Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are some of the great ways to stay in shape this coming season
By Tim Fenster
For those who live in regions as cold and snowy as the Buffalo area, the very concept of winter recreation may seem like an oxymoron. Winter is our time to hibernate, and hibernate we do — recent studies show that Americans tend to gain weight in early winter, then join gyms at accelerated rates from January to March to shed it off.
But perhaps both these trends — the holiday weight-gain and post-New Year’s gym rush — could be avoided if we spent more time enjoying the winter wilderness in all its blindingly white glory.
This is best done — as was the case millennia ago — with the aid of either cross-country skis or snowshoes.
If you’ve never tried either, a good place to start may be Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve in Cheektowaga.
The preserve offers about three miles of trails on some nearly 300 acres, and provides rentals of both snowshoes and skis at affordable rates ($3 for snowshoes and $5 for skis for members of Friends of Reinstein Woods; $5 and $8 for non-members, respectively).
“It’s a good place to learn how to snowshoe or cross-country ski,” said Meaghan Boice-Green, director of Reinstein Woods Environmental Education Center. “It’s certainly a great way to experience winter, and it’s a great workout.”
But Reinstein Woods isn’t alone. There are many parks and sporting goods stores across the area where one can rent a pair of snowshoes or cross-country skis.
Sarah Beckwith, co-owner of one such store, Gear For Adventure, 305 Buffalo St. in Hamburg, says snowshoeing novices should be sure to tailor the snowshoe to their weight and the difficulty of the trek.
Most basic snowshoes have a single crampon — a claw that helps grip the snow. Those who plan to head up steeper terrain should use a mountaineer snowshoe. These have additional crampons and a televator — a small metal loop that raised the heel of the foot and allows for better grip.
For local terrain, Beckwith recommends a lightweight snowshoe made by MSR; it has extra crampons along the side that prevent the region’s wet, lake-effect snow from balling up under the shoe.
Once outfitted with the proper shoes, you can hit either the trails or just about anywhere you please.
“If you have the right gear, the packed snow [of a well-used trail] is definitely going to be easier, because you’re not going to slip and slide, and there’s no resistance,” Beckwith said. “But if you want a really good workout, step to the side and use the powder.”
To increase both your workout and your balance, bring along a pair of hiking poles. Beckwith says about half their customers take poles with them.
“It will give you a better cardio workout because you’re moving your arms now,” she said. “The second reason is for stability, especially in deeper snow.”
Beckwith says snowshoeing has grown steadily popular with each year while cross-country skiing, not so much.
But skis do offer much of the stability and buoyancy that snowshoes do. Just make sure to use the proper gear. Unlike downhill skis, cross-country skis are thin, much longer than the rider is tall, slightly pliable and attach only at the toe, leaving the rider with a free heel.
“Certainly with fresh snow, the advantage is they spread your weight out so you don’t sink into the snow as much,” Boice-Green said.
Boice-Green urged those who enjoy hiking to give snowshoeing or cross-country skiing a shot, adding that Reinstein Woods’ small size makes it ideal for families with young children. (Beckwith suggests Taylor Road Family Recreation Facility in Hamburg for those with kids, much for the same reason.)
“People who get outside regularly are happier and healthier. Getting out when most people hibernate can have great benefits for their health,” Boice-Green said.
Reinstein Woods is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 1 to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays. For more information, visit www.reinsteinwoods.org or follow the group’s page on Facebook.