Stride into the New Year on snowshoes

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      Be resolute. Be very resolute. Put one foot in front of the other and stride into the New Year on snowshoes. According to personal trainer Michelle Ricketts, co-owner of Storm Fitness in North Vancouver, even after centuries of popularity in Canada, snowshoeing is a sport that has yet to reach its full potential. “When it comes to fitness, snowshoeing has so many things going for it: you get a cardiovascular workout; you sweat a lot while breathing fresh air; and it strengthens muscles, especially in the legs.”

      Not surprisingly, Ricketts informed the Georgia Straight during a phone interview, she typically sees a surge of interest in snowshoeing at this time of year, starting in December and lasting well into February. “It’s the perfect mix between exercise, great scenery, and friendships. My client profile is mostly active women in the 25-to-35 age range who are already extremely fit. That being said, snowshoeing is not just for those who are already fit, but it’s a good way for anyone to get moving. My clients like it because it’s not something they would do on their own.”

      The 30-year old Ricketts, who earned an outdoor-recreation diploma from Capilano University, knows whereof she speaks. “I’ve been snowshoeing since Brownies, when we used to do snowshoe tours on the North Shore. My motto is ”˜get living’. Why just exist when you can live? I encourage everyone to get outside and get living.” When it comes her favourite places to be active, Ricketts gravitates to trails in either of the North Shore’s two provincial parks: Cypress in West Vancouver and Mount Seymour in North Vancouver. “The fact that trails are open to the public is the big attraction of provincial parks. You’ll find there’s a good mix of challenges in both Cypress and Seymour without having to buy a pass.”

      During a pre-Christmas visit, the Straight took the opportunity to weigh the advantages of exploring both the Mount Seymour Provincial Park trails and Mount Seymour Resort’s adjacent Discovery Trails network. Both options lie within steps of a common parking lot and are accessible by either car or shuttle bus. From twin trail heads at 1,020 metres—the highest base elevation on the North Shore—the privately run, 10-kilometre snowshoe trails spread downhill through the forested lower bowl around Goldie Lake, and an equally lengthy and more challenging series of public trails begins at the B.C. Parks kiosk adjacent the Mystery Chairlift and ascend toward either First Lake or Mount Seymour’s summit.

      More than a decade ago, when lightweight aluminum designs first sparked a renaissance in snowshoeing, Mount Seymour Resorts created the Discovery Trails system to complement the long-established public pistes originally tramped out by members of the Alpine Club of Canada in the 1920s. When tracked down while clearing snow from the expert-rated Cougar’s Pass route, the resort’s trail-maintenance supervisor, Rowan Gloag, recommended that neophytes and families with young children should check out the Discovery Trails first before venturing farther afield. “Given the atrocious weather the North Shore can experience, a lot of what my crew and I do is staking poles so that trails are well marked. We want to make our trails extremely comfortable for beginners and intermediates to come out no matter what the weather. The fluorescent-coloured poles are installed specifically for cloudy days.”

      As Gloag spoke, shafts of sunshine pierced through groves of snow-caked evergreens. With white drifts mounded on all sides, strategically placed poles helpfully outlined the intermediate single-track loop trail around Goldie Lake that led away from the much broader Ole’s Pass trail, one of six introductory routes. Metal teeth, or crampons, mounted on the undersides of the rubber-decked snowshoes made easy work of both ascending and descending the otherwise slippery pathways. These are the same routes visited by grade-school students on field trips conducted here throughout the winter. “Over the past five years, our business has grown from running educational programs to a broader range of recreational trips,” Gloag observed. “The sport is steadily catching on. This year I’m seeing a lot more people showing up with their own equipment.”

      After a snowfall, if you choose to head off on the B.C. Parks routes, be prepared to break trail through the old-growth forest that cloaks the steep-sided slopes of Mount Seymour. Other than distance markers placed at significant intersections, signage on these trails primarily consists of red metal markers affixed high on the trunks of mountain hemlocks. Spotting them is not difficult. By the time most trekkers set out on the First Lake Loop Trail, which leads to several viewpoints of the city below, chances are good that a path will already have been packed down. If you are exploring these trails for the first time, a clearly visible track is crucial. The terrain proves particularly challenging on the roly-poly approach to First Lake, though less so on the more straightforward ascent on the seven-kilometre Mount Seymour Trail.

      No matter which trails you choose to explore, the common experience of a snowshoe workout is similar: the crunch of snow underfoot abetted by the ambient sound of streams gurgling down into the ponds and lakes that dot the mountainside. Why wait? Now is the perfect time to get living.

      ACCESS: Detailed snowshoe-trail maps as well as information on shuttle-bus service to Mount Seymour from both Lonsdale Quay and Parkgate Mall are posted at www.mountseymour.com/. For a schedule of snowshoe outings with Storm Fitness, visit stormfitness.ca/.

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      2 Comments

      Jack Wylt

      Jan 12, 2011 at 2:07pm

      I love snowshoeing, and Seymour is a great place to do it. However, I highly recommend against renting snowshoes at Seymour. They charge more than double what you would pay if you rented snowshoes off the mountain (e.g $26.50 at Seymour, $12 at MEC) using the excuse that the trail pass is included with your rental. Save yourself $14, rent your shoes at MEC and use the far superior BC Parks trails.

      Jane S.

      Dec 28, 2011 at 11:21am

      I snowshoe at Seymour often and disagree with Jack W. Seymour's snowshoe trails are great especially on busy days when the BC Parks Trails are like a narrow highway for backcountry users. I love snowshoe running on Seymour's trails, and taking slow meandering walks around all of the loop options they have that the BC Parks Trails lack. $9 is not much to pay for what you get, considering someone has to pay for the road access getting you to the trail head.