Several weeks ago, in Big Bear, I discovered why snowshoeing is, after snowboarding, the fastest-growing winter sport. Bird tracks in virgin powder, a bridge formed by a fallen redwood tree, lake views not visible on the ski lift -- and then there is the spectacular silence. Plus, this sport is a killer calorie burner and a great family outing to boot. Here are some of the best snowshoes.
An exercise in versatility
Grivel Promenade: Innovative plastic shoe from Italy. Length can be adjusted for recreational (slow hiking in deep snow and expedition-style heavyweight backpacking) or fitness use (aerobic hiking or running).
Likes: Handles all conditions. Press two release buttons to expand from 25 to 29 inches in length. Long crampon teeth don't slip on steep, icy climbs. Two-inch-high heel-lifter eases calf strain during ascents. Should be more durable than other models due to fewer, better-quality parts. Narrow design, so no clanking/overlap during fitness activities. Low price.
Dislikes: Heel strap too low to grip some rounded-heel boots well. Heaviest of the group, at 4.5 pounds per pair (but it hardly matters).
Price: $139. (801) 463-7996; grivelnorthamerica.com.
For women (and men too)
Atlas Elektra 1025: A top-end fitness shoe designed for a women's lighter body.
Likes: Fast. No clanging or overlap due to narrow teardrop-shaped aluminum frame. Superb binding quickly locks in foot with one pull of a strap. Wide crampons aid traversing steep terrain. Lightweight: About 3.5 pounds per pair. And the women-specific design works great for some men.
Dislikes: Lacks large volume needed for deep powder and expeditions.
Price: $249. (888) 48-ATLAS; atlassnowshoe.com.
Light on your feet
Tubbs Piranha: Cutting-edge fitness shoe for runners, racers; carbon-fiber frame, titanium crampons.
Likes: Featherweights (2.75 pounds per pair) that practically make your feet feel naked. Very fast -- frame's crocodile-mouth shape and sharp edges add traction. Bike-style toe clip positions foot securely. Decent flotation in powder, despite minimal width, length.
Dislikes: Short crampon teeth were slippery on icy climbs. The price.
Price: $399. (800) 882-2748; tubbssnowshoes.com.
For deep snow
Redfeather Hike 30: Entry-level recreational model.
Likes: Best of the bunch for deep snow and heavy-pack expeditions, due to rounded tail and size (9 inches by 32 inches). Also, easy-to-use bindings.
Dislikes: Slow in non-powder conditions. Large shoes tend to overlap during fast hikes, running, walking.
Price: $119. (800) 525-0081; redfeather.com.