Snowshoeing as a recreational sport is something I haven’t given much thought to until recently.
Although, as a youngster of about 12 or 13, I had thought snowshoes would be something nice to own. At the time it was my job to feed the cattle on the family farm. The feeding involved about a one-half-mile walk, one way, to the barn. In my regular snow boots, I was punching through and wading snow almost up to my… well, let’s just say I had a lower center of gravity back then.
I saw a nature program on television where a guy in snowshoes was running across deep snow with the greatest of ease. “That’s just what I need for feeding the cattle,” I thought. The snowshoes of that time looked like oversized tennis rackets, so I figured a couple of tennis rackets would probably work just as well. The trouble was, tennis wasn’t a real big sport in Cowen, W. Va., and still isn’t. I did find a set of badminton rackets (probably my sisters), and with a bunch of baling twine, I soon had them lashed to my boots. It didn’t work. That was about the last time I gave snowshoeing any thought, until a recent visit to Elk River Touring Center in Pocahontas County, W. Va.
Group snowshoeing near Elk River Touring Center in Pocahontas County, W. Va.
Today’s snowshoes are far advanced from those oddities of old. They are slimmer and made of lightweight materials, such as neoprene and aluminum. Those with an asymmetrical frame design have a straight inside line, which allows one to keep one’s feet closer together while walking.
Some have heel lifts, which keeps the heel of the foot elevated reducing muscle strain in steep climbing conditions. Snowshoes come in two basic designs. One design has a set of bindings designed to fit over a pair of snow boots.
The second design is the new “step-in” system, such as the cross-country ski systems requiring special boots designed to fit the snowshoes.
Snowshoeing is really taking off as a winter recreational sport and snowshoe racing is quite popular in some of the western states. Some people are getting into it simply for the aerobic workout it provides, and the cushioning snow reduces stress on the joints. I like snowshoeing because one doesn’t really need expensive lessons and a bunch of fancy gear to get started. Neither does one have to be a super-athlete.
The basic function of snowshoes is to allow one to walk on top of deep snow without punching through. If you have ever left a trail in deep snow, without snowshoes, you know how tiring it becomes — quickly. Snowshoeing opens up the possibility of hiking areas one wouldn’t otherwise think of venturing into in deep snow. Deep snow cover presents some of the most beautiful scenery to be observed in West Virginia.
What a shame to be sitting home with cabin fever missing that serene beauty. Another plus to snowshoeing is it is something the entire family can enjoy together. Some folks who are tired of cross-country skiing, and who are looking for an alternative winter activity, find that snowshoeing fits the bill.
Pristine, Scenic Mountains
Elk River Touring Center is located in some of West Virginia’s most pristine and scenic mountains and thus, the best snowshoeing country. The center, in Slatyfork, is situated on 150 acres along the Elk River’s headwaters.
In the warmer months, it is a mountain biking center. In winter, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are the sports of choice. The center operates as a Bed & Breakfast with 10 rooms for rent and three cabins available (cabin rentals do not include breakfast). The center makes an excellent base of operations for exploring the area. The center has a few miles of trails for exploring and getting the feel of snowshoeing, and in the vicinity are literally hundreds of miles of other trails.
Snow-crusted pines along the Highland Scenic Highway (a National Scenic Byway) near Pocahontas County, W. Va.
Less than 10 miles away is the Highland Scenic Highway, State Route 150. This scenic road was recently written up in a national magazine as being among the “Top 10 scenic drives in the United States.” And rightly so.
Many trails head up on the highway, and since there is no snow removal from the highway, it becomes an excellent trail in itself. The highway borders Cranberry Wilderness with connecting trails through the Cranberry Backcountry. Cranberry Wilderness has over 70 miles of marked trails, which vary in length from one to nine miles. It is possible to combine trails for an outing of almost any custom length.
There are another 60 miles of marked trails through the Cranberry Backcountry — and the trail along the Cranberry River is gorgeous in deep snow. The U.S. Forest Service prints a cross-country ski trail map of the area available for the asking. Those same trails present excellent snowshoeing opportunities.
Snowshoeing is a fine way to get out and hike trails at a time of year one normally wouldn’t consider doing so — even though it is a season of extreme beauty. Why stay home with cabin fever?
Making The Trip
Don’t let the fact that you have no snow determine whether or not you check out snowshoeing. It is a different world in the mountains. I recently left Charleston, which had no snow, to find snow over two feet deep on Forest Service Road 76 along Cranberry River — so call ahead for conditions.
For more information, contact:
Equipment rental rates:
Snowshoes (binding type): $15/Day
Step-in Snowshoes w/boots: $25/Day
Area Use Fee (trails on the property): $5/Day
Lodging Rates (based on two people, weekday/weekend rate):
The Inn, $80/$100 (includes breakfast)
The Farmhouse, $52.50/$62.50 (The Farmhouse has shared baths)
Cabin Rates, $100-$325 depending upon the size cabin and whether weekday or weekend
Four Seasons Outfitters
190 Middletown, Rt. 39/55
Richwood, WV 26261
Snowshoe Rental (Binding System only):
Four Seasons has rentals geared toward the person doing some Backcountry snowshoeing and camping.
USDA Forest Service
P.O. Box 110
Richwood, WV 26261
White Grass Touring Center
Rt. 1 Box 37
Davis, WV 26260
This center, in another area of the state, also has snowshoe rentals
For a fine assortment of Snowshoes, click here.
For a fine selection of insulated outdoor wear, click here.