Snowshoeing for beginners – A guide

Snowshoeing is one of the fastest growing sports in North America, and many people are still discovering the sport while navigating through tons of information on the different outdoor/winter/hiking forums and websites. Questions arise about which trails fit with a person’s ability, interests, and accessibility, coupled with the unusual snowfall this season, and its uncertain effect on the trails.
Nature PhotoHikes has been busy organising weekly snowshoeing to various local mountains for almost 2 months now. In keeping with our philosophy of making our events accessible to everyone, we started with easy, beginner’s snowshoeing and are gradually building up to harder, longer ones. Since we’re in the intermediate stage now, here’s some advice for the beginners to get up to speed so that they can practise and attend the more advanced events coming up.

Snowshoeing on Mt. Seymour, an intermediate trail

One of the benefits of snowshoeing is, unlike most winter sports like skiing and boarding, it’s inexpensive. All you need is a pair of snowshoes, whether renting from stores like MEC and Sportjunkies, or buying. Renting from outlets is cheaper than the mountain resorts but you have to book ahead of time. If you’re buying, quality and brand name is important so expect to spend at least $100.
Once you have your shoes, next is choosing a trail. In my 7+ years of snowshoeing, I’ve never paid for a trail since there are numerous ones for free. If you’re on a mountain resort like Seymour or Cypress, yes they have groomed trails that require an entry fee; but right next to those trails are free ones belonging to BC Parks. For example, Seymour has Dog Mountain and First and Second Peaks. Cypress has Hollyburn, Bowen Lookout, Eagle Bluffs, etc. I avoid Grouse Mountain just because you have to pay for the gondola ride alone. If you must pay for gondolas, the Sea to Sky trails are much nicer and there’s more to choose from based on levels.

View on top of Dog Mountain, an easy and popular snowshoeing trail

Here’s a breakdown of the most popular trails – based on accessibility, overall cost, level of difficulty and ‘fun factor’. This is only my list, and others may have different opinions. Suggestions are welcome 🙂
1. Cypress loop: Most people will list #2 as the easiest but I’ve seen some people struggle with it if they’re completely new to snowshoeing. This trail, which is next to the alpine circuit, is definitely easier, as there’s absolutely no elevation gain. It’s also more accessible because you can either drive or take the shuttle.
2. Dog Mountain: By far the most popular beginner’s trail (we know, because we’ve done it three times already!), this is a great introduction to snowshoeing. The viewpoint at the top is worthwhile, but the remaining trail is still amazing in poor weather. The other reason I’ve not listed this as #1 is that you’ll have to take the shuttle as Mt. Seymour doesn’t allow cars to go up. Speaking of shuttles, I find the Cypress ones – although expensive – are more comfortable, have more pick up spots and run more frequently than the Seymour ones. But if you like riding in big yellow school buses (yes, I’m talking to all the non-Canadian/American ones on here) then this trip might be worth it.
3. Bowen Lookout: Again on Cypress, this is an extension of the loop that ends in a bit of an incline at the end. Still easy by our standards, this is good practise for taking it up a notch while finishing with a great viewpoint.

Moonlight snowshoeing in Hollyburn

4. Hollyburn: Located in the nordic area of Cypress (it has both a nordic and alpine area, whereas Seymour has one), this trail is also a crowd favourite due to it having two sections. One can go up a steady but easily manageable trail up to the top of the nordic slope, where you can see amazing views of the city. This is especially beautiful when done at night, under a full moon! And for those willing to take it up a notch, you can continue up a fairly steep second section that ends with spectacular views. Even in poor weather, you can enjoy the return trip as you slide down the slopes!
5. Mt. Seymour, 1st and 2nd peaks: For ease of accessibility, a good workout, relatively short with amazing viewpoints, Mount Seymour’s snowshoeing trail can’t be beat! You can choose to do the first peak only, or be more adventurous and tackle the second too. On a nice day, you can stop and take in the view from several points. This being a longer trail, it’s possible for you to catch the sunset towards the end as well. This is also a great practise for harder and longer trails. As I love sliding down mountains, I find this trail has the best ‘luge tracks’!
That’s a good summary of cost-effective, accessible and fairly easy trails, but there’s plenty more. As we continue with harder and longer trails, it’s possible we can revisit some of these if people are interested. However, with only so many weekends left before the snow melts, we still have lots to cover: Rainbow, Joffre, Wedgemount, Garibaldi, Elfin are all coming up so hope to see you at one of those events!

    © Nature Photo Hikes 2017. All rights reserved.