by Tom Loughery, Guide, The Jim Thorpe eXperience, 484.225.1209
Surrounded by mountains, a river, streams and a lake, the town of Jim Thorpe is a great base from which to adventure into the beauty of nature year round. While it is famous for its Fall Foliage, Summer activities and Spring whitewater, it is Winter – the White Season – that offers residents and visitors a chance to get out and see the area in a totally different light.
Once there is about 8 inches of snow on the ground, you have the opportunity to find this new perspective by strapping on a pair of snowshoes and hiking wherever you want to go. Whether you rent them from a local outfitter, take a tour with a guide service, or buy your own set, snowshoes are a ticket to the backcountry like no other.
These seemingly clumsy contraptions that you strap onto your boots are a way to see areas that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to visit. In Spring, Summer and Fall, we are somewhat confined to using trails through the woods to get out into nature – in many areas, weeds, saplings, underbrush and rocky terrain make it hard to navigate anywhere else, and leaves on low-hanging branches block your way and your view.
In Winter, however, with many weeds and shoots having died, and the lower brushy plants in ‘hibernation mode’, accumulations of 8 or more inches of snow will effectively cover most of these impediments, making it possible to snowshoe right over the top of it all, and the leaves are gone from branches which lets you navigate and see much more easily.
The more snow that piles up, the bigger of obstacles can be overcome – many you will not even know are underneath the beautiful white blanket. Of course, some you will feel as your snowshoes sink into the softness – you don’t actually get the ‘walk on water’ phenomena, your weight will make you partially sink – but whatever you feel underneath will affect you much less than if you were walking over it in any other season.
Properly-sized snowshoes will allow you to stay on top of part of the snow, not sinking down all the way to the ground, and making it easier to hike. If you did not have them, you’d be ‘post-holing’ with your boots – each step would sink to the ground and you’d have to high-step out of the hole to move ahead… a lot of work!
Snowshoes spread out your weight across a larger area, compressing snow which helps you float above the ground. The more snow you’re in, the higher you float, but don’t think that it’s all that easy – you still get a good workout. To get even more cardio, you can try running across open areas – that’s fun!
It can be a bit challenging to keep the big metal frames from clanking into each other as you dash across the white fluffiness, but if you trip and fall down, so what….it’s into soft snow! Other ways to challenge your abilities include going up and down hills, navigating through snowdrifts, and ‘side-hilling’ across increasingly steep areas. There are techniques for all of these; learning them is part of the fun of the sport.
Getting out into nature atop the snow will allow you to visit many areas that you have seen other times, but see them in a new light. With no leaves on trees, no weeds or crops in the fields, and a background of pure white, everything is different.
And quiet….. get out to many areas in the woods and it’s so very peaceful. Strangely comforting: although mostly lifeless, the Winter woods offer a feeling of solitude that you just can’t get in any other season.
And really the woods are not lifeless: look closely and you’ll see signs of animals continuing their lives regardless of the immense inconvenience that snow means to them. You’ll see deer tracks and sometimes areas where they forage under the snow for plant life, you’ll see rabbit and other small animal tracks, plus holes and tunnels where even smaller animals are navigating through the snow to keep themselves going.
If you’re observant enough (and a bit lucky), you may see deer or rabbits moving across the snow – when there are no leaves and a white background, you can see much farther than normal (another bonus of getting out in the Winter). Not so many birds are around in the winter, but the ones you do see will bring unexpected feelings of connectedness – as if you are sharing the otherwise desolate woods with each other.
Seeing other animals gives the same feeling, almost as if we’re all out there together; except that they’re not used to seeing us there – they’re scared – and will surely get away as fast as possible, which sometimes makes for a memorable Winter image: wild animals bounding through the deep snow.
When you put all these things together: getting into nature; seeing things in a different season; trying more and more challenges; getting some exercise and going places usually not available; you can understand why snowshoeing is a great Winter activity. Around Jim Thorpe, there are several great areas to practice this fun sport, at the top of the mountains, at the bottom of the valleys between them, and even on (and off) several mountainside trails.
The town itself offers resources for the sport: rentals are available from a couple different outfitters; guided tours are also available. Going out by yourself is great fun, yet going with a guide can help you get better at it quicker because you will receive basic instruction and more advanced tips as you go. Guides will also ensure you visit the best places around the area – the best conditions and maybe even some historic highlights, plus you’ll be able to ask questions and learn some local color.
For more info on snowshoeing around Jim Thorpe, the following websites offer information and resources: www.theJTX.com (guide service w/equipment) and www.bikejimthorpe.com (Blue Mtn Sports- rentals). Hope to see you out there soon!