Wherever there is deep snow, snowshoeing is a possibility.
A strenuous, adventuresome and highly rewarding winter recreation, it is an activity that lends itself well to solitary escapes and small group adventures.
The combination of the cold and the effort needed to lift and push strapped on snowshoes through deep snow, burns a lot of calories and is great for the legs and the heart.
Guelph and area has many fine snowshoeing spots, dozens of them within the city itself. Ignatius Jesuit Centre, Gorba Trails, Preservation Park, Royal Recreation Trail, Riverside Park, Rockwood Conservation Area, and the Guelph Innovation District lands are a few of the best.
Snowshoeing is about making your own trail. There is never a good reason to tromp on an established trail, especially a groomed ski trail. Doing so is a violation of the unwritten snowshoer code, and will serve only to throw a wedge between the track-centric cross-country ski crowd and the nimbler and more exploratory snowshoe mob. (Yes, some cross-country skiers do go off track).
Snowshoes are an explorer’s tool. They are for getting off the beaten track – for getting deep into the woods, far out into a field, or right along the edge of a river. The object is to find untrodden snow and tread on it.
As with any activity on public or private land, respect for that land is integral to the code. Even an expanse of scrub lands – what you might find along a decommissioned gravel pit – have within them naturally occurring paths of least resistance and least interference.
These are often used by wildlife. Like people, animals like deer and coyotes also like to preserve their energy in the forest, and will take the path of least resistance when available. To avoid damage to living things like saplings, it is important to watch your step.
To add to the snowshoeing experience, it is always a nice idea to make a small warming fire, so long it is done safely, respectfully, and lawfully, using available deadfall as fuel. A flint and steel kit can afford a more traditional fire starting experience.
Snowshoes come in many sizes, several shapes, and few different materials. Some are easy to run in, and others are more manoeuvrable in dense woods. Some are long and lean for crossing well-frozen lakes, and others could double as a shovel to make a snow fort. There are fancy bindings of nylon and rubber, and there are Old School ones of leather. The fancier ones tend to stay strapped on your boots or moccasins more consistently.
Ignatius Jesuit Centre a kilometer north of the city is one of the finest snowshoeing venues in the area. Here, you should stay on the established trails. There is deep snow along the edges of those trails this winter, so you don’t have to stay on the packed snow if you don’t want to. And stay off the groomed ski trails where you find them.
Preservation Park is expansive and deep, and is one of the grungier and more challenging spots for shoeing. Scraggly and ensnarled with lots of twisted and fallen cedars, it offers good, strenuous off-trail exploration. And there are lots of whitetail deer in there for the wildlife watcher.
The former Lafarge Canada pit off Niska Road and Whitelaw Road is a favoured dog-walking location for people on the west side of Guelph. The trail into the woods is a bit of a mess from dogs doing their business along it. But the land features a long, straight road that runs about 1.5 kilometres to the Speed River, much of it through a cedar forest. There is an abundance of ‘no trespassing’ signs along woods, so use discretion when entering them.
Rockwood Conservation Area is among the most unique of all the snowshoeing and winter hiking destinations in the area, with breathtaking rock formations, caves, historic ruins, and strenuous ascents that offer spectacular views.
And don’t overlook parks like Riverside, Royal City, Exhibition, or York. It’s rare to see snowshoers on them, but they do the trick.
Snowshoes are available in a host of retail outlets and occasionally at second hand shops. The Old School ones of wood, leather lashing and leather harnesses are often used as home and cottage decorations these days, but they do have some advantages over newer models.
Aesthetically they are beautiful, leave a more traditional pattern in the snow, and look better in photographs. They have a good grab on slopes, unlike some of the rubberized or plasticized decking on contemporary shoes.
Crampons are a good idea if you’re doing a lot of climbing or spending any time on ice. Old School shoes can also be fitted with modern bindings complete with crampons.