Squamish is the outdoor recreation capital of Canada. So it’s no surprise that the outdoorsy fun continues in the winter… in the form of snowshoeing.
Snowshoeing in BC is no joke. While these trails may be steps from a busy highway, they access serious wilderness. Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back. Check out the great trip planning tools over at Adventure Smart. Keep in mind that snowshoeing is tougher than hiking and it will take you longer to snowshoe a trail than to hike it. Plan to start early so you don’t get caught out in the dark.
Snow conditions and the weather can play a big factor in the success of your snowshoeing trip. Be sure to check trail conditions online before you go. You should also check the avalanche forecast for the Sea to Sky zone. Unless you have taken an avalanche safety course, you probably shouldn’t go out unless the forecast is rated “Low” or “Moderate”.
Make sure you wear proper winter clothing and footwear. Check out my post about what to wear snowshoeing to get you started. I’ve also got a post with tips for winter hiking and snowshoeing that will give you a good overview of what to safety gear to pack and how to stay warm. I always pack a headlamp on flashlight on every snowshoe trip in case I get stuck coming back in the dark.
Snowshoes give your feet more surface area to spread out your weight so you don’t sink into the snow. They also have crampons and other traction aids underfoot to help grip icy snow. But snowshoes are not the best gear for walking sideways or downhill. The platform part of the snowshoe gets in the way and the crampons under the snow can’t bite into the snow properly. When it’s icy, snowshoers are prone to slipping and injuring themselves in these types of scenarios. Michael Coyle, a Search and Rescue Manager, has a great article explaining snowshoe slip and fall accidents called “How to Kill Yourself Snowshoeing“. It’s a great read for any snowshoer, both beginners and experienced.
If you encounter a steep slope (one that looks steep enough to ski on or slide a toboggan down) and it’s very icy, it’s probably not a good idea to tackle it in snowshoes. Consider taking off your snowshoes on these kinds of slopes when descending or sidehilling. I pack a pair of microspikes (mini crampons) to wear on steep and icy slopes. If you don’t have crampons, you can also kick steps into the slope with your boots. I also bring poles that I can use for balance and to help anchor me to the slope. For more info on safe snowshoe travel in steep terrain, read Michael Coyle’s other excellent article “How NOT to Kill Yourself Snowshoeing“.
Unless you plan to only snowshoe on super easy beginner trails that are totally flat, you should take an Avalanche Safety Course. The courses aren’t that expensive (usually $200-$300) for a 2.5 day course and could save your life. They teach you how to look at terrain and “read” it for potential hazards. After I took my Avalanche Skills Training 1 course (AST1) it totally changed the way I look at the mountains. If you aren’t ready to take the plunge and sign up for a field course, there’s a great FREE online beginner tutorial on Avalanche.ca.
Snowshoeing has exploded in popularity recently and it seems like you can find snowshoes for sale everywhere from big box retailers to outdoor stores. If you’re looking for advice on how to choose snowshoes, check out this great article from MEC. Unless you plan to stick to trails rated easy, you should choose backcountry snowshoes with good grip underfoot. Don’t trust the cheap snowshoes at big box stores: they don’t have good traction and they can fall apart on the trail leaving you stranded. Go to a good outdoor store (like MEC in North Vancouver or Valhalla Pure in Squamish) and buy quality snowshoes there. My favourite brand of snowshoes is MSR since they are designed in Seattle and work well for our climate and conditions. The least expensive backcountry snowshoes you can buy are the MSR Evos, which I wore for years. If you want something a bit fancier, I recommend the MSR Lightning Ascents.
If you want to try snowshoeing before you buy, lots of places in Vancouver and Squamish rent snowshoes. Sunny weekends and holidays can be really busy for rentals, so try to reserve a pair ahead of time if possible. (Note that prices below are current as of December 2017.)
The Escape Route in the Garibaldi Highlands area of Squamish rents snowshoes for $15/day. They only rent Atlas snowshoes that have a tubular frame so they don’t provide the best grip for really steep trails.
Urban Alpine, also in Garibaldi Highlands rents snowshoes but they don’t have prices listed on their website and they don’t take reservations.
The Sea to Sky Gondola rents snowshoes for $20/day from a kiosk next to the fire pit. While it’s not the cheapest option, it may be the most convenient if you plan to snowshoe above the gondola.
Do you know of other places in Squamish that rent snowshoes? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add them.
Squamish is an easy 1 hour drive from Vancouver via highway 99. It’s a mountain road so in the winter you need snow tires and maybe chains. You can definitely make a day trip to Squamish, but since there are so many good snowshoe trails in the area, it’s a fun place to spend a weekend. I spent a great winter weekend at Sunwolf Cabins in Brackendale. There are lots of hotels and condos in town, plus cute cabins you can book on AirBnb.
Source: Happiest Outdoors
Eat, sleep, camp, repeat. It’s time to start plotting some awesome adventures for 2019. If you’re outdoorsy then you’re going to want to get a heads start on making campground reservations.
The province has a plethora of pristine provincial parks and places to set up camp for a relaxing retreat with the best backdrop imaginable.