Taking baby (snowshoeing) steps
We are not outdoors-y folks.
But we do love trying new things especially if those new things includes our pup. Since getting Caesar we are definitely outside a lot more, which is one of the great things about being a dog-owner, but I have to admit, sometimes I look at all these great inspiring pictures on social media of people doing outdoor stuff with their dogs and a million questions run through my mind like, "Is that even safe?", "How did they find that place?", "How do they have so much gear?", "How did they know what gear to buy?", "Where did they learn to survive outdoors?" and so on...
This winter we decided to try snowshoeing. Our rationale being it's the closest thing to walking so how hard could it be and we probably won't die - that's how not outdoors-y we are.
To add to our complete outdoor incompetency we also decided to buy our first pair of snowshoes the night before leaving for Tahoe.
Needless to say we needed sales assistance and wow, did we get a crash course from a very helpful REI salesperson.
Generally, there are two types of snowshoes. One with an aluminum tube frame and another with an aluminum jagged frame.
If you're going to be in powder deep snow then go with the aluminum tube kind - they'll help you stay "afloat" better. We were informed Tahoe has more of a mixed terrain: ice, gravel, soft and hard packed snow, in which case you need a snowshoe that has more of a grip for better traction.
You also want a snowshoe that has a "heel" which is basically a bar that props up under your heel to help you on uphill trails so you don't strain your calf.
Both me and my husband ended up buying MSR's. I bought the women's MSR Lightning Ascent, which retails for about $300.
My husband bought the men's MSR Revo Explore, which retails for about $200.
Snowshoes also have general sizing (22 in vs 25 in for both women and men) that's related to your weight. The heavier you are the more surface area you need to cover to be able to walk on top of snow. If you're under 200 lbs, regardless of gender, then you should be ok with 22 in.
This is something you may be particular about and is good to know upfront. The Lightning Ascent has rubber straps with holes that you basically tighten around your foot and fasten onto a metal hook - like how you would fasten a wrist watch. The downside to this type of binding is one, if you don't fasten it tight enough then as you walk the binding can come undone, and two, if you have smaller feet (I wear size 6.5 - 7) there's a lot of extra band hanging out even after you've secured it in the extra clip.
Getting the snowshoe on takes some effort particularly with the rubber straps since you have to really pull to get a snug fit. It's not the hardest thing in the world, but just takes extra "oomph". The Revo Explore, in comparison, has a ratchet system which is overall easier and faster. My husband was up and walking pretty quickly in comparison to me.
I've come to believe that part of my calorie burn for winter sports comes purely from putting on the gear. Usually I'm sweating before I even start any activity.
What to wear with snowshoes
Part of this will depend on when and where you choose to snowshoe but, generally, you don't need special boots to go snowshoeing. We knew we weren't going to be in knee-high snow and I did fine with my regular hiking boots, (you can find them here). The one thing you want to make sure is that whatever type of hiking shoe you choose that it's waterproof, just so your foot doesn't get wet and freeze.
If you're going to snowshoe in deeper snow the other option you may want to consider is using gaitors to prevent snow from creeping in through the laces and ankles (for low profile boots). And of course, you can always put in feet/toe warmers too for extra warmth.
For the rest of the apparel we found our ski/snowboarding clothing worked just fine.
Do I need poles?
Jimmy bought a pair of cheap collapsable ones and I was originally going to just use my ski poles but we found that unless you plan to go for long distance and/or in deep snow, the poles aren't really necessary.
Again, this was our first time so we were just trying to find space where Caesar and we could just play around and get comfortable with our gear. Our goal was not to knock out multiple miles on our first attempt. If anything, we just wanted to make sure we didn't have to return everything we bought.
Where to snowshoe
The great thing about Tahoe is that anywhere you would hike in the warmer seasons is somewhere you could potentially snowshoe (at your own discretion), and if you go in the winter during off season you can get a whole park to yourself.
The areas we chose were flat and have parking/staging areas because, well, we didn't want to get stranded somewhere and die.
Spooner Lake is a great option in North Lake Tahoe. We did see one other gentleman with two dogs snowshoeing his way to the lake.
In South Lake Tahoe we visited Fallen Leaf Lake, which has a 2.5 mile - 3 mile loop should you want to go around the lake. Fallen Leaf Lake has so much flat open land that you can make a whole morning/half day of snowshoeing in the park without even seeing the lake, which is basically what we did.
Now, while we are by no means wilderness experts, we did notice what seems to be a lot of bear tracks. There are lots of bear crossing signs around Tahoe but this was the first time we saw evidence of them being nearby. I thought it was pretty cool.
If these aren't bear track I don't want to know what kind of animal these belong to.
For those who want more variety in trail difficulty I found this article on Tahoe Quarterly.
We hope this helps others get out and try snowshoeing! We're excited for the winter season to ramp up in Tahoe. While we love snowboarding and skiing that means we have to leave Caesar alone for hours, so this is definitely a great alternative especially since he loves being in the snow too. Who knows, maybe we'll need something more adventurous after a couple hikes...we were curious to have Caesar try skjorning....
👣 The fur-mom