As a skier, I have always viewed snowshoeing as the lame half-brother of cross-country skiing. It seemed slow, sort of boring and you look kind of silly with those big things on your feet. That was until I went out snowshoeing over the winter break.
We were supposed to be going out to bow summit to muck around in the backcountry on skis, but advice from a friend told us that the summit was really tracked out and hadn't seen any new snow in ages. So instead of destroying our skis in search of some non-existent powder, we tagged onto some friends planning to snowshoe to Rawson Lake in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.
Kananaskis is an often over-looked area as far as mountain adventures go, but it's right in Calgary's backyard and offers everything from easy days walking around lakes to more rigorous full day adventures ice climbing, skiing, snowshoeing and scrambling. It's close enough that most pursuits can be completed in a day.
Peter Lougheed Provincial Park is a popular camping area in the summer with many well-developed trails for hiking and mountain biking. These trails translate well into skiing and snowshoeing tracks in the winter.
The great thing about a chill day in the mountains as opposed to the activities I usually do is that there is some opportunity to, gasp, sleep in. That's right friends, snowshoeing allows you to enjoy the mountains and still get a full night's sleep, a concept that seemed somewhat foreign to someone used to starting day trips somewhere between five and six in the morning. Leaving the city in the brilliant sunlight of mid-morning is a wonderful feeling.
Kananaskis country is gorgeous. The trail we followed up to Lake Rawson was overlooked by Mount Sarrail, an impressive rock wall whose features were accentuated by the ribbons of snow clinging to it. It isn't a difficult trail, around six kilometres of travel all together with two kilometres of switch backing uphill to get to the lake. It is possible to navigate around the lake, but our party opted for running up and down the slope adjacent to the water instead.
It is a good idea to get some sort of training in avalanche safety if you intend to go off trail or into more exposed mountain areas. For the most part, however, snowshoeing is more a passive walk in the woods than a serious trek into the wild. This is not to say that you can't access some potentially dangerous areas, just be sure to check the avalanche danger in the area, as well as the forecasted weather.
For people with limited outdoor gear, snowshoeing is probably one of the least expensive pursuits to get into. All you really need is a good set of boots and warm clothing and, considering the climate we live in, most of you out there already have these. Rental snowshoes are much less expensive than skis or snowboards and they can be rented from a few places around town including Mountain Equipment Co-Op, The University of Calgary Outdoor Centre and Spirit West.
Snowshoeing offers a way to enjoy the things around you at a slower pace, but this doesn't make it boring, instead it allows for a greater opportunity to enjoy the people you are with. It's a good opportunity to start snowball fights, run around like fools, jump off things and barrel roll down hills. Snow is one of those things that can turn adults back into five-year-old children. From the moment the snowshoes were strapped on, the goal of the day turned towards finding things to jump off. Logs, rocks, hills, you name it, became a trophy of good ole' fashioned fun.