SnowshoeingIt’s time for the fresh, chilly air and peaceful scenery offered by winter sports. If you’re looking for a way to improve balance and spatial awareness, and to get exercise at a level that you can set for yourself, consider adaptive snowshoeing this season.

Snowshoeing is the “quiet” snow sport, according to Tom Iselin, Executive Director of Sun Valley Adaptive Sports in Ketchum, Idaho. “It allows you to experience the stillness of the backcountry,” he said. “No lift lines. No screaming kids… You hear the crunch of the snow and feel the wind in your face. Time seems to slow.”

The light aluminum snowshoe, with criss-crossed thongs, sometimes can look like a racquet that you strap to the bottom of your shoes. “Walking in snowshoes is almost as easy as walking regularly – it’s just that your shoes are the size of Shaq’s,” Iselin said. The snowshoes’ size distributes your weight over a larger area so that your foot won’t sink completely into the snow.

Walking through the snow can be relatively easy or quite difficult, depending on the slope of the terrain and the type of snow on the ground. Because the sport does require walking, adaptive snowshoeing is best suited for people with disabilities who are ambulatory, such as people with traumatic brain injuries, amputations or hemiplegia.

“Basically, if you can walk, you can snowshoe,” Iselin said, adding that it’s a good idea to use Alpine ski poles at all times to help with balance and posture.

If the snow is firm and the ground is flat, a prosthetic leg used to walk on flat surfaces will suffice. Upright walking aids and devices used for balance can also be adapted for snow.

“Walking down steep – even medium – pitch slopes in soft, deep snow can be tricky. You may punch into a soft ‘hole,’ a shoe may turn and burrow to one side, or the toe of the shoe can dig in,” Iselin cautioned. “Any of these mishaps can cause a fall or muscle strain.”

Walking downhill in heavy, wet snow is also tricky. “The shoes can stick as the heavy snow piles on top,” he said. That could make walking difficult, to the point of stumbling. If the snow is deep and the slope is steep, a prosthetic foot with a multiaxial ankle or one made especially for uneven terrain works well.

Iselin advised, “The secret to walking downhill in either deep, powdery snow or heavy, wet snow is to walk slowly and deliberately. Take medium-length steps, keeping your back fairly erect, and planting your poles out to the front and slightly to the side for balance.”

He said, “The most important thing is to keep your pace under control.”

Always snowshoe with a partner. Anytime a person is out in the snow, there are dangers. Falling upside down in a few feet of powder can be fatal. While snowshoes are fun, they can be awkward and could get tangled up if you fall head over heels.

“Even getting up after falling on your side can be a little challenging until you get the hang of it,” he said.

There are many things to learn and enjoy in snowshoeing programs around the country. In the Sun Valley Adaptive Sports (www.svasp.org) program, participants learn the different types of snowshoes, types of snow and slope conditions, avalanche awareness, walking techniques, and the facts on hypothermia, nutrition, hydration, and balance. Iselin said, “We even teach you how to make the perfect cup of hot chocolate!”

Whether you want to take it easy on flat ground and firm snow, or go for a bigger workout on a steep slope with fresh powdered snow, consider the tranquil sport of snowshoeing this winter. Many DS/USA chapters offer instruction and equipment including: