(HOST)One of the newest sports in Vermont isn’t really that new at all. Here’s commentator Tom Slayton with a different way of thinking about winter.
(SLAYTON) I used to think of hiking as a summertime thing. Once the weather turned snowy, hiking season was over, as far as I was concerned, and I got out my skis.
Now, not only are my perceptions about winter hiking changing — the sport is changing, too. In short, it’s becoming much more popular.
New, modern snowshoes, better winter clothing, and, most important of all, changing perceptions about what’s possible —
and what’s fun — have created a real boom in winter hiking and mountain-climbing. For many years only the occasional very brave, very hardy — or very foolhardy climbers went out to ply their sport in the frosty months. Now the hiking trails up many Vermont mountains are packed throughout the winter. There
are lots of people climbing mountains on snowshoes.
Part of the reason is the evolution of better snowshoes, more suited to mountain-climbing. Years ago (on my once-a-year February climb with friends up Mount Hunger), I used wooden snowshoes and clambered up the really steep places by jam-
ming my boot toes into the crust. Gradually, snowshoes evolved into lightweight aluminum-and-nylon items that made the simple act of putting one foot in front of another uphill easier. Then little aluminum claws appeared under the bindings, where the boot meets the snowshoe, and gradually the little claws got longer
and turned into mini-crampons. That made it easier to walk up
the steep places.
The new snowshoes have made the winter mountains so acces-
sible that it’s actually pretty easy now for the unwary to get into trouble! Vermont’s mountains are modest in size and inviting.
But in winter they are no joke.
Trails are often harder to find and harder to navigate in the winter, and mountain weather can be dangerous.
I learned that fact the hard way a couple of years ago, when some friends and I climbed Camel’s Hump on a sunny, sub-zero January day. We did fine until we got above tree line, where we were hit with a howling wind that must have driven the wind-chill factor to fifty below or more. Only one of our party summited, and it wasn’t me. After getting to the top of the bare summit ridge, I turned around with a frostnipped ear and cheek — and a new respect
for Camel’s Hump.
In fact, while the winter world is alluring and beautiful, safety should always be the first concern of any winter hiker. A new
book from the Green Mountain Club, “Snowshoeing in Vermont,” is a guide both to the best winter hikes our state has to offer and to the necessary practices everyone who ventures into the mountains in winter should know and follow.
Snowshoes — most likely a Native American invention — have been transformed by modern technology, just as snowshoeing has been transformed by winter athletes determined to stay in the mountains throughout the year.
But the real transformation awaits anyone who discovers what snowy mountain trails have to offer — and learns a new way of beating winter at its own game!
Tom Slayton is the editor of Vermont Life magazine. He spoke from our studio in Montpelier.