The Buffalo News
If You can walk, You can Snowshoe
All was still and quiet as my daughter and I slowly made our way down the snow-covered hiking trail. Just minutes before, each of us had strapped on a pair of snowshoes and we headed out to take advantage of western New York’s wintry weather.
Snowshoeing is a great way to get some fresh air and exercise during the winter months and it doesn’t require any special athletic ability; if you can walk, you can snowshoe!
Our Sunday afternoon adventure took place at the Beaver Meadow Audubon Center, about 40 miles south of Buffalo. While I have my own snowshoes, my daughter used a pair of rental snowshoes, which are available from the center for a nominal fee of $5.
Beaver Meadow has over 8 miles of hiking trails. One could easily spend the whole day exploring the trails. However, we weren’t quite that ambitious, since it was my daughter’s first time using snowshoes. We spent about an hour and a half snowshoeing and another half hour looking at the displays inside the three-level visitor’s center. Even though my daughter is a teenager, her favorite display was the kid’s discovery room which had a number of hands-on exhibits.
Preparation is Key
While snowshoeing doesn’t require any special training per se, you do have to know the proper way to dress for the outdoors and familiarize yourself with the equipment. Last winter I took a “learn to snowshoe” course offered by Paths, Peaks and Paddles, an outdoor equipment store in Tonawanda.
In this course I learned about the different types of snowshoes available, the types of hiking poles to use (helpful with keeping your balance) and most importantly, the proper way to dress to stay warm. Here are a few basic tips: dress in layers, don’t wear cotton garments or leather boots, wear a hat, and bring along a water bottle. You might also want to bring along a thermos of hot chocolate and a snack for after your hike.
Where to snowshoe
“One of the nicest things about snowshoeing is that you can do it almost anywhere, as long as there’s snow,” said Sue Freeman, who with her husband, Rich, wrote the book, Snow Trails: Cross Country Ski and Snowshoe in Central and Western New York.
“You don’t need groomed trails or trails at all for that matter. You can head off across a park, golf course, or field in your neighborhood, anywhere you’re legally allowed to go,” said Freeman.
She added that it’s easier for beginners to start out on packed snow, rather than loose, fluffy snow. She also recommended Beaver Meadow for beginners because it has many short loop trails and rental snowshoes available. Freeman also suggested the Erie County Forest, which has a 15 mile network of trails, with some designated snowshoe only and Buckhorn Island State Park on Grand Island, which has great views of the Niagara River.
Christine Baer from Paths, Peaks and Paddles has some favorite places to snowshoe. “Our absolute favorite places to snowshoe are Royalton Ravine, Erie County Forest, Wilson Tuscarora State Park, Bond Lake and the Amherst Nature Trail.”
She added that the Royalton Ravine (in Gasport in Niagara County, just east of Lockport) is a great place to learn how to snowshoe. “You can learn how to ascent and descend hillsides and there is a great suspension bridge to cross and wonderful pines to explore. It’s very peaceful and I often think picturesque.”
Another of her favorites is the Erie County Forest in East Concord. “There is a dense wooded section that you hike through to one of the many open fields that is breathtaking when you step out of the woods and cross over to another wooded section. It is truly magical when there is snow on the ground and a full moon.”
Bond Lake County Park in Lewiston also has a lot to offer. The trails, which go through woods and apple orchards, have no elevation, so they are considered easy trails. “There are many little small lakes to hike around with plenty of ducks and geese sitting on the frozen lake,” added Baer. Wilson Tuscarora State Park, also in Niagara County, is a happy medium between climbing hillsides and flat trails according to Baer. “It’s also a lot of fun to walk along the beach with snowshoes and look across Lake Ontario over to Toronto which is 38 miles away.”
The Amherst Nature Trail offers a great two to three hour adventure without having to travel too far from home. The trail is flat, making it perfect for beginners and for people who don’t wish to climb hillsides.
Organized snowshoeing events
For safety, one should never snowshoe alone, or do any other outdoor winter activity alone for that matter. If you can’t convince friends and family to snowshoe with you, Paths, Peaks, and Paddles has a Tuesday Evening Stress Reducer Hike/Snowshoe. “When snow hits the ground, we are off snowshoeing someplace,” said Baer. “We meet at the store at 5:30; a decision is made as to where we want to snowshoe (or hike, if no snow), carpooling arrangements are made and we are off to one of our favorite destinations.” They usually go out for 2 to 3 hours depending on the weather. There is no charge for this unless you need to rent snowshoes and poles ($10)
They also offer demonstrations and other organized hikes. On Saturday January 23, there will be a snowshoeing demonstration at the Royalton Ravine from 10am-2pm and on Saturday February 20, a demonstration and hike will take place at the Pfeiffer Nature Center in Portville (near Olean). On January 30 at 6pm, a Full Moon Snowshoe Hike will take place at the Royalton Ravine at 6pm. The $15 fee includes a snack and hot drink. Rental snowshoes are available for an additional $10.
An Introduction to Snowshoe class is scheduled for Thursday January 28 from 6-9pm through Ken-Ton Community education. Call 716-213-0350 for details.
BeaverMeadow Audubon Center (585-457-3228; www.buffaloaudubon.org) 1610 Welch Road, N.Java. Visitors center open Tues-Sat 10-5, Sun. 1-5. Trails are open daily dawn-dusk.
Snow Trails by Rich and Sue Freeman (Footprint Press, 2001) www.footprintpress.com This book is a comprehensive guide to all the places to cross-country ski and snowshoe in western and central New York. However, since it was published almost ten years ago, please call ahead to verify information.
Paths, Peaks and Paddles (716-213-0350; www.pathspeakspaddles.com) 1000 Ellicott Creek Road, Tonawanda