This was originally posted on my other blog: Goerie.com/blogs/runners-notes.

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Friends and I (in the hot pink pants) hit the trails on our shoes this weekend.

The older I get the harder winter running is on my body.  It’s not the cold (I actually prefer colder temps), but the snow/ice/slush that make footing dicey and terrain uneven. The constant adjustments required by my ankles and lower legs/feet to keep me upright aggravate my long-standing Achille’s tendon and hip issues and lead to a day or two of post-run hobbling and icing.

Since I hate the dreadmill and/or running on an indoor track, I’m at the mercy of Mother Nature. I’ve learned to be flexible — skipping a day or running later in the afternoon and early evening (after the sun has had a chance to melt the roads) or driving to run in parts of Erie where the streets are clear.

But, in the last couple years, I found another option: snowshoeing.

What I like about it:

  • It doesn’t require much gear, just a pair of shoes and poles (optional), a good pair of snow boots and warm clothes (mittens, hat, etc.)
  • You don’t have to go to a ski resort. You can put on your shoes and stomp around any snow-covered field, trail, or path.
  • It’s easy. It is literally just walking. You’ll have a slightly wider stance and you’ll have to lift your foot/knee higher, but..that’s as complicated as it is.
  • It may not be running, but it’s still a workout. It’s like doing high-knees for an hour so your hip flexors, quads, and glutes get quite a workout.
  • You can enjoy the scenery. When you run trail, you have to watch your footing the entire time. Not so when walking through the woods on snowshoes. I mean, yes, you have to pay attention to where you’re going, but you can look up quite a bit, too.
  • You can go places you can’t without snowshoes and/or without snow. Thanks to the crampons on the bottom of snowshoes (and using your poles) you can literally climb up or down the side of mountains or hillsides you could not without shoes.
  • You can easily hold conversations with walking partners — so it’s a good “lets-do-something-together” activity.

What you need to know:

  • Dress in layers: It’s highly likely you’re going to work up a sweat and want to take off some clothes. I typically start out in tights, ski pants, an Under Armour mock-neck shirt, and a lightweight shell jacket or windbreaker. If the weather is warm or the sun is out, I will sometimes just wear tights, U.A. shirt, and a windbreaker.
  • Wear sunglasses. They are vital on sunny days to cut the glare, but helpful and useful on any day to keep snow out of your eyes.
  • Essentials: Good snow boots (think weather/waterproof boots…Kmart cheapies or rainboots aren’t good enough), and good ski mittens and/or gloves. I wear a pair of stretchy black gloves and layers a thick pair of ski mittens over top. You may not need the mittens, but it’s better to take them and remove them if you don’t need them than to be without them (hello frostbite!).
  • You can get shoes for less than $80. I just bought this pair and I love them. You can, of course, spend a LOT more money on shoes, but if you’re buying them to occasionally cross-train, you can definitely get by spending less than $100.
  • If you’re going to buy shoes, pay attention to the weight guidelines on the shoes more so than the length of the shoes.
  • Shoes come in different lengths — I think it’s personal preference if you want shorter shoes or longer shoes. Obviously, longer shoes will offer more ability to stay “on top” of the snow, but…they can be harder to walk in so… buy based on your own preference (with an eye to the weight guidelines for the shoes you’re considering).

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At Devil’s Backbone at the top of the Wintergreen Gorge trail.

Where to shoe around Erie:

  • Presque Isle State Park: Try Gull Point, or the Sidewalk Trail, or walk along the beaches (just STAY off any ice dunes, of course!)
  • Penn State Behrend/Wintergreen Gorge (Harborcreek) There’s a 1-mile trail on Penn State Behrend property from the foot of Cooper Road in Harborcreek to “Devil’s Backbone” which overlooks four-mile creek. You can stay on the big white path…or tromp around closer to the edge of the water or even go off trail and explore a path less traveled.
  • Pleasant Ridge Park (Fairview)
  • Asbury Woods (Millcreek)
  • Scott Park (Millcreek)
  • Six Mile Creek Park (Harborcreek)
  • Erie Bluffs State Park (Girard)
  • Headwaters Park (Millcreek/Greene Twp)
  • Any PA State Game Lands (just take care during hunting season unless it’s a Sunday)
  • Oil Creek State Park (nearby Oil City, Pa, about a 90-minute drive)

Want to try before you buy?

Both Presque Isle TREC and Asbury Woods frequently offer snowshoe clinics and, I believe, both rent snowshoes at their facilities (at PISP…they are at the cabins where they rent XC skis).  Also, you can rent snowshoes and use the snowshoe trails at Wilderness Lodge cross-country ski resort in Wattsburg.