To Break, or Not to Break…Trail

Photo Credit: Morgan Hite

To Break, or Not to Break…Trail

👤Morgan Hite 🕔Dec 03, 2018

As snow falls and the holiday season approaches, do our hearts not turn to thoughts of  snowshoeing? Whether you are a neophyte or a seasoned guru, opportunities abound around Smithers.

The beginner asks, “Is snowshoeing like hiking?” It would be, if overnight precipitation could wipe a hiking trail right off the ground. It would be, if you could see on either side of you the tracks of all the animals that had passed by—even the wing prints of birds taking off and landing. It would be, if a change in the weather could fundamentally alter the experience of walking that trail.

And then there’s the other thing: snowshoe trails have to be broken.

“Breaking” trail is setting the first tracks in the fresh, undisturbed snow. It is hard, noble work. Depending on how deep and heavy the snow is, it may be very hard and truly noble. Although snowshoes are designed to “float” on top of the snowpack, the reality is that you sink down a lot, and every step forward while breaking trail may involve repeating, tamping down, and perfecting the hole you just made. One step forward, two steps in place.

But once you have broken the trail, it is much easier for the people following you. So it is an act of service, a calling of self-sacrifice, and a fine workout in the interest of the common good.

Remember to fantasize about all the others who will thank you silently as they follow your trail on future days. But should this go to your head, breaking trail is also good for reducing your ego, because each new snowstorm erases all your good work. It’s a metaphor for...something. In the forest on the edge of Smithers sit the mountain bike trails of the Bluff. The local mountain bike association will set a few of these trails with a groomer for use by fat-tire bikes through the winter, but snowshoers commonly break the other trails. Remember that cyclists have right-of-way on the groomed trails.

The popular summer trail to Malkow Lookout works equally well in winter. Be sure dogs are on-leash for the first section of the trail until you pass the first gate and enter the woods.

Up at the Prairie Village (the cabins around the t-bar at our downhill ski area) the route to Miller’s Gulch keeps you in the trees (good for windy weather) as it traverses west without much climbing. The route to Crater Lake, by contrast, is quite exposed and more suited to the advanced and confident snowshoer. Be sure to carry a compass and know how to use it in a whiteout. There can be a lot of wind up here, so dress appropriately and expect to find the snow wind-sculpted or crusty.

The Canyon Creek ski trails on Babine Lake Road are excellent for snowshoers. There is a wide variety of trails here: level, steep, long, and short. Some are groomed for skiers, and on these snowshoers should stay to the edge. (In general, etiquette prescribes that one avoid snowshoeing over a ski track someone else has put in.)

Note that just a little further on Babine Lake Road Billabong will be ploughing a parking pullout at the Beaver Meadow bridge. Advanced snowshoers may want to explore west from here into the Canyon Creek headwaters. But this area has significant winter hazards, including deep snow wells, avalanche potential, and getting lost if you carry no map.

Finally, a word about the hazards. Winter travel means you have less of a safety margin at all times. Make sure you’ve got the right gear, and are dressed in layers so you can remain in the zone where you are neither sweating nor chilled. Don’t go farther afield than you are comfortable with. And watch out for tree wells: it’s easy to fall in, hard to climb out.

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CUTTING CHRISTMAS TREES ON CROWN LAND If you are of the Christmas persuasion, you may want to employ your snowshoeing abilities to retrieve a tree from Crown Land. The actual rules for gathering Christmas trees on Crown land, whether you chose to follow them or not, are:

Search “christmas tree permits” on the BC government website and print out the form for your resource district. (Smithers and Hazelton, for example, are Skeena-Stikine; Houston is Nadina; Prince Rupert and Terrace are Coast  Mountains). On some of them you need to fill in the blanks and sign. Carry it with you when you cut your tree. It’s free. Pay attention to the restrictions about where you can cut, e.g., not in parks or tree plantations.