On the Run: Snowshoe Running

February 16, 2016

By Yitka Winn

Photo at right: New “On The Run” columnist, Yitka Winn, enjoys a snowshoe run on a bluebird day in fresh powder. Photo by Annie Murphy


Come winter, short daylight hours and freezing temperatures have many runners turning to the gym to get in their workouts. But, if you love playing outside, why let winter keep you indoors?

Snowy environs offer one of the best natural “gyms” imaginable—and, in the Northwest, a growing number of people are donning snowshoes to keep their trail-running stoke high throughout the winter.

“Snowshoe running gives you a different perspective on trails that we love to run in the summer,” says Siiri Berg of Cascade

Snowshoe Runners, a non-competitive group in Bend, Oregon. “I love the quiet of the woods. The snow seems to dampen the sound and quiet the mind.”

It’s also terrific cross training, since it utilizes slightly different muscles than traditional running, and the added resistance of snow and heavier shoes provides a wallop of a cardio workout.

Mastering Technique

Because of the large surface area of snowshoes, they can take some time to master. Go slowly — snowshoe-running pace will always be slower than your regular running pace — and practice picking up your feet more than normal.

Snowshoers who hike often use poles, however, these are less practical for running. Instead, Berg suggests shortening and widening your stride to help you keep your balance.

“On downhills it’s OK to permit yourself to slide along and ‘ski’ a little bit,” advises Gabrielle Orsi, the western regional representative for the U.S. Snowshoe Association.

“Just do it,” advises Stephanie Howe of Bend, Oregon, She won the 2013 National Snowshoe Championship on just her second time on snowshoes. “Of course there is high-level gear and good technique to get faster, but much of that doesn’t matter when you are a beginner.”

The Right Gear

Running snowshoes are lighter, shorter and slimmer than hiking snowshoes. (You can get away with running in the latter, but it’s a bit akin to running in hiking boots.) Borrow from a friend or find a local running or outdoor shop that rents them so you can try them out before investing in your own.

Combine your regular running or trail-running shoes with warm socks, a pair of lightweight gaiters, running tights, and a small pack to carry water and extra layers.

Where to Go

Running on packed snow — groomed trails, or even in a parking lot — is a good way to practice your technique. But, as Howe notes, “The point of snowshoes is to explore places you cannot walk on during the winter. Get off trails; that’s what snowshoes are designed for!”

Berg recommends going with a friend or a group, so you can take turns breaking trail. And, if you do plan to venture into the backcountry, consider first taking a course in avalanche safety.

“Some trails we enjoy in summer in wild places aren’t great for snowshoeing in winter due to avalanche risk, the buildup of snow cornices, and tree wells,” says Orsi. “And avalanche risk can vary, even for the same trail. I recommend that everyone interested in snowshoeing on trails in the backcountry become familiar with Northwest Avalanche Center.”

Above all, have fun exploring. A few favorite haunts of local Northwest snowshoe runners include Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park in Washington, Ketchum to Galena Summit in Idaho, and Crescent Lake near Willamette Pass in Oregon.

Or, find a local race on the United States Snowshoe Association (USSA) online race calendar.

After a three-year stint as an editor at OutdoorsNW and two years as an editor at Trail Runner magazine, Yitka Winn returns to our pages as the new On The Run columnist. Yitka is a now a fulltime freelance writer and an avid mountain runner. Follow her adventures at www.yitkawinn.com and on Instagram @yitkawinn