Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Planning a trip with skiers and snowshoers

Our good friends from Seattle came to visit last weekend looking for a vacation in the snow.  We raided the gear closet and found two pairs of MSR snowshoes and skis that fit us but not our friends.  It was a quick decision for us to plan a mixed trip with two on snowshoes and two on skis.  We had a blast, froze some fingers and learned some things about mixed trips.

Rule of thumb: Snowshoers are faster going up, skiers are faster going down

Skiing and snowshoeing each have their strengths and weaknesses.  Choosing a trip that will be enjoyable for everyone is not too tricky when you understand the kinds of terrain that are most fun for both.


We have two pairs of MSR snowshoes that are excellent for blasting uphill and navigating tight trees, narrow turns and exposed obstacles like rocks and logs.  Given a similar level of fitness and experience, someone on MSR snowshoes (or other snowshoes with a good crampon and not too wide a base) will be much faster going uphill. They are also great for diverse snow conditions from powder to hard, icy snow.  This kind of snowshoe will float on deep powder, but will sink farther than powder skis, making it more difficult and slower going in deep snow.  Our friends called these snowshoes "a toolbox for your feet" because the crampon plus base give your feet more tools for dealing with different conditions than boots.  However, snowshoes are slow downhill - about the same speed as hiking, depending on snow conditions.


Skis are designed to go downhill.  Unless you are on a classic cross country setup without metal edges, a beautiful, snowy slope is an invitation to make turns downhill.  In decent conditions, skis are much faster downhill and untracked powder won't slow them (much).  Depending on experience and conditions, it can take half the time or less to go downhill as it did to go up.

Skis, even with skins or scales, can slip and slide ascending steep or icy slopes.  Setting a track with switchbacks makes it much easier to go uphill, but adds length to the route.  Snowshoes can go straight up.  Skis also make it more difficult to cross over fallen logs in the trail and other obstacles.  

Snowshoers will wait for skiers on the way up, while skiers will wait for snowshoers on the way down.

Choosing or setting a trail

The difference between skis and snowshoes is most prominent when the terrain gets steep.  If you don't want to wait much, choose a trail without much change in elevation.  

The views up Blodgett Canyon Trail inspired us to keep going longer than planned

Our first trip out on Saturday was up the Blodgett Canyon trail.  The trail is a rolling route along a stream with unbeatable views.  Our friends paused and cheered (or teased) us as we grappled over icy rocks and lumps in the trail on the way up.  We paused momentarily on the way back to the car at the bottom of small hills while waiting for them.  We did use our crosscountry touring setup for this trip because they are more fun on flatter terrain than our alpine touring gear.

Sunday we went on the Lolo Pass snowshoeing loop trail.  The trail cut up through the trees and back down open, powdery slopes.  The four of us stayed together to the top of the ridge, and then split up on the way down.  Our friends took the trail back to the lodge, while Ryan and I skied a couple laps, cutting out part of the loop.  We all had fun and met back at the lodge.

Ideal ski conditions at Lolo Pass on Sunday

Splitting up worked because we had an easy-to-locate meeting spot and none of us had to wait too long in the cold. We actually got back to the lodge within five minutes of each other.

Another thing to consider is that skis and snowshoes create different kinds of tracks.  Skis need a smooth track to function best.  Snowshoes fare well with most broken trails.  If snowshoes use an established skin track (uphill ski trail) they can destroy the smooth track.  If possible, snowshoes should not use established skin tracks.  However, if you're out with a mixed party and are breaking a fresh trail, all parties can benefit from switching up who breaks trail.

Waterfall along Blodgett Canyon Trail

Yes, I would go again

Taking a mixed trip of skis and snowshoes proved to be less complicated than I originally thought, and I would certainly take a trip like this again.  A large part of our success was due to everyone being comfortable and happy on their chosen mode of transportation.


Unknown said...

There are lots of wintertime sports to get us out in the snow. Snowshoeing is simple, easy to access and super fun! If you want to explore the beaten path and adventure yourself off-trail too, then you’re going to need a pair of snowshoes and optionally a pair of poles. See more http://survival-mastery.com/reviews/best-snowshoes.html

Unknown said...


Unknown said...

The silence and beauty of a white-filled landscape are just some of the reasons for many of my skis trips. Nevermind the cold, when I'm on this blanket of white, I lose track of time and enjoy myself immensely! That's why I always make sure I'm geared up and only with excellent snowshoes and other ski needs such as in this site http://myoutdoorslife.com/gear/snow-sports/best-snowshoes.html

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