Get outside and snowshoe for your heart’s sake |

Get outside and snowshoe for your heart’s sake

Wendy Lautner
For the Nevada Appeal
XC-StridingSuperBoomer - Betsy and George Bechtel of Palo Alto enjoy striding at Tahoe Donner Cross Country whenever they can. Especially because Geoge (in his 70s) gets a free ticket!

Your heart is the most important muscle in your body. But according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 25 percent of people over the age of 35 will experience a heart attack or be diagnosed with heart disease.

That’s a grim statistic, but there’s also a bright side. You can strengthen your heart and improve your cardiovascular health with as little as 30 minutes of aerobic activity per day.

That’s a good reason to enjoy a little aerobic exercise in the great outdoors.


For Incline Village husband and wife Julie Page, 53, and Steve Balog, 64, snowshoeing is just the ticket for winter exercise and outdoor enjoyment.

“It’s a tremendous amount of fun and lots of exercise,” says Page.

In January, Page and Balog participated in National Winter Trails Day, a free event on Lake Tahoe’s North Shore sponsored by the Tahoe Rim Trail Association and U.S. Forest Service. The couple started snowshoeing about five years ago .

“I think it feels like more exercise than just walking and if you don’t like to downhill ski and cross country skiing isn’t for you, snowshoeing is the way to go,” Page says.

Because of the added resistance, snowshoeing generally burns more than three times as many calories as walking. Plus, its low-impact nature is good for folks who have had injuries.

“Last year I broke my leg downhill skiing,” Page says. “I haven’t gotten back on skis yet, but to me, snowshoeing is less risky, you still get great exercise, you’re outdoors with other people, plus it’s less expensive and you don’t have to deal with the crowds at resorts.”

Getting started – what you’ll need: “Snowshoeing is like golf,” Forest Ranger Steve Hale says. “Anybody can do it.”

As far as gear, you’ll need snowshoes, which cost $150to $250 to buy or $15 per day to rent, winter boots and clothing, and poles (optional).

Other investments that can keep you safe in changeable winter environments (if used properly) are a handheld GPS and compass so that you can find your way back to your starting point if you become disoriented or get caught in a whiteout.

Nordic skiing

One of the best forms of cardiovascular exercise is Nordic skiing because it uses large muscle groups in both the upper and lower body. This increases the peripheral resistance on the heart, which helps strengthen the heart muscle and decreases blood pressure.

In addition, Nordic skiing is an excellent exercise for folks with weak joints or previous injuries because it is very low-impact. Unlike jarring sports like running or even walking, Nordic skiing allows the skier to glide over the snow.

Under the umbrella of Nordic there are two primary techniques – classic and skating. In the classic technique skis are kept in a parallel position, while in the skating technique the feet are angled into a V-shape, toes pointed out.

For the classic technique, skiers use a groomed track or forge off-piste into untracked snow. For skating, a groomed track (or exceptionally firm snow) is mandatory to achieve glide.

Truckee resident Elyah Gordon coaches Nordic skiing and teaches masters’ clinics. He says he sees a good number of master skiers get into Nordic skiing – skating and striding – because their bodies are “all beat up” from other sports.

“It’s a sport that you don’t have to give up because your joints are getting older,” he says. “And it’s low impact enough that it probably promotes articular cartilage growth and strengthens the muscles and tendons. It’s a lifetime sport.”

Getting started – what you need: Because both techniques – classic and skating – require a complete balance transfer from one ski to the other, beginners should take a lesson.

Next, you’ll need equipment – boots, skis and poles. Boots (starting around $180) are the most important part.

When purchasing skis keep in mind that classic skis are slightly longer and can be slightly wider than skate skis. In addition, classic skis come in waxable or waxless styles.

Poles are the final component to a basic Nordic setup. A well-fit classic pole will sit “firm in the armpit,” Lindsay says, while a skate pole should be between the chin and lip. Carbon fiber poles are the lightest on the market, but a good aluminum pole is ideal for beginners because it’s sturdy and inexpensive (starting at around $50).