Baltimore Sun, December 7, 2008
Winter. When some people hear the word, they think of the headaches – rising heating bills, shoveling snow, walking the dog in icy conditions, tough driving conditions and unfashionable bulky coats. However, winter is an amazingly beautiful season, a white-capped winter wonderland when even the City gets quiet and the sky crystal clear.
Winter also presents a great opportunity to get outside and have some fun – and great exercise – via winter sports, and while skiing and snowboarding may jump immediately to mind, what about those who prefer not to head straight downhill?
The centuries-old sport of snowshoeing – although for many in Scandinavia and Alaska, it’s not really a sport but simply a way to get from Point A to B – is a fun way to see nature while burning some calories at the same time. “If you can walk, you can snowshoe; it’s very natural,” reassures Crede Calhoun, owner, chief guide and program director for All Earth Eco Tours (www.allearthecotours.com) in Friendsville, Md., located in Garrett County near Deep Creek Lake. The tour company offers outdoor adventure sports, eco tours, eagle watching and kayak tours, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and hiking tours. Calhoun says that snowshoeing tours are offered at the company’s Backbone Farm usually on Saturdays and Sundays a 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., for two hours, while other locations are available for groups of eight or more. For guided tours, a minimum of four people is required; however, you can also simply rent the equipment from the company and go out on your own. Calhoun stresses the importance of checking the Web site for snow conditions – a fair amount of natural snow is required as they don’t make their own – and calling ahead to make reservations.
Calhoun explains that the advantage of snowshoeing is that in a deep snow, walking or hiking is impossible, but with snowshoes, you can walk atop of the snow or pack down a trail. “With snowshoes, the first person in the group packs down a trail, making it easier for the rest of the group. The great thing is that you don’t have to follow a trail; you make your own. You use cross-country skiing poles for extra stability, and you can climb up hills without slipping or descend hills, which is really fun.”
If you’re already heading to Wisp Resort at Deep Creek to perhaps ski or snowboard, why not try snowshoeing there, too? The Rental Shop at Wisp carries all the necessary equipment for snowshoeing; snowshoes can be rented for two hours for $20, a half-day for $30 or a full day for $40. There is also a ticket charge for the Nordic Trails – $10 mid-week and $15 on weekends. Wisp has 10 kilometers of groomed trails for snowshoeing, and the scenery can’t be beat.
“I was born in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and I think I was born with snowshoes on my feet,” laughs John Corriveau, director of recreation at the historic resort The Homestead, located in the Allegheny Mountains about an hour west of Charlottesville, Va. The National Historic Landmark welcomed its first guests to the beautiful Virginia countryside a decade before the American Revolution, and Corriveau describes the 15,000-acre resort as a “recreational paradise.” The resort offers hiking, falconry, fly-fishing, biking, skiing, ice-skating, cross-country skiing, snowmobiles and snowshoeing. “Snowshoeing is amazing, especially if we have a big snowfall where you can walk on top of the snow. It’s a little awkward at first, but everybody gets the hang of it.” Corriveau says that his favorite part is guiding a group over a big snowdrift. “It’s fun to take off your snowshoes and sink down to your waist – it really illustrates what you can do with snowshoes, and it’s very eye opening.”
Corriveau says that guests – snowshoeing and other activities are also available to non-guests of the resort; however, guests receive better rates – have several options with snowshoeing. “Since we have so much land here and miles and miles of trails, some guests prefer to stay close to the resort and be around other people, while others want to venture out in the woods where they’re unlikely to see anyone else. Either way, we have a variety of terrain that makes it an amazing experience,” he says.
Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Pennsylvania offers guided snowshoe tours on weekends at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., while weekday and private tours can be arranged by appointment. All tours leave from the Junior Snowsports School office in the Ski Lodge, and only cost $25 for the tour and snowshoe rental equipment. Since a minimum of five to six inches of natural snow is required, it’s a good idea to check with the resort before arrival.
Snowshoeing is also available at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands. Rentals are available at the Sundial Ski Lodge, and trails set on The Links golf course provide breathtaking views of the Laurel Highlands while getting a great workout. Lessons are $20 per person.
Both Calhoun and Corriveau concur that – like cross-country skiing – you do get warm, so dressing in layers is key. “Long underwear and mittens are recommended, and if the wind’s blowing, bring a scarf and either goggles or sunglasses. We go in about any kind of weather … the more snow, the better,” says Calhoun. Corriveau says that kids as young as 6 can snowshoe, but it does take a lot of coordination, so older kids will benefit more. “Our guides tailor tours to the physical abilities of the group and choose the terrain accordingly,” adds Calhoun.
Calhoun notes that All Earth Eco Tours also offers guided walks and hikes in the winter. “All ages are welcome on the hikes, and usually we do a 1.25-mile hike through Swallow Falls State Park, which is one of Maryland’s most beautiful parks,” he says. The Youghiogheny River flows along the park’s borders, and hikers will marvel at Muddy Creek Falls, a 53-foot waterfall, the highest waterfall in Maryland. “Every time we go to Deep Creek, [hiking at Swallow Falls] is one of the things I’m most excited about,” says Brian Buebel of Baltimore, who enjoys annual trips to Deep Creek with friends and family. “When we were there on Labor Day weekend, we had a blast, jumping the rocks in the river. There is always lots of people there swimming in the summer. When we’re there and it’s cold, there are lots of icicles hanging from the rocks, which my niece and nephew really like,” he says. Calhoun’s company also offers winter photography workshops to show hikers great spots to take photos and explain the special conditions for taking photos in the snow.
The Homestead also offers hiking tours, says Corriveau. “The tour of our private gorge is one of the most popular hikes. We have a naturalist on staff, and guided hikes are great, as the guides show you things that you might have missed otherwise. They kind of force you to slow down and enjoy nature,” he says.