This week, I returned back to the park after 2 weeks of vacation in Ontario to visit family and friends over the Christmas holidays. One of my goals in 2012 is to be more active and get into better shape. The Waterton-Glacier Relay is in June and I would really like to be fit enough to run this year. Not to mention, turkey dinner, too many holiday goodies and many variations on leftover turkey over the break has left me wanting to shed a few new pounds added. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing seem like a perfect way to change up my regular exercise routine I'm trying to get back into.
There isn't a lot of snow in the townsite right now, but out on all of the trails, there is a generous heaping of snow to keep winter adventurers content. A few days ago I hit the Cameron Lake ski trail with Geoff and our friends Brandon and Jane. We picked up some cross-country skis for rent over at the Waterton Lakes Lodge, loaded up the cars and drove up the winding and hilly road to the trailhead, a little more than an hour before dusk. (It's best to get there early: skiing has been very popular this winter, especially with families on holiday break over the last few weeks. There is a limited amount of the various ski and pole sizes available.)
Yesterday, Geoff and I rented snowshoes and ski poles at the Waterton Lakes Lodge and drove up Cameron Lake Road to the Dipper Trail where we snowshoed over towards the Little Prairie picnic area (which is where the Cameron Lake Trail begins.) We arrived about an hour before dusk, just before 4 pm and snowshoed until just after 5 pm when it got dark. I thought just for interest's sake I would compare the two experiences, if you're someone who doesn't have the time to do both activities and are trying to chose between them.
Both activities are great cardiovascular workouts. I calculated that in an hour of cross-country skiing I burned between 700-800 calories. An hour of snowshoeing estimates that about 520 calories are burned. (HealthStatus.com
has a calorie-burn calculator that tells you how many calories you burned in an activity based on your weight and activity duration.)
I find that the trail you pick also dictates how strenuous your activity is. Beginners: on Cameron Lake Trail, to ski you can glide along fairly smooth, with very little hills and bends in the road. On Dipper Trail, which novices Geoff and Brandon skied, they found it much more difficult as there are a lot of dips, bends and hills, a narrow bridge to cross over a ravine and trees surrounding you. While they both enjoy a challenge and would do it again, it is certainly a difficult trail to ski, especially to climb and descend hills: you can expect a lot more wipeouts. I'm sure you would also find the same thing to ski on an undesignated trail such as Crandell, since Dipper is one of the trails that Parks actually maintains in winter.
With snowshoes, it does take longer to get where you are going: strapping snowshoes onto the bottom of your boots adds a little bit of extra weight. Geoff and Brandon skied Dipper in under an hour, round trip. On snowshoes, it took Geoff and I an hour to make it about 1/2 to 3/4 of the way and turn back. Part of the reason we turned back was that it was getting dark, otherwise we would have finished, but we still had over an hour long trek. The nice thing is that hills are easy and I felt way more confident than I would have on skis, since the spikes on the bottom give you amazing traction. If you're looking to do a winter hike, snowshoes can give you the stability you need to climb through snow and areas of less traction. It is much harder to fall and land on your butt on snowshoes.
Skiing I found I warmed up much faster, generating a lot of body heat, so I took my gloves off and opened my jacket (I really wanted to take it off but had no place to put it!) We also brought a bottle of water with us that we worked up a little bit of a thirst for. Snowshoeing, I found I bundled up a bit more, since the pace was slower. I had wished I brought a scarf or something to cover my neck and my face, since my lips started to feel tingly.
I wouldn't recommend going out on an adventure too close to dusk either- -make sure you have adequate time to go out, enjoy yourself and be able to actually SEE what you're doing. When we skied to Cameron Lake, it was getting dark on the way back and hard to see tracks made in the snow. As you are making a sliding motion, it is much easier to fall! With snowshoes, you might not venture as far since it's a slower process, but if you were caught in the dark, you at least have the stability of your snowshoes to walk without bailing out as easily.
Both activities were great workouts that I thoroughly enjoyed. I would much rather be outside than in a gym any day! The nature and scenery make things so spectacular that you forget you're even exercising. Plus, when you're in a gym, you don't usually bring a camera or binoculars, since there isn't really anything amazing to look at, unless the guy/girl on the treadmill next to you is good looking- -but that would just be creepy and very wrong! In the woods, on the trails, out in nature, having a camera and watching for wildlife is perfectly acceptable and welcomed. Speaking of which, watch for the giant ram on Cameron Lake Road climbing the cliff face. He is there just about every day and also like to surprise motorists by jumping out in front of vehicles.
See you on the trails!