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Dos and don'ts of snowshoeing: staying safe on the trails

Compared to downhill skiing and the snowboard halfpipe, snowshoeing might seem fairly tame. But in the winter months, search and rescue teams respond to more calls about snowshoers than avalanches.

Family Day was North Shore Rescue's busiest day as half of the rescues were for snowshoers

"It’s kind of hard to get used to but I’m all good now, peachy keen," says Julia Ouroumis, left. She was out snowshoeing for the first time. (Christer Waara/CBC)

Compared to downhill skiing and the snowboard halfpipe, snowshoeing might seem fairly tame.

But in the winter months, search and rescue teams respond to more calls about snowshoers than to avalanches.

Last Monday, Family Day in B.C., was North Shore Rescue's busiest day as half of the rescues they undertook were to respond to snowshoers.

Julia Ouroumis, snowshoeing for the first time on Cypress Mountain, said it's more difficult that she expected.

She fell a couple of times while adjusting to the large, studded shoes.

"It's kind of hard to get used to," she said. "Uphill is way harder. Going down is like sliding, it's so fun."

Snowshoeing is popular in part because of the lower cost compared to other winter sports, such as skiing or snowboarding. Along with snowshoes, participants just need boots with a good grip, warm clothes and a good trail. (Christer Waara/CBC)

Slippin' and slidin'

Michael Coyle, who works with Coquitlam Search and Rescue, said most injuries occur going downhill.

"We call that glissading in mountaineering, whether you are sliding on your butt or you are sliding on your feet, sort of boot skiing," he said.

"It's a lot of fun but, depending on the conditions, if you can't stop or if there is unsuitable terrain below, it leads to a lot of accidents."

Paul Dylla has been snowshoeing since he was about 12 years old. (Christer Waara/CBC)

Coyle once dealt with a rescue case where a snowshoer died after sliding out of control through trees, he told CBC's Jake Costello.

In very steep conditions, Coyle suggested turning around to face the mountain and climbing backwards downhill for better control.

For tips on snowshoeing, watch the video below:

Here are some ways to stay safe this winter. 1:39

Safety on the mountains

Snowshoeing doesn't have to be dangerous, though.

Paul Dylla, who's been snowshoeing for several decades, has never had an accident and said most of the people he comes across snowshoe responsibly.

CBC's Jake Costello went for a winter walk with hiking expert Stephen Hui to learn how to snowshoe safely. (Christer Waara/CBC)

"I always either snowshoe on groomed trails or make sure that the trails we are on are safe," Dylla said.

Like everything else on a mountain, safety comes down to two things: being prepared, and respecting other people out there.

Top tips

Stephen Hui, hiking expert and author of soon-to-be-released 105 Hikes In and Around Southwestern British Columbia, offered some tips on the dos and don'ts of snowshoeing:

  • Don't tie the snowshoes too tight.
  • Check the latest avalanche forecast before heading out.
  • Avoid tree wells, under the base of a tree, which can be covered in loose snow and into which you can easily fall.
  • Stick to to the middle of the path.
  • Be cautious about speed and check for obstacles, like rocks or trees, before glissading.
  • Going down steep sections, put the weight on your heels so the back of the snowshoe bites into the snow, but avoid falling backwards.
  • Practice proper outdoor bathroom etiquette — don't litter on the trails.
  • Know what time the sun sets.
  • Use adequate gear: wool socks, gaiters and microspikes if necessary. 
  • Carry the 10 essentials for survival.
CBC's Jake Costello went for a winter walk with hiking expert Stephen Hui to learn about how to snowshoe safely. 8:21

With files from Jake Costello and The Early Edition.