A Beginner’s Guide to Winter Gear: Snowshoes & Skis
This year more than ever, Minnesotans are heading outside to enjoy winter activities. From snowshoeing to cross country skiing to ice skating, people are looking for the right gear to enjoy winter.
With many doing these activities for the first time, I started to receive questions on winter gear and since I have limited knowledge, I went to SCHEELS Eden Prairie to get the best tips. Ryan, a complete expert who works in the winter gear department, shared his wealth of knowledge which I summarize below – if I don’t cover your questions below, definitely stop in to see him!
Since the most popular activities are snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and skiing, those are the 3 winter gear categories I cover below to help get you started!
One of the best ways to enjoy winter is snowshoeing! It’s easy to strap on a pair of snowshoes and go hiking through fresh powder and snow-covered pine trees. Depending on the type of hiking or walking you want to do, there are two different types of snowshoes to consider:
1. Tubular Snowshoes – perfect for floatation on soft, fluffy snow
Tubular snowshoes are typically made from aluminum and have piping to help keep you afloat on the freshest snow. Since we tend to get a lot of snow in Minnesota, this is a great option.
2. Composite Snowshoes – perfect for icy, packed trail walking
Plastic composite snowshoes are much better for trail walking that may be icy and slippery since they’ll keep you more stable. There are spikes underfoot and they often have ankle support too.
Once you know the type of snowshoe you’d like, you’ll either rent or buy the size according to your weight. Various brands have different weight/size guidelines so make sure to follow the specific brand’s guidance!
You’ll wear your own boots for snowshoeing so make sure to have a waterproof pair as they’ll get wet. Wearing gaiters can help keep snow out too.
Snowshoes range in price with the more expensive pairs being lighter and more versatile with increased binding systems and likely will come with more accessories (e.g. poles). Speaking of, poles help keep you steady like a tripod when you’re walking – you can find them reasonably priced or else rent them along with the snowshoes.
Pro tip: When you snowshoe in fluffier snow, poles that have the little baskets on them help keep the poles afloat!
If you haven’t gone before, definitely rent first to make sure you enjoy it and try both composite and tubular snowshoes in various conditions.
Cross Country Skiing
Cross-country skiing is an awesome way to workout and enjoy winter. Slightly more complicated than snowshoeing but still very doable! There are two main types:
More leisurely and the most popular option, an excellent way to enjoy winter! If you are new to cross-country skiing, this is the way you want to start!
Best for a higher endurance workout. If you are newer to cross-country skiing, this would be a harder option so you’d likely want to take a lesson first. The motion with skate skiing is more outward pushes versus straight, so it’s a great leg workout.
Once you decide which type of skiing you’d like to do, there are a few main options for what the bottom of the ski is like for the best gliding experience. If you’re renting, you can absolutely skip this section!
If you’re interested though, or looking to buy, you’ll want to be aware of the 3 main types of ski bottoms:
- Wax: The bottoms of these skis are smooth so you’ll have to wax the ski to help create some friction for the skiing motion. The wax will vary depending on outdoor temperature
- Waxless: Fish Scales – this is a special pattern on the bottom of the ski to help create some friction in the kickzone.
- Waxless: Skin – instead of fish scales, this version has mohair. It’s the more expensive option compared to Fish Scales but is more efficient. The mohair on the bottom will need to be replaced every 2-3 seasons.
- Similar to snowshoeing, the rider’s weight is the best way to size skis. From there, cross-country skiing requires special boots. The toes of the boot clip into the skis and are binding – meaning the skis won’t release if you fall (like a downhill ski would). This helps keep it secure when you’re gliding since the heal does not clip in. Binding types can get more complex, so definitely speak to an expert like Ryan if you’re looking to purchase.
- Once the skis are picked out, then the rider choose poles. If you’re classic skiing, the pole height will be around your armpit versus skate skiing poles will come up around your shoulders. The longer poles help with the outward motion of skate skiing. The skate ski poles will also have tighter hand grips for a more secured accessory.
- For your first-time skiing, pick a warmer day (like in the 30’s) when you can wear lighter clothing. Anything with a wind breaking material on the front and a breathable / wicking backside is perfect.
- There are certain trails for skate versus classic skiing. At places like Theodore Wirth, there will be tracks for classic skis and right next to it will be a 5-7 foot more groomed area that is typically for skate skiers. The Arboretum is another great place to do both types of skiing.
Minnesota has many great downhill ski spots – from Welch to Afton to Spirit Mountain. The best skiing is in Lutsen but at a 4-hour drive from the cities, that’s more of a multi-day trip. Ryan’s personal favorite in the cities is Welch which has a good amount of elevation.
The three main types of downhill skis are:
- All-Mountain Skis: tend to be fatter and shorter and allow for easier turns. In Minnesota, we can get a lot of ice so the metal edges on these skis can help you catch yourself. All-Mountain skis are best for groomed trails, which is what most Minnesotans will be doing.
- Powder: these skis are fatter and are best for deep powder snow. They’re not as great for turns on groomed trails but they are very good if you’re in the deep mountain snow out west. These skis are faster since you have more waxed ski surface area on the snow.
- Park: more symmetrical skis (i.e. they have Twin Tips) which make tricks easier to perform.
If you’re renting a ski package, it will likely be an all-mountain package that comes with the skis, bindings, boots and poles. This is a great way to try out skis and see what you like best!
If you’re buying skis, you’ll notice that some don’t include the binding. In this case, you’ll purchase the binding and someone can mount it according to your preference.
Overall, three main questions to ask yourself are:
- Where am I riding (e.g. groomed trails or powder)
- What’s my expertise level
- What do I want the ski to do (make me go faster, slower, turn better, etc.)
Once you know the answers to those questions, an expert like Ryan can help you find the right winter gear to purchase.
Where to Start?
For your first time out, definitely rent. SCHEELS Eden Prairie has great and affordable rental packages for all of these activites:
I hope this helped you with general knowledge winter gear! Big thanks to Ryan and SCHEELS for sharing so much knowledge. We look forward to trying out some rentals from SCHEELS this winter!
For more winter ideas in Minnesota, check out my 21 ideas for this winter here!