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The Snowshoe Shuffle

The long, cold Japanese winter can seem a little daunting if you’re not an alpine person. Skiing and snowboarding certainly look exhilarating, but they take time and money to master. If you want to enjoy Japan’s winter wonderland without paying (or breaking) an arm and a leg, give snowshoeing a try.

Snowshoes offer you the opportunity to explore. They allow you to walk (or run if you like) in very deep snow without “post holing” (the technical term for sinking deep in snow, then expending a great deal of energy trying to get out). Walking in snowshoes is relatively easy too, requiring less skill and practice than cross-country skiing.

Although literally as easy as putting one foot in front of the other, there are a few tips that can help you snowshoe more smoothly:

1. Try not to turn, or pivot, once your foot is planted. This puts more wear on the bindings of your snowshoes and increases the chance of breakage, loss of balance or twisted knees.

2. When going up a steep slope, “kick-step” in before putting weight on your forward foot to avoid backsliding.

3. When traversing, try sidestepping foot over foot with your toes pointed uphill rather than across the slope. This will help prevent you from falling over.

4: Take big, bounding steps downhill in deep powder. Not only is it a blast, but also it looks cool too!

Of course when you go out in the snow you want to be wearing gear to keep you warm and dry. There are a few extras however that you’ll find handy specifically for snowshoes:

1. “Gaiters” cover the tops of your boots (up to your knees) to keep snow out. A good pair of breathable gore-tex gaiters will set you back about ¥3,000.

2. Ski poles can help aid balance

3. A small collapsible avalanche shovel, for the hardcore wishing to go off-trail.

Snowshoes are available for rent at many outdoor goods shops. Expect to pay about ¥2,500 for a two-day rental. Alpine accommodation often provides rentals for guests. Keep in mind your snowshoe size depends not only on your foot size, but also on your height and weight (including your load). These days snowshoe bindings will accept most hiking or snow boots.

If you’d like your own pair of snowshoes, most outdoor shops sell them. Prices range from ¥14,000 to ¥40,000 depending on style. Some are made for backcountry skiing/boarding while others are better for trekking. Check out the list of shops on Outdoor Japan Online (www.outdoorjapan.com).

Snowshoeing information and tips kindly provided by long-term Kyoto resident and alpine enthusiast Mike Barr. Mike operates Harachi Guesthouse, an hour and a half north of Kyoto City by bus. You can enjoy snowshoeing here on a number of routes he has marked. For details visit www.suisenkyo.com.

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