Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Day 248 - Taking a Snowshoeing Class


I have never taken a snowshoeing class. The activity of snowshoeing has been something that has piqued my curiosity since I was a kid. As someone that has always known travel in the snow as requiring a trudge through shin deep white powder, the idea of traveling largely uninhibited over blankets of snow seemed amazing to me. Of course, living in s state known for its long and snowy winters has provided me ample opportunity to give snowshoeing a try, but my lack of knowledge on the activity was prohibitive to my desire to gain the experience.

Fontana
As a result of that fact, I decided I would take action to make my first experience with snowshoeing a reality during the winter of my “I have never...” year. My resolve guiding me, I started searching the internet for ways I could learn more about the fundamentals and techniques of snowshoeing before I decided to take to the snowy terrain that has occupied the Madison area since late November. That effort resulted in me stumbling upon a lot of information and videos that provided little help beyond how to attach snowshoes to boots. In turn, I turned my search to local resources for some more guidance, which eventually led me to a local outfitter, Fontana Sports. A brief phone call to the location revealed they periodically offered free “Snowshoeing 101” classes at their various Madison stores.. As a result, I checked my calendar and made plans to attend the first “Snowshoeing 101” offered by the business, which happened to fall on this evening.

Ummmm...
When I arrived at the local Fontana Sports store I entered the front door to find a few employees tending to a few customers in a largely empty store. When a man behind a nearby sales counter greeted me I was quick to confirm the snowshoeing class was occurring. “You’re having a class this evening, right?” I said looking over with a bit of uncertainty. Confirming that was the case, the responded with enthusiasm, “We sure are. It actually starts in a few minutes. You’re the only here so far, but that’s ok. We’ll have the class regardless.” Excited by the prospect of a one on one class, I stepped toward the counter and offered an anticipatory statement. In response, the man introduced himself as Adam before guiding me back near a wall of snowshoes. “Just hang here for a bit, and we’ll get started,” Adam said as he turned back toward the front of the store, “We’ll just wait a bit to see if anyone else shows up.”

As I waited for Adam to return, I looked over the towering wall of snowshoes in front of me. Laden with ratchets, features, and numbers that were universally foreign to me, the variety of snowshoes ranged in length, size, and form in ways that were surprising to me. In fact, it was hard not to feel overwhelmed by the information before me as I looked over the wall trying to decipher the function and meaning of the various components of each snowshoe. Just as I began to feel as though I was in over my head, Adam returned to my location with a big smile and clapped his hands together. “Alright, it looks like it’s just you and me! You ready to dive in?”

I get it... kind of.
Latching on to Adam’s enthusiasm, I shot him a quick confirmation I was ready to learn before we began the lesson. Over the better part of the next 30 minutes Adam walked me through the sizing, features, uses, and equipment on each variant of snowshoes offered by the store, sparing no detail in his breakdown of the equipment. His breadth of knowledge and experience on the matter were immediately apparent as he spoke. In only a matter of minutes Adam moved me from confused and somewhat overwhelmed to informed and confident in my ability to take on snowshoeing in the future. Although I likely could have figured out all of the information Adam relayed to me with some time and practice, Adam’s approach advanced my knowledge on snowshoeing immensely and it spared me the awkward, and potentially hazardous, effort of trying to learn through trial and error. As a result, I was prepared to select and try on a pair of snowshoes for the first time shortly after we began, and I was eager to take on the task.

Following Adam’s instruction, I hopped on a nearby scale the isolated the correct size of snowshoe by weight, which made perfect sense with a little afterthought. Once my size was determined, I grabbed a pair of the appropriate shoes from the wall and prepared them for my feet. Being careful to implement each step of Adam’s earlier walkthrough, I loosed each strap, lowered necessary brackets, and slipped my feet over the deck of the shoe. With a few tugs and locks, I rose to my feet and looked at Adam. “That’s it, man! You are strapped in and ready to snowshoe.” He said enthusiastically, “It’s that easy!” 


I glanced down at my feet with a smile in response to his enthusiasm and moved my feet back and forth in the bindings. To my surprise, there was no looseness in the shoes. They were attached as if they were a part of my feet, and they responded in kind. After confirming it was ok to walk around the store in the shoes, I began pacing in a small circle in front of the snowshoe wall. With each step I felt the metal teeth of the crampons fixed to the bottom of the snowshoe grip into the carpeted floor and displace my weight. Strangely, that action made me feel like I was on the ground but that my feet were suspended. I was in complete control of my movement, but I wasn’t quite on the ground. It was odd, but it was fantastic.

I took a little more time to walk around in the snowshoes before removing them and placing them back in their designated location. As I did so, Adam fielded a few of my questions on the process of snowshoeing the best shoes for a given terrain. With that, he recommended a few locations around the state that are great for the activity, which included several locations I had never visited before. Excited by the prospect of gaining my first experience snowshoeing, I hurriedly looked up information on my phone and jotted down notes as Adam spoke. It had taken less than an hour, but I was finally ready to pursue an experience I had been waiting to gain since I was a child.

As the class drew to a close, it became abundantly clear I finally had the knowledge and skills I needed to snowshoe for the first time. All that was left to do was to make time to gain my first experience with the sport. With a few months of winter remaining, I’m sure there will be plenty of opportunities to take on snowshoeing, but after tonight’s experience it will be hard to wait for the experience to come my way. The prospect of seeing the beauty of winter in a new way is calling me, and something tells me I would be wise to heed the invitation sooner than later.

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