And introduction to snowshoeing

Snowshoeing 101

Snowshoeing is the ultimate Canadian winter recreation because it's easy to try, relatively inexpensive, you can do it almost anywhere there is snow and you can see what your favourite summer trails look like in the winter.

Snowshoeing has evolved from an essential mode of winter transportation into a popular recreational activity that is an excellent low-impact aerobic exercise, a great social activity and is suitable for all ages and abilities. The old adage is: if you can walk, you can snowshoe.

Everyone expressing interest wants to know how to get started. So the Sheriff prepared the following guide, humourously entitled “Snowshoeing for Dummies.”

The first step is acquiring snowshoes, but which to buy and what to look for? Rather than making the initial investment and perhaps making the wrong choice, borrow a pair (or two) from friends or rent from the 12 downhill resorts and cross-country ski areas in the Southern Interior to check out different brands, features and prices.

If trying a friend's pair or renting, bring the insulated, waterproof winter boots that are comfortable for several hours of hiking to make sure the bindings work for your footwear. The snowshoe footbed has a swivel point in front where you put the ball of your foot but not so far forward that your toe hits the snowshoe base.

Tighten the toe first, then cinch up the back strap, says former guide Roseanne Van Ee of Vernon aka The Okanagan’s Nature Nut.

Snowshoes vary in size from small trail runners (if you want to jog) to larger models effective in deep snow floatation. As a general rule, multiply the width in inches by the length in inches to match your weight in pounds, including your clothing, boots and backpack. (Sorry, it just doesn't work in centimetres and kilograms.)

The Sheriff has several pairs for different conditions. His small Tubbs are eight inches by 20 inches or 160 pounds. The large Snow Mountain (Costco) pair are nine inches by 30 inches or 270 pounds. If you plan to only go on packed trails, buy the small, narrow snowshoes. For deep snow trekking, buy big. If you have both and don't know the conditions, one pair can always be attached to your backpack for switching.

Crampons, the teeth on the bottom of snowshoes, are crucial for climbing, descending and icy trails. Usually the larger, the better. Some come with saw-like rails for even more traction. Get a snowshoe bag because those crampons are murder on floors, vehicle upholstery, etc.

You can try them out by first walking around your backyard, local park or nearby trail.

You don't have to walk with a slightly wider distance between your feet, says Van Ee.

"Just get used to one snowshoe stepping ahead of the other she “says.

In deep snow, raise your feet higher than you would normally.

Many instructors say poles are optional. The Sheriff, unbalanced for most of his life, feels they are crucial for balance and control, especially when snowshoeing up hills, down hills and going cross-hill. You might have two sets of poles with adjustable lengths (keep your arms at a 90-degree angle)—one equipped with small snow baskets for packed (and tight) trails, and one with large baskets for deep snow.

If packed trails are tight, you don't want large baskets catching on every branch beside the trail. Some hiking poles come with optional baskets so they can be used year-round.

If your footing is uncertain, spread your arms with poles out to the side. Plant your poles for stability before putting your snowshoe on that downed tree trunk.

When climbing a hill, lean forward and use your toe crampons for grip (point your toe into the hill). With soft snow, "slide the front of your snowshoe up," says Van Ee. Some snowshoes come with a heel lift, climbing bar or televator which raises the back of your foot to a neutral position when doing a long climb.

When descending a hill, bend your knees, weight slightly back, poles a little longer and forward for balance, and make sure your crampons are digging in the snow. If your snowshoes start to slide, sit down. If you fall on a hill, remove the pole straps, place your body uphill of your snowshoes, turn your snowshoes sideways to the hill, push onto your knees and stand up. If the snow is soft, grab the middle of your poles and push them against the snow as you rise. In really soft snow, cross the poles.

If you are traversing or going sideways across a hillside, the uphill snowshoe should dig into the slope to make a flat surface to stand on and then keep your weight mainly on that snowshoe. If you have adjustable poles, shorten your uphill pole and lengthen your downhill pole.

Don't try to walk backwards (dare your friends to try) but do a U-turn by shuffling in a semi-circle.

As for attire, dress for winter conditions using non-cotton layers which can be removed before you start to sweat and get cold. Use a waterproof, breathable shell jacket and pants on top. "Good warm mitts or gloves are much more environmentally-friendly than disposable handwarmers," says Van Ee.

The Sheriff highly recommends gators if your snowshoes always seem to kick snow onto the back of the legs.

"A good pair of snowshoes shouldn’t kick snow onto your legs. That’s why I like Tubbs," says Van Ee.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Southern Interior now a B.C. mecca for skiing

Colder, new snow at ski hills

The return of cold temperatures and new snow this week have Southern Interior ski hills very optimistic for February and March.

Last Tuesday morning, for example, Big White Ski Resort issued a “Powder Alert” after 17 centimetres of fresh snow fell during the previous 24 hours for a base of 171 cm. The quality of snow is always dependent on temperature, in this case -4 C at 7 a.m., i.e. soft powder.

The cumulative year-to-date total was 3.57 metres compared to the 10-year average for Feb. 1 of 4.14metres (a range of 3.23 metres to 5.26 metres) and an average base of 1.87 metres (a range of 142 metres to 2.35 metres). "We've had plenty of years better and a few not so much," noted senior vice-president Michael J. Ballingall.

SilverStar Mountain Resort reported seven centimetres during the previous 24 hours, 19 cm in 48 hours and 24 cm during the past seven days, so most of it fresh powder. The cumulative total was 3.46 metres. Nearby Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre had similar numbers.

Apex Mountain Resort had 14 cm in 24 hours, 17 cm in seven days on a base of 1.14 metres and total accumulation of 2.57 metres. Sun Peaks Resort had eight cms in 48 hours, 19 cm in seven days and an alpine base of 1.41 metres.

Compare that to the three Lower Mainland ski hills and and one on Vancouver Island, where warm, wet weather stripped much of the snow from Mount Seymour, Grouse Mountain, Cypress and Mt. Washington. They all closed for several days last week. Mount Seymour was still temporarily closed Wednesday. Grouse had half of its six ski lifts open with early-season conditions. Cypress had just one out of more than 30 runs open and one lift of six operational. Mt. Washington received nine cm on Wednesday but still had numerous runs and lifts closed.

"Our current base is down 70 cm comparing Feb. 5, 2023 to Feb. 5, 2024," said Apex GM James Shalman on Monday, noting skier visits were down 35% comparing those two dates.

Early snowfall last season allowed Apex to open every run on the mountain on Dec. 2, 2022, one week earlier than the scheduled opening date what was described as amazing conditions and a base more than 100 cm. This season saw a slow opening, with discounted lift tickets and reduced terrain open for most of December.

"We're in a mountain environment. We take the good with the bad,” Shalman said. “This one, we've had a lot of swings from extreme warm to extreme cold. But that's fine, you roll with it.” .

He said the numbers are definitely down, “especially if I'm comparing to last year because last year, we had a phenomenal opening. I'm hoping we have quite a bit more snow just to set us up for the last half of the season, February and March can be absolutely fantastic as far as snowfall and snow quantity."

Baldy Mountain Resort services manager Brandan Datoff said rain definitely didn't help his South Okanagan hill but thanks to groomers, all runs remained open.

At Kelowna Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Club, this has been a trying year, said president John Davina. "Last year, we had an early snowfall, skiing by mid-November. This year, the snow was almost a month late. As such, our membership is down a little as well as our day-use passes."

The club also has to deal with old grooming equipment that had numerous breakdowns to date causing financial hardship. As such, the club is full steam ahead in fund-raising for a new $600,000 groomer.

At Nickel Plate Nordic Centre, this season has been “amazing” in many respects but challenging in others respects, said Kevin Dyck, marketing and communications manager.

The ski area's higher elevation had sufficient snow for exceptional skiing as the season began. As a result of extensive advertising, skiers came from throughout the Pacific Northwest, as well as from eastern provinces and U.S., he said.

Even with those new faces, overall numbers are down, causing financial pressure, so grooming was halted on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the ticket and rental office is closed those days. The centre itself, including the day lodge and bathrooms, remains open without office staff. The base, usually about 100 cm and lasting into May, is currently at 45 cm.

At Telemark Nordic Centre it has been a challenging year in terms of the weather and snow, said GM Mike Edwards. "It has definitely resulted in fewer people coming out,” he said. “The number of season pass holders is pretty close to last year (longest season ever) but the number of day-users buying passes and renting skis is down 30% to 50%, a bit of a challenge financially. Last year, we had a 90 cm base, while this year we just have 50 cm."

Extensive trail work and summer grooming and brushing using a flail mower purchased two years ago allowed skiing on low snow starting Dec. 16. The club used its new e-snowmobile, two other snowmobiles, a side-by-side machine and a new grooming roller purchased last year for manual grooming (not the big Pisten Bully) until Christmas.

"With normal temps and snowfall over the next few weeks, we hope to have a good second half of the XC ski and snowshoe season with great conditions to at least the middle of March," he said.

"Although we've been hit with some drastic fluctuations, all things considered, RMR has a decent snowpack up top thanks to our elevation. It appears that the Interior will be bouncing back this week so we will continue to look forward to the snow and 2.5 months of winter we have left to enjoy," said Laura Meggs, Revelstoke Mountain Resort’s communications manager in the marketing department.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

What else could go wrong with this ski season?

Ski season full of challenges

The 12 downhill resorts and cross-country ski areas in the Southern Interior have had a challenging season so far, to say the least.

That has prompted this column on what else could possibly go wrong?

The start to this year's season was particularly lacklustre across B.C. with drastically reduced snowfall. However, Southern Interior ski hills have demonstrated their resilience while maintaining a safe environment for skiers and snowboarders. They have responded with multiple programs, events and innovations.

Big White, for example, was originally scheduled to open on Nov. 23, but it was delayed to Nov. 30, then to Dec. 5 and it finally opened on Dec. 8, exactly 60 years from the resort's initial opening day. The good news is lift tickets were 50% off and the season will be extended by one week (with 60th anniversary celebrations) to April 14. Central reservations offered an extended early-season special of 25% off accommodation until Dec. 21.

The resort also promoted its wide range of other mountain activities, including snowshoeing, horse sleigh rides, snowmobile tours, dog sledding, ice skating with rink-side bonfires and the tubing park. The special Freedom Friday program, organized especially locals of varying proficiency levels, offered four Fridays of lessons. Freedom from work? Don't tell the boss.

Big White received an early New Year's Day present on Dec. 30 with a much-awaited dump of 10 centimetres. Several major snowfalls followed but bitterly cold temperatures in January had Thompson-Okanagan ski hills closing lifts and cancelling programs.

Big White responded with its January lift and lodging special—$138 per person per day. Mother Nature was not amused. On Jan. 11, Big White announced that due to the Arctic vortex conditions, four lifts, including the Bullet Express for night skiing, would be temporarily closed. Twelve remained open. A last-minute complete closure came on Jan. 12 when it was -30 C. Night skiing and tubing were cancelled Dec. 13 due to the cold, as well as the weekly Saturday fireworks show.

Baldy Mountain Resort closed its Eagle Chair Jan. 12, and night skiing on Jan. 12 and 13 were cancelled with temperatures of -30 C.

Apex Mountain Resort closed all lifts Jan. 12 and 13 due to -27 C (windchill -35 C to -40C) temperatures. Sun Peaks Resort closed two chairs Jan. 12 with limited operations and delayed openings on the weekend.

SilverStar Mountain Resort closed its Powder Gulch Chair and Home Run t-bar Jan. 11, opening only its gondola and Silver Queen chair Jan. 13and 14. The SilverStar Rippers, Amped and Freeride programs were all cancelled for Jan 13 and 14.

Surviving that, what else could possibly go wrong? A Pineapple Express producing record-high temperatures?

On Jan. 28, the SilverStar forecast had the risk of mixed precipitation with 3 C high, followed by the risk of rain by midweek, so it closed Brewers Pond for ice skating and mini-snowmobile tours.

Temperature wasn't the only challenge at Big White. A bearing in the electric drive motor of the Black Forest Express failed on Jan. 27. Riders were evacuated using a diesel backup. Major replacement components arrived last Tuesday and the the lift was back in operation the next day.

Last Sunday, both the Gem Lake Express and Falcon Chair were closed due to icing from overnight rain. The ice rink was closed due to warming temperatures. The forecast wasn't optimistic with wet snow, feeezing drizzle, winds gusting at 40 to 50 kilometres per hour, fog patches and freezing levels near or above the summit.

Kelowna Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Club had dozens of skiers participate in its first classic ski lesson Jan. 4 but the Jan. 11 class was cancelled as a result of frigid conditions. Groomers also faced challenges. On Jan. 23, the area received one centimetre of new snow but grooming was halted due to the 3 C temperature.

Last Sunday, it rained all night and the weather was "very hard" on the snowcat. On Tuesday, grooming was suspended for several days.

"The soft snow simply will not hold the weight of the groomer and any attempt at grooming will do more damage than good,” said a hill official.

On Monday, SilverStar announced the closure of all double-black expert runs in Putnam Creek, all three terrain parks and Brewer's Pond. The forecast was intermittent mixed precipitation through most of the week.

Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre warned that with unseasonably warm conditions bringing heavy rain overnight, trails were not groomed on Sunday. With more rain forecasted overnight and into the daytime on Monday, there was the potential for a full trail and facility closure Monday. On Monday, the temperature exceeded 5 C and it didn’t freeze overnight but grooming proceeded.

The weather wasn't better in northern B.C. where Mount Timothy Ski Resort near 100 Mile House announced Sunday it was not opening for ski/snowboarding season at all, citing continued warm temperatures, no precipitation in the forecast and what would already be a very late start to the season.

But it could always be worse in the Okanagan and cooler temperatures are in the forecast and Family Day long weekend/Spring Break that are coming up.

Big White has also launched a teen ski/snowboard program, tailored for 13- to 18-year-olds. There will be five action-packed days of five hours each day, with the same coach in either All Mountain or Park and Freestyle disciplines.

Unfortunately, SilverStar has cancelled the 2024 Over the Hill Downhill on Friday and Saturday due to soft conditions and the Vernon Winter Carnival has cancelled its B.C. Snow Sculpture Competition this weekend. Instead, Carvewel Creations will perform a series of 10 ice carvings in the carnival theme, which is “games.”

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More ways to master the cross-country skiing trails

Cross-county skiing tips

To complete your cross-country ski lessons in classic technique, here are the proper ways to herringbone and double-pole.

Just like using the snowplow to slow or stop your forward progress, the herringbone is your key for climbing steeper hills that you can't ascend by staying in the track-set trail with a higher tempo and shorter steps. (Don't herringbone in the track.)

In fact, for your skis, the “V,” or wedge herringbone, is the opposite of the snowplow. Your ski tips are apart and your tails are together. The steeper the hill, the further the tips are apart. Like the snowplow, your skis should be on their inside edges so they push against the snow. If they are flat, you will slide back.

Like the diagonal stride, your poles should be at an angle behind you to stop you from sliding back. And like the diagonal stride, your right arm (at a right angle) moves forward at the same time as you lift your left ski and step forward (diagonal). Then, left arm (right angle) and right ski. It's important to step forward enough that your stepping ski doesn't land on the stopped ski. Like the diagonal stride and snowplow, ankles should be flexed, knees bent, leaning forward and your weight centred on each ski.

The double-pole technique is nicknamed abdominal crunches by some but the Sheriff prefers the Dippybird, so named after a plastic bird perching on the lip of a glass of water. With the flick of a finger, its beak dips into the water and back out like a pendulum, thanks to the counterweight in its tail.

"Hands on either side of the face. Arms folded and tight to the body. Poles vertical and parallel to your forearms. The arms unfold. Poles go to the rear. Hands end up next to the thighs as you do a half-stomach crunch and bend your legs. And the little finger of each hand controls the direction of the poles. The power comes from the crunch and legs bending," says instructor John Davina, president of the Kelowna Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Club.

The abdominal muscles are the strongest muscles in the human body so it's better to use those than just the triceps in the arms which will quickly tire. Several racers have told the Sheriff they have double-poled up to 80% of some races. Double-poling can produce four to seven metres more glide per push compared to the diagonal stride.

The secret to an extra 15% thrust, pros say, is opening the palms of your hands at the rear of the push as if you are trying to throw the poles behind you and down the trail. Remember straps have to be adjusted so the pole grips still sit in your hands ready for the next push.

Once you have practiced the double-pole, add leg power through the kick double-pole. You practised shifting all of your weight onto one ski, then the other. Now, it's crucial.

Begin by moving one foot forward as you finish a double-pole which takes your weight off that foot and onto the other foot. As you double-pole, kick down the foot that is behind to get a good grip and propel yourself forward, just like striding.

The right leg is easy for those who are right-handed but you should switch legs back and forth once you teach your left foot what it is supposed to do. The key is often watching someone else do it properly.

When you are comfortable with the diagonal stride and the two double-poles, your next assignment - should you choose to accept it - is transitions. Your goal is to make the transition from diagonal stride to double-pole and back, from double-pole to kick double-pole and back, as smooth and seamless as possible to maximize the amount of energy transferring your body movements to travel across the snow. You also look really cool.

(This is the third lesson column on cross-country skiing. The first lesson column, about- on your skis, poles and boots, and the second, about the diagonal stride down the trail and snowplow, can be found here.


Kelowna Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Club will hold its fourth annual Stride and Glide for KGH from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Feb. 10 to support cardiac care.

"This will be our last year as we take on the task of finding over $600,000 for a new grooming machine and work on the variables of climate change," said coordinator Lyle Nicholson.

The event grew out of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the club had no events and wanted to do something for the community, especially Kelowna General Hospital, which was on the front line. More than $50,000 was raised through that virtual no-human-contact event, he said.

"The next year, during (the) Omicron (variant), we raised another $50,000 and last year we added $45,000. So we're asking members and the community to come together for one last effort to fund a critical heart pump machine to keep patients alive before, during and after critical cardiac procedures."

Registration (includeing a cool ski buff) cost $20, with distances of 10 kilometres, 15 kilometres and 20 kilometres for cross-country skiing, and five kilometresand 10 kilometres for snowshoeing, followed by a barbecue with bratwurst, samosas, beer and soft drinks.

Those who raise more than $100 will be eligible for prizes, plus a fun prize for the best-dressed team of six raising more than $500. More information can be found here.

Meanwhile, the second session of Masters Social Ski Lessons will go Feb. 4, 11, 18 and 25 at 10 a.m. each day.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More Making Tracks articles

About the Author

J.P. Squire arrived in the Okanagan Valley from flatland Chatham, Ont. in the middle of the night in the spring of 1980. Waking up in the Highway 97 motel, he looked across the then-four-lane roadway at Mount Baldy and commented: "Oh my God, there's mountains." Driving into downtown Kelowna, he exclaimed: "Oh my God, there's a lake."

The rest is history. After less than a month in Kelowna, he concluded: "I'm going to live here for a long time." And he did.

Within weeks and months, he was hiking local hillsides, playing rec hockey at Memorial Arena and downhill skiing at Big White Ski Resort. After purchasing a hobby farm in the Glenmore Valley in 1986, he bought the first of many Tennessee Walking Horses. After meeting Constant Companion Carmen in 1999, he bought two touring kayaks and they began exploring Interior lakes and B.C.'s coast.

The outdoor recreation column began with downhill ski coverage every winter as the Ski Sheriff but soon progressed to a year-round column as the Hiking, Biking, Kayaking and Horseback Riding Sheriff.

His extensive list of contacts in Okanagan outdoor recreation clubs, organizations and groups means a constant flow of emails about upcoming events and activities which will be posted on Castanet every Sunday.

You can email the Sheriff at: [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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