes are similar, but most are made of other lightweight materials.
“It’s a really easy thing for kids to do,” Byram says. “It’s easy. It’s friendly to a new user type.”
In some parks, the cross-country ski trails and snowshoe trails overlap, so users are reminded to only snowshoe on designated trails or fresh snow. If a trail is designed as a multi-use trail, snowshoers are reminded to stay off the indented cross-country ski trails, but are welcome to use the packed snow on either side of those trails.
“It’s OK to walk on those, as long as they stay off the tracks,” Byram says. Some parks have designated trails for both skiers and snowshoers.
Dress warmly, but in layers, knowing the sport is a workout that will make you sweat, she reminds snowshoers as well.
Then hit the snowpack, ending the day by a cozy fireplace.
“It’s a really great activity,” Byram says. “It’s a lot of fun. Get out and give it a try.”
Luann Dart is a freelance writer and editor who lives in the Elgin area.
LACING CLASS FEB. 1
A snowshoe lacing class will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1, at Fort Stevenson State Park near Garrison. Participants will get a wood frame of the shoe, along with string, and will learn to weave the bottom of the snowshoe.
“I’ve actually done it before and it’s a great experience. You follow this intricate pattern and you actually lace them yourself, so the whole weaving on the bottom is what you’re doing,” describes Kristin Byram, the public information officer with the N.D. Parks and Recreation Department.
The class has been offered at Lake Metigoshe State Park in the past, but is new at Fort Stevenson.
“We’ve never offered it at Fort Stevenson before, so this is an exciting new opportunity,” she says. And the class attracts all abilities.
“We get the ones who are really into snowshoeing. In fact, some people say it offers more stability and base when you’re doing more snowshoeing not on a packed trail, so if you’re doing more back country snowshoeing or off-trail snowshoeing. And some people just take it to make cool-looking snowshoes to hang above a fireplace,” she says.
HIT THE TRAIL
While trails can be found throughout the state, there are also areas where snowshoers can blaze their own trails through the undisturbed snow. Trails at state parks include:
• Cross Ranch State Park – 4 miles
• Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park – 7 miles
• Fort Ransom State Park – 14 miles
• Fort Stevenson State Park – 5.5 miles
• Lake Metigoshe State Park – 5miles
• Turtle River State Park – 11 miles