If you’re tired of slogging through the snowbanks and slush strap on a pair of “webs” (slang for snowshoes) and walk on top of the white stuff instead. Snowshoeing is a great workout (you can burn twice as many calories as walking) and a way to check out pristine natural areas that might otherwise go unnoticed.
“If you can walk, you can snowshoe,” says Brian Kuhn from Redfeather, a snowshoe manufacturer in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Indigenous people developed snowshoes in North America as a way to walk efficiently in thick snowfall. Eventually traditional “tennis racket”–style shoes fashioned from white ash and caribou hide gave way to lighter, modern versions made of aluminum tubing with solid neoprene and nylon decks and crampons for extra traction.
Locally, you can rent a pair of webs at Runner’s Edge(5243 N Clark St, 773-649-0853) for $15 for two days. “It’s something different to change things up if you’re used to running,” says assistant manager Kathy Bullard.
It’s best to go snowshoeing when there’s at least four inches of snow on the ground. Locally, the lakefront, large city parks and forest preserves are good places to take a stroll. Palos Forest Preserve in the southwest suburbs(trailhead at 87th St and Rte 45, near Hickory Hills) offers 32 miles of multiuse trails and challenging hills (by Chicagoland standards).
Bitten by the bug? There’s still plenty of organized events this winter where you can hang with other web walkers. Saturday 7, from noon to 4pm, the Chicago Park District hosts Polar Adventure Days at Northerly Island(1400 S Lynn White Dr, 773-742-7529, chicagoparkdistrict.com) with free loaner snowshoes available for exploring the peninsula’s frozen tundra, plus a winter camping demo, carriage rides, ice sculptures, arctic-inspired crafts, Siberian huskies and more.
More snowshoe aficionados can be found at gatherings taking place in what Kuhn calls “Illinois’ largest state park”—Wisconsin. Near Milwaukee, Retzer Nature Center (S14 W28167 Madison St, Waukesha, WI, 262-896-8007, waukeshacounty.gov) offers Winter Wildlife on Snowshoes on Saturdays during the winter months, 9am–12pm. A nature expert will lead a trek through the hushed wilds of the 400-acre preserve, pointing out tracks and other evidence of the local deer, owls, foxes and possums for $7; snowshoes are provided.
Also on Saturday, January 25,in New London, Wisconsin, near Appleton, Mosquito Hill Nature Center (N3880 Rogers Rd, 920-779-6433), holdsMosquito Hill Snowshoe Races with 1- and 5-mile events for adults and a 200m race for kids beginning at 8:30am.
On February 2 at 6pm, the Iola Twilight Snowshoe Race takes places at the Navarino Nature Center near Green Bay (W5646 Lindsten Rd, Shiocton, WI, 715-460-0426, greatlakesendurance.com) with 5k, 10k and 800-meter youth races. Registration is $10 to $35.
The Suds and Snow celebration takes place sometime in March at Timber Ridge Resort in Traverse City, Michigan (4050 Hammond Rd, 800-909-2327,timberridgeresort.net). Admission benefits a local foster-care agency and gets you a snowshoeing trail pass, samples of Michigan microbrews (New Holland, Founder’s and the ever-elusive Bell’s are among those offering up their tasty ales and lagers), food, live music and a commemorative pint glass.
Stomping through the winter woods on webs then sipping pints of handcrafted beer? Sounds like our kind of biathlon.