After being told that mastering the skill of snowshoeing is a six-step process, a novice might be forgiven for being discouraged.
But don't be so quick to panic, said Dana Garry, a snowshoe instructor and trail hike guide at the Black Hills Trails Office.
“It’s true that it is said that learning to snowshoe is a six-step program: Put them on, take six steps and by the sixth step, you are a pro," he said. "Actually, getting the snowshoes on is usually the hardest part because, basically, if you can walk, you can snowshoe.
"Anybody can do it: all ages, all weights, all exercise abilities; anybody can enjoy snowshoeing," he said. "I’ve taught kids as young as 2 and adults as old as 80.”
While a quick and easy learning curve is appealing, snowshoeing also provides an excellent, low-impact, aerobic exercise, and one that can be done while exploring areas of the Black Hills that aren't easily accessible, even in warmer weather.
“It definitely allows people to explore terrain they wouldn’t normally visit in the summer,” said Jesse Hansen, owner of Rushmore Mountain Sports in Spearfish, who sees snowshoeing as a great family activity.
“For people who want to get out in the winter and don’t want the hassle of cross-country skiing, snowshoeing is perfect. You can just pop them on and go,” he said.
Even more appealing is the relatively low cost of the sport. A pair of serviceable snowshoes will cost about $130; if you're looking for all the bells whistles, you may pay up to $300.
And for those seeking an even more inexpensive introduction to the sport, a free option exists, said Julie Brazell, South Dakota GF&P naturalist at Custer State Park.
“People can borrow snowshoes from us any time,” Brazell said. “We don’t charge anything for their use, and we have a variety of sizes for both children and adults. That’s probably one of the attractions of the snowshoe hikes we feature. (The next one is Feb. 16 along Lover’s Leap Trail.) It doesn’t cost anything, and when people find it’s very easy to do, people who normally wouldn’t get out in the winter are much more inclined to get out and enjoy our park.”
Snowshoes also may be rented at most ski resorts, and outdoor sporting goods stores sometimes rent as well as sell snowshoes.
Brazell is quick to emphasize that while a few adaptations to the normal walking gait are necessary in snowshoeing—lifting the leg a little higher and taking slightly wider steps—the smaller-sized snowshoes worn by kids allow the movement to be more easily done, making it more fun.
“Kids are often more excited about snowshoeing than adults,” Brazell said. “Snowshoes go by both the weight and the size of the person, and our kids' snowshoes are small enough so that they don’t get cumbersome for the younger kids, and so they try to find the biggest snow bank when they have them on.”