Curious about Snowshoeing?

View from the bluff on the Spring Green Preserve

I am very passionate about snowshoeing and have tried to share my love with just about anyone who will listen. I have helped many friends and family purchase snowshoes and instructed them on how to use them. I would love to see SW Wisconsin become a destination for snowshoeing because I really believe we have the best trails for the experience. I want to expand my influence as an expert on snowshoeing and I have begun to write snowshoe reports and reviews of trail conditions. I love educating and guiding as well. The interview I am sharing today is a glimpse of what snowshoe guiding is to me. 

I met up with a good friend, Catrina Wastlick, the other day. She has been interested in snowshoeing for a while and finally decided that this was the year she was going to get snowshoes so she could continue her love for exploring through the winter.  We talked a few times over the last month and I gave her advice on bindings and accessories. She and her husband recently got a pair of snowshoes utilizing some of my recommendations. 

She was excited to get her husband out on a trail that they had previously hiked, but never in the winter, and never with snowshoes. I sat down with her and asked her how her first experience went and here is our conversation.

The pictures of your day on the Spring Green Preserve looked great! How did your first snowshoeing experience go?  

Catrina: It was awesome! We love trying to find outdoor activities we can do together and we just love going to the Preserve. The views are so beautiful there. But it was surprisingly different in the winter compared to the other seasons. We had a great day but we ended up following the trail to the top of the bluff like we do in the summer and we found out quickly that it was way harder with snowshoes on! We were exhausted by the end of it!  We couldn’t believe how much more strenuous snowshoeing is compared to hiking. We must have snowshoed 3.5 miles that day, our first time out, and the last half coming back was rough! 

You definitely use some different muscles! That was an ambitious trek! I try to do about 2 miles of snowshoeing, as that is usually about an hour for me. It depends on how many hills I do and what the elevation climb is. If it is flat, I can do 2-3 miles. A beginner might want to do 1-2 miles until their muscles get used to it. Did you use your poles?

Catrina:  We did use the poles. That was new to us too. It definitely worked our muscles differently. We really appreciated the added stability, especially as we made our way up and down the bluff. To be honest, by the end of the trail, the truck seemed so far away and we both were dragging our poles behind us. At one point, we looked at each other and laughed. We were both thinking the same thing, “this is no longer as fun or exciting as it was an hour and a half ago!” We learned our lesson the hard way. We were a bit too excited and ambitious for our first time and weren’t aware of how different that trek would be in the snow!

I took a moment to show Catrina how to hold the poles, slipping my hand up thru the strap and the grip. I showed her how to establish the height of the poles and then showed her the stride. I will be posting a video of how to use poles in the near future. 

Catrina continued to remark “we felt the burn in so many different muscle groups;  our hips, arms, and shoulders, way more than we do a regular hike. It was more of a cardio workout than we are used to. We figured the added resistance of the snow, the weight of our winter clothing, and using the poles made all the difference! We took our snowshoes off for the last bit of the trail and noticed a huge change when we walked just in our winter boots. Snowshoes really made the differance in the deeper snow.

What did you enjoy the most about snowshoeing?

Catrina: So many things. I loved being out in nature. I loved how peaceful everything is with a fresh blanket of snow on the ground. I loved that we were doing this trek together. We saw animal tracks in the snow. Darren and I would try to figure out what they were from. It was cool to be reminded that we share this space. It was neat being able to experience a trail we have hiked many times before and now in winter. Because the trees were bare, we could see rock outcroppings and bird nests. The terrain looked so different to us.  We usually hike this trail in the summer when we have to fight off mosquitoes. If it is too hot, the trail can be unbearable because there is no shade. But going there last week was different.

The sound of the snow crunching under our snowshoes and the sound of our poles in the snow, combined with our breathing, was mostly all we heard. I found it rhythmic and meditative in a cool kind of way. So quiet. I love the stillness as it settles my mind.

I was tired and not in the best of moods before we left, but the cold brisk air energized me as we got going, and that was exactly what I needed. My mood changed. I needed a change in perspective and I find I am way more creative after a hike outside. I have hiked so much in the past year and I didn’t want to give up that time outside. Having snowshoes, and getting your support really motivated me.

I have missed my stand-up paddleboard classes I teach in the summer. I know the benefits of exercise and so I was kind of sad about putting the paddleboards away for the winter. Snowshoes are a great replacement so far. Nature motivates me. It really helps me when I look forward to doing something. I look forward to snowshoeing. 

flower meadows and forest areas

Were you able to stay warm enough?

Catrina: (laughing) We were worried we were going to be cold and uncomfortable. It wasn’t very warm out, and it was way windier than we thought when we got on the trail. But once we got moving, it didn’t take long for us to heat up and we started shedding hats and scarves and  unzipping layers. We started moving and we warmed up fast. We have a little better idea for how to dress the next time so we aren’t carrying around extra clothing we don’t need. Layers are good though, we just overdid it. Kind of like we overdid the hike itself. (laughing)  

Where are you hoping to snowshoe next? 

Catrina:I would love to check out some of the trails in Richland Center that you suggested. I definitely want to check out the Pine River Trail you mentioned, I love water, so that’s first on my list. We really live in such a beautiful area, We have our favorite hiking spots, I would like to check those out with snowshoes as well.  I’m always open to suggestions on your favorites!  I love learning about new places!  

We will keep in mind that we  don’t go as far as we did the day we snowshoed the Spring Green Preserve. I want my husband to keep going with me! (laughing) 

I was thinking of adding some yoga moves to our snowshoeing adventures. Later, Darren and I did some yoga stretches for all of those aching muscles. I was thinking it would be fun to incorporate some yoga moves into our snowshoe adventures. I have been thinking of how I can creatively use the poles and the shoes to give a new experience to my students. I am up for the challenge! 

Do you have any recommendations for other beginners? 

Catrina: I would tell them to contact you for helpful tips!  (laughing) Seriously though, I would. You were so helpful and we greatly appreciate it. Your advice before our purchase and your guidance on the trails has been really wonderful. 

I would suggest getting the right snowshoes at the perfect length and size with the bindings that tighten and release easily. I like how my snowshoes have this rubber piece that my toes fit up against so my feet aren’t sliding around. My shoes came with an incline heel bar. It really helped us when going up the bluff. I would look for sets that include poles and a carrying bag, preferably a bag with a cross body strap so your hands are free to use your poles. We shopped around online and we did go to an outfitting store locally. Ultimately, we bought them in person instead of online.

I really appreciate your guidance as we put the snowshoes on today and when you showed me how to use the poles correctly. We kinda winged it that first day. 

Oh, and this is very important- start out with a flat trail that is only a mile or so! Hydrate (easy to forget in the winter) and if you are debating whether or not to buy them, rent them from Ridge & Valley Tours first. They are an investment just like any other outdoor equipment. I wish I had them sooner!! I look forward to snowshoeing for many years to come.

I really enjoy helping people begin with the sport of snowshoeing. I find some get frustrated with their shoes or the poles but just a little bit of advice can go a long way to make snowshoeing an enjoyable experience. Snowshoes can be an investment and spending money on cheap snowshoes tends to bring frustration. I have a set of snowshoes I spent $200 on 7 years ago and they still look great today. A quality pair can last for a long time. You can contact me at ridgeandvalleytours@gmail.com if you have questions or are looking for rentals/guide services. 

Snowshoe report for 1/4/21

What a great few days we have had for snowshoeing! The second snow we had last Wednesday entirely covered just about everything in SW Wisconsin and has made snowshoeing a pure pleasure. I have been out every day trying to work that post-holiday weight gain off my waist. 

It has been truly great seeing my Facebook and Instagram feeds filled with snowshoe posts. I have also had friends report on trail conditions found throughout the county.  I will be taking their notes and my observations and writing future posts in the coming weeks. I love seeing the growing engagement with the sport of snowshoeing in Richland County. I am currently working on a snowshoe trail map for Richland County. We do have many public places you can check out. If you know of a great public access trail in Richland County-send me an email at ridgeandvalleytours@gmail.com. At this point, we have already noted well over 10 public places perfect for snowshoeing and hope to add many more. 

Today, the hoar frost was so magical at the higher elevations. Our hills and valleys were filled with pockets of fog giving our Driftless area an ethereal quality.  A drive today from Juneau county into Richland county revealed such beauty as the sand plains of the Mauston area turned into the rolling hills we all know and love in Richland County. I spent the weekend doing some snowshoeing up by Lake Pettenwell and found that area beautiful in Winter. But I have to be honest, nothing compares to the beauty of Richland County. When I look at snowshoeing a particular trail, I look for a few different qualities.

I prefer my trail choice to have some elevation changes of between 100-200 feet. Our rolling hills are perfect for kicking up your heart rate without causing extreme fatigue. But don’t underestimate the physical exertion you will expend with snowshoeing! It can be a demanding sport that should be cleared with your medical doctor before engaging. Our hills provide just the right amount of elevation changes and I try to snowshoe hills with gradual ascents.

I am always looking for variety in my trail-prairie meadows and forest edges. It’s helpful to have mowed areas as well. I love a forest view that includes hardwoods and conifers. I like to see birds, squirrels and follow deer tracks. And, I look for trails that are secluded so all I have to hear is the sound of snowshoes crunching the snow. I am always looking for the interesting geological formations our area is famous for. It is so much easier to see those limestone and sandstone outcroppings in the wintertime when the foliage is off the trees. And,  I enjoy seeing a flowing creek/river more than looking at a frozen lake. 

Up at Pettenwell (pictured above), I did snowshoe a bit across the frozen lake water and found my snowshoes gripped ok but the pole tips slid as I did my stride. Of course, I did pre-determine that the ice was thick enough and I walked in the path where others had gone to ice fish. I did find the area to be relatively flat and snowshoed the power-company trail around the lake a couple of days in a row. 

The trail/area I chose to snowshoe today was the Weston School Forrest. The school has a beautiful area to explore and I have snowshoed there in previous years.  Parking is easy as you head behind the school towards the football field. The physical address for the school is-E2511 County Hwy S, Cazenovia, WI 53924. The snow always seems a bit deeper and the wind blows a bit harder up on the hill but once you get into the forest, it is quite pleasant. Head all the way behind the home team side of the football field to the far back corner on the right, following along the fields. 

Weston access point-head to the back corner, beyond the field, where the trail starts (no signage)

You will see an opening into the forest and once you are inside the trees, you will see marked trails with various colors. The trails are open and easy to traverse as the brambles are trimmed up pretty good and there is only an occasional log across your path. It is actually hard to find a snowshoe trail inside a wooded area that is easy to traverse unless the forest is well-managed and maintained. There are interesting plaques along the trails indicating what trees are present in the arboretum. There are two separate bridges that cross a small creek and two park benches overlooking a nice vista. This trail experience checks all of my boxes! 

The trails do have some elevation changes but they are short in duration and allow you to recover fairly quickly. My app showed about 100 feet in elevation changes. The trail down to the creek and bridge is steep and necessitates side-stepping and the use of poles for balance. Exploring this area feels like you are in the backcountry. Remember, you are doing so at your own risk. Honestly, it is best to do this experience with a buddy as there are a few areas where you could misstep and cause injury. The cell service up on the hill is not the greatest so always plan ahead. 

You can do about 1 mile if you take every marked trail inside the forest. I like to come up thru the meadow area where all the sumac trees are and then continue to snowshoe all the way around the perimeter of the football field in the mowed areas. You can snowshoe near the sheep barn and see the sheep cared for by the students at Weston and continue out and around the elementary playground area. I always like to snowshoe for at least an hour and 2+ miles in distance.  There are all kinds of hills where you can increase your heart rate for intervals. 

I have many other trails I want to explore this week and the weather looks cooperative. We have a 25% chance of precipitation on Monday and cloudy skies for most of the week. The temps forecasted look to be average for January, 20-30 degrees. Tuesday is forecasted to be 35 degrees and we might see a little of our snow melting but we should keep that base we need for snowshoeing. The winds will be favorable and the windchill shouldn’t be a concern. 

I have a few interviews to share with you in an upcoming report. If you are looking to rent snowshoes or are looking for some advice-feel free to contact us at ridgeandvalleytours@gmail.com. We are always happy to help and want to see Richland County be THE snowshoeing destination of Wisconsin. 

Snowshoe report for December 28, 2020

Fresh Snow and The Old Mill Pond…

We got a lovely snowfall yesterday afternoon into last evening of about 3 inches of powder in Richland County. While it was tempting to put the snowshoes on last evening and go snowshoeing under the light of the moon, I held off until today. I wanted to explore other options for snowshoeing in Richland County and decided to head to the heart of Richland Center-The Old Mill Pond Park.

I found the free parking at 600 W Seminary St, Richland Center, easy to access. You can enter the trail area easily in two different ways. If you are wanting to snowshoe on the Grove street side of the river, you head directly to the water’s edge just past the colorful playground equipment. You will hear the rapids of the water flowing over the rocks and the trail is to your left. There are benches in many locations around the trail area, perfect for putting on your shoes. If you stay on the Grove Street side, there is an active snowmobile trail to contend with. If there are only a few inches of snow you are most likely safe but if the snowfall is deeper and the snowmobile trails are open, I would caution you against using the Grove Street side. There is a trail along the Pine River on this side with a few loops into a lightly wooded area. You will also see the trail goes under the Mapleside Footbridge. You can stay on this trail until you reach Hwy 14. At this point, you can either turn around and go back or you can take off your snowshoes and walk across the bridge over the Pine River and access the Otto Bellman trail side.

I highly suggest the Otto Bellman trail side. You can walk from the parking area to the sidewalk on East Haseltine street and continue left, walking over the bridge and then onto the Otto Bellman Trail. As you walk down the trail just 100 yards or so, you will see a picnic table area with pipe fencing around it. This is the perfect place to put on snowshoes and then access the trails on this side. You will see the mowed trails easily after a snowfall. The mowed trails loop around in the savanna grasses and can take different variations each time you go. The prairie grasses are all dried at this time of year and are a beautiful habitat for birds and rodents. You will find the trails fairly flat and because they are mowed all summer, a shallow snowfall of 2-3 inches covers the grass trails easily. This is probably the best trail to access when snowfall is light.

The best path is the one along the Pine River for at least a half of a mile. Even though you are in the middle of Richland Center, I found it very peaceful and quiet. Watching the river flow along its icy banks and snowshoeing under a few trees makes this path magical and serene. You will see frisbee golf cages and many trail variations meandering thru trees. You can easily do 2+ miles of snowshoeing on the Old Mill Pond trails.

This trail system is perfect for beginners. Because the trails are mowed all summer they are fairly level and tripping hazards are minimal. The elevation is fairly flat but these trails are not boring! There is much to look at along the way with the Pine River and the Mapleside footbridge is a real treat for the eyes.

If you are wanting to increase your exertion and kick your heart rate up you can loop off the trails and climb the hillsides up to the Otto Bellman trail and then circle right back down. I found 4-5 spurs that allowed me to get 4 good heart rate intervals into my workout.

As far as safety goes, I had cell service the whole time. The snowmobile trails are marked and the paths are obvious after a snowfall. You can get close to the Pine River and watch it flow by as the trail along the edge is stable and maintained. There was a very minimal wind blowing and the area is naturally protected from wind.

This is truly a gem inside of Richland Center. After a good workout, you can have a thermos of hot chocolate while sitting on one of the many benches found along the trails. Because the trails are fairly flat, you could easily put the kids in a tub sled and pull them around behind you. And then they can play on the new playground equipment for a while as you listen to the rapids of the Pine River. A perfect place to snowshoe and enjoy nature.

If you are wanting to rent snowshoes, you can contact Shane Stibbe, Parks & Recreation Superintendent P: 608-647-8108 ex. 7   or  F: 608-647-5327 or send him an email a few days in advance to set up your rental pickup and dropoff. Rental cost is $5 per day or $10 per weekend while supplies are available. E: shane.stibbe@richlandcenter.com

Snowshoe Report December 21, 2020

It is Winter Solstice and the night of the planetary crossing but those darn clouds are mucking up the Driftless night skies. Today’s possible snow forecast was disappointing as well. But that is how winter goes sometimes in SW Wisconsin.

The seven-day forecast for snow is scant at best. It was just a “taste” last weekend but hopefully, we will head in 2021 with many winter snowfalls. We have a snowmobile all tuned-up and ready to go as well. At least you can snowshoe in less snow than what is required for the snowmobile trails!

Now is the time to celebrate the Holidays with family and stay healthy. Perhaps you will get some new outerwear for Christmas or a new set of snowshoes! As the Scandinavians always say, “there is no bad weather, just bad clothing.” While we wait for that perfect powder to come, you can get your gear ready.

I find snowshoeing to be a very warm activity once you get going. I have a variety of neck gators, ear muffs, and scarves. I do use a neoprene-type outdoor face mask on those really cold days when the wind chill is in the negative numbers. I usually wear a long sleeve thermal top with a vest zipped up over the top and then my winter coat over that. My winter coat is left mostly unzipped except for the coldest weather. I have a few thermal leggings that are designed for cold weather but I have also used fleece tights under leggings. Sometimes, two layers are better than one as the air trapped between the layers keeps you extra warm.

I find if I dress too bulky, it can be uncomfortable while snowshoeing. Layers are always best. I actually use a fairly lightweight set of gloves. My fingers will feel cold at first but with the activity of using poles, they warm up quickly. I find mostly-if my ears and hands are covered-I can endure some pretty cold temps. You can work up a pretty good sweat with the exertion of snowshoeing so look for clothing that wicks away the moisture.

Last year was one of the first years I was actually able to snowshoe in deeper snow and I did find the snow coming into the top of my boots at times. I have put ankle gators on my Christmas wish list this year as they are supposed to protect a bit better. As far as boots go, I find a good supportive boot is helpful. Your ankles don’t need the support of ski/snowboarding boots but your foot should be well-supported for physical activity. A pair of good hiking boots can work with extra socks for those just beginning. I have experienced the straps from the snowshoes rubbing on my boots and leaving marks so you might not want to wear those expensive Sorrel boots with suede/leather.

We at Ridge & Valley Tours hope you and your family have a Merry Christmas and may all of us be safe & healthy in 2021! And, hopefully, Santa puts those new snowshoes under the tree! Until the next report-Happy Holidays, Teri & Marty Richards

Snowshoe report for December 10

It was very exciting to see the snowflakes falling Friday night! By late Saturday morning, the snow accumulation in Ithaca Township was enough to throw on a pair of snowshoes for the first time this winter season. Yesterday morning the conditions were ideal as there is nothing more magical than “snow globe” snowfalls while snowshoeing. Those precious moments where big fat snow flakes drift down, the air feels much cleaner and the world seems quieter.

The snow stopped coming down at mid-day and the clouds broke up briefly to see glimpses of sun and blue sky. We ended up with about 2 inches of snow in Ithaca. That is just enough to snowshoe. You don’t need a deep snowfall to enjoy this great sport and actually deep snow can make snowshoeing too strenuous for a beginner. Our Driftless area is the perfect place to enjoy snowshoeing with our hills, fields and forests.

In my 7 years of snowshoeing experience, I have learned a little about ideal snowshoeing conditions. When there is only two inches, it is best to snowshoe in areas where the grass has been mowed in the past. Your lawn or a city park are perfect examples. The snow over the mowed grass will be buoyant enough to enjoy the experience without the resistance of deeper snow. Two inches will not be enough snow for snowshoeing over harvested fields or over longer prairie grasses, as the grass and corn stalks can get tangled up in the grips on the deck of your shoes. It also is not enough for going in wooded areas either as the trees decrease the amount of snow that makes it to the actual ground.

This is the ideal time to dig those snowshoes out of the closet. Check your bindings and straps for integrity. You will find going for a short stroll on your lawn warms up those muscles you haven’t used since last year. The stride you use for snowshoeing is so much more different than jogging or hiking, you will definitely feel a bit of soreness in those hips and glutes the next day. The use of poles will warm up your shoulders and arm muscles in new ways as well. The sport is an excellent work out and the perfect activity to engage in during the pandemic. If you are new to snowshoeing, this is an ideal time to practice and master your stride so you are ready to hit the trails when the deeper snow comes.

The weather is forecasted to stay in the 20-30s the next two days and the snow should stay but by Wednesday, temps will likely melt the current snow. We have had reports that the Madison area has 5-6 inches of snow and double that of Richland county so if you looking for more snow, head in that direction.

Snow is forecasted for next Saturday again. We will bring this report every week thru the winter season. Our report will bring other tips for snowshoeing so be sure to follow this report every week.