by Julie Holmquist, Outdoor Writer
As a kid, former St Paul Pioneer Press columnist Beth Gauper tramped along frozen streams with her dad. Now she goes off the beaten track in snowshoes—often to carve out good experiences for the readers of her five-state travel website: MidwestWeekends.com.
She recently gave us some tips on when and where to go snowshoeing.
Getting out at first snow is key to good snowshoeing.
“As soon as it snows, go—especially if you’re in the city,” recommended Gauper. Trails like the unique urban Mississippi River ravine between Franklin and 44th in Minneapolis quickly get icy from overuse. This makes metal crampons crucial. On one trip up north, Gauper had to hand out spares to companions who were falling and hurting themselves.
State natural areas are among the less traveled spots. Gauper said many of these can be found right around the Metro by using Google.
National Forests rank high on Gauper’s list of fun locations. She found that being the fourth or fifth person in line ensures fresh snow without the exhaustion of trail blazing for a group.
Crowded or not, no snow means no snowshoeing. During the dry winter of 2011-2012, Gauper only managed one snowshoe trip over the Martin Luther King holiday. She and her friends snapped photos of the novel snow at National Forest Lodge.
Gauper suggests checking weather maps to see where snow falls, but a safe bet is always Banadad on the central Gunflint Trail.
“There’s just a ton of snow there,” she said, crediting the Lake Superior air that dumps snow on the opposite side of the Sawtooth Mountains.
The Banadad Trail holds one of Gauper’s favorite snowshoe memories. One bitterly cold night, Gauper and companions stayed in a yurt. It was too cold to ski on to the next yurt, but they saw shooting stars and warmed up by the heat of the toasty wood stove.
Her worst memory is being hit by a branch and wrenching her neck on another trip. “Watch out for those tree branches,” she warned.
Gauper suggested newcomers try snowshoeing at state parks. They can rent snowshoes at twenty-five parks or even use them free on guided hikes. Gauper heard Thoreau read by moonlight on a Whitewater River hike in Southern Minnesota.
When buying snowshoes, it’s good to ask plenty of advice, said Gauper. You should find bindings that are not difficult to pull on, yet don’t fall off easily. Different styles of snowshoes respond differently to snow, but Gauper sticks with her basic metal versions.
She also has an unfinished pair of Ojibwa snowshoes, which offer more loft. She started making them at a two-day state park class, but never got back to weaving twenty-two yards of nylon lacing.
Snowshoeing enables Gauper to continue the wintertime exploration she started as a kid. It caters to her sense of adventure tracking moose, exploring swamps, and following Minnehaha Creek where “you feel as if you’re in the middle of the city and . . . sneaking through.”
She recommended getting off-trail as much as possible, because to her, “the point of snowshoeing is—poke around and explore.”