Remember how bicycling saw a huge uptick over the summer? Meet its winter counterpart.
The US National Snowshoe Championships may have been canceled in 2021 (and awarded to Eau Claire, Wis., in 2022), but the sport is enjoying a pandemic-fueled popularity that has some northern destinations leveraging its popularity.
Michigan, for example, offers more than 3,000 miles of snowshoeing and cross country skiing trails. “We’re not the Rockies, but we do offer some really cool experiences that are practically in your backyard,” Travel Michigan Executive Director Dave Lorenz said in a recent interview with MLive.com. “You can do it. You can do it safely, and the conditions are beautiful. We need to think about supporting our industries more than ever this year.”
Lorenz noted that a new ad campaign promoting Michigan as a winter playground is intended to kickstart the state’s tourism economy, which has been buried by COVID-19. The campaign targets such in-state markets as Detroit, Fort Wayne, Flint, Grand Rapids and Traverse City, as well as Minneapolis; Toledo, Ohio; and Green Bay, Wis.
As Front Office Sports reported, “[s]nowshoeing is shaping up to be the hot outdoor activity this winter, much like bicycling was in the spring.” The website noted that snowshoe sales in 2020 climbed more than 250 percent year over year between August and October. According to data from The NPD Group, that’s more than all backcountry equipment sales combined during that timeframe.
This suggests the sport is building on increased interest from the 2019-20 season, when snowshoe participation grew more than 12 percent to 3.6 million participants, according to market research firm Snow Sports Insights.
“Cross country skiing and snowshoeing are far more accessible than downhill skiing for most participants,” wrote SSI’s Kelly Davis. “Skiers and snowshoers participate at many different locations including cross country ski areas that offer miles of groomed trails, groomed municipal properties, golf courses, parks, frozen lakes, and even on snow-covered roads and sidewalks in their neighborhoods. In fact, many participants can find trails within a few miles of their home. … Snowshoeing may be more difficult than walking but most people can start snowshoeing within minutes of strapping on their snowshoes. As an added bonus, many areas that cater to cross country skiers and snowshoers offer fine food and craft beverages.”
No wonder REI’s snowshoe sales are up fourfold, according to Front Office Sports, which added that “[t]he outdoor retailer’s adult snowshoes range in price from about $160 to $300, while a children’s pair starts at $40.”
Sales of snowshoes and other “non-lift-assisted” activities are “on fire,” Bruce Madigan, owner of Alpenglow Sports in Tahoe City, Calif., told The New York Times, adding that “human-powered sports” don’t require clustering in resorts.
Stephen Schreader of Midwest Mountaineering, an outdoor sports store in Minneapolis, told a similar story to Fox9in the Twin Cities. “We were getting calls for snowshoes back in [the] end of September into the first part of October, and we can’t keep them in stock,” he said. “I look forward four to five years, when hopefully this pandemic is over with and done. I still think you’re going to see people kayaking, skiing, snowshoeing.”
“Stepping into winter, snowshoe sales in particular are interesting to me as the exploding growth there points to consumers investing in new ways to get outside during these socially distant times,” Dirk Sorenson, executive director and industry analyst of The NPD Group, said in a statement late last year.
Indeed, snowshoeing gained considerable traction last spring, especially among young people who embraced it as a socially distant sport. “Parents were home-schooling their children who didn’t have P.E. or sports teams or clubs or rec centers,” Therese Dayton, program manager for the Breckenridge Nordic & Snowshoe Adventure Center, which boasts more than 12 miles of snowshoe trails in northwest Colorado’s White River National Forest, told The New York Times. “We were wiped out of any children’s equipment by May.”
Snowshoes, which attach to standard winter boots, “have come a long way from the heavy wood-and-rawhide vintage pairs often hanging on ski lodge walls,” the newspaper noted. “Aluminum snowshoes are lighter and have been adapted to all kinds of conditions and activities, including racing, which requires core strength as well as flexibility to handle the conditions.”
That said, Mark Elmore, sports director for the United States Snowshoe Association, which organizes the US National Snowshoe Championships and other events, says the sport remains misunderstood.
“We’re still dealing with a little bit of a stigma,” he told The Times, adding that some people still liken snowshoeing to putting “tennis rackets” on their feet. Association-sanctioned races attract cross-training runners, ultramarathoners, cyclists, cross country skiers and triathletes, as well as snowshoe specialists, Elmore added. And it's looking like another winter sport is also making gains: cross country skiing.