Snowshoes vs Cross Country Skiing

It's not as fun a contest as sailboats versus power boats. Both snowshoes and cross country skis get you outdoors away from civilization. But they require very different skills. For the indoors type, or the lazy, or both, there's also a list of lists for 2012 from to exercise your mind.

It is winter in the northern latitudes and time to at least think about getting outdoors, for the exercise if not to clear your head. You could snowmobile but that's cheating. And probably expensive to rent, never mind the cost of gasoline or the futility of trying to listen for wildlife over the roaring engine.

More interesting is to consider snowshoes versus cross country skiing. Both get you outdoors in the snow, with the possibility of being away from civilization. But they work in very different ways. You step with snowshoes and glide with cross country skis. Well, most of the time. And you can't slide down slopes with snowshoes.

Which got me thinking: which is better for you, snowshoes or skiing with cross country skis? This column is about what happens when internet research skills are used to look up fun stuff that has nothing to do with WordPress. Here's what I found.

First, unless you need time alone, bring friends. All the photos I found with groups of people on snowshoes seemed to have a blast. And they got into some stunning remote places with their feet and snowshoes the size of Sasquatch's feet.

Let's run through a few questions:

Which is better, cross country skis or snowshoes? There's even a YouTube video to answer this question. Indeed, there are a frightening amount of videos of people walking in snowshoes.

Key takeaways from this video include:

  • With snowshoes you can walk anywhere, even through bracken, places cross country skis might not go.
  • Cross country skiing is repetitive.
  • Cross country skiing is repetitive.
  • This guy needs to invest in duct tape and a helmet to tape down his phone camera.
  • Cross country skiing is repetitive.

Score Snowshoes 1, Cross Country Skiing 0, Phone Cam 0.

Much more fun is Extreme Snowshoe-ing, which is what you think it is. The Snowshoe Bluntside rather reminded me of my days pole vaulting and falling down on the cross bar, a leg on either side. You learn to put your hands around your knees to prevent damage, after not paying attention the first time. The Snowshoe Tree Grind is fun, too, although I pity the trees.

Can you even extreme cross country ski? Score Snowshoes 2, Cross Country Skiing 0. Although I wonder if the UK has snow since this video is shot in Germany with a bunch of Brits. Perhaps snowshoeing and cross country skiing in the UK is a moot point? When I Googled, “where to snow shoe in the UK,” I only got sites for Snowshoe cat clubs. Seriously.

Next question: How many calories can you burn snowshoes versus cross country skiing? That turns out to be easy to find out. Going 3.5 miles per hour on Nordic skis (aka cross country skiing) burns 600 calories an hour while snowshoes at the same pace burns 740 calories an hour. Which leads to a sobering thought: the cross country skier probably is more rested after an hour than the snow shoe person who has to lift their legs, over and over. No gliding on snow shoes. Of course, snow shoes and cross country skiing burn way more calories than walking or running.

Snow shoes: 2, Cross country skiing: 1, Walking and Running: 0.

Which is harder to learn: snow shoes or cross country skiing? According to Consumer Reports, if you can walk you can snow shoe. Cross country skiing requires a little instruction but people quickly learn the repetitive (remember, from the first video, cross country skiing is repetitive) motions. Snow shoes also should be cheaper to buy or rent.

Snow shoes: 3, Cross country skiing: 1.

How do you learn to snow shoe? Cross country ski? This one was easy to find. Even better, the videos are both from L.L. Bean, a long time US outdoor gear company. So half the video tells you all the gear you need to bring, which L.L. Bean helpfully sells.

First, how to snow shoe takes one minute:

Next, cross country skiing, which takes a full three minutes to teach:

Don't forget, "Nose over your toes!" And the method for getting up after falling on cross country skis is hysterical. Both sports turn out to use ski poles. Cross country skiing uses poles for balance and speed. With snow shoes, poles are used to fight off rabid wolverines and badgers, should you meet any.

Final score Snow Shoes 1,578, Cross Country Skiing: 1.

Both videos make me realize my dream job probably is Product Manager for an outdoor gear company. That would be sweet, get paid to be outdoors hawking gear.

Where are some great places to do both? Pretty much any place with snow works for both sports, although you want gentle grades up and down for cross country skiing. Steeper slopes are easier for snow shoes. If you don't have a park nearby, there are exotic places to visit like Banff, Mount Washington Valley in New Hampshire, Mount Hood in Oregon, Mount Timpanogos in Utah, any beautiful out of the way place with snow works.

But here's the real reason snow shoes likely trump cross country skis: racing. We all know about Nordic racing in the Olympics. They even race with rifles. But did you know people race in snow shoes? It's must be like soccer where your body has to be in extreme physical shape.

Which led to another insight: cross country skiing is to sailing what power boats are to snow shoes. Except snow shoes require you to exercise more than cross country skiing. Maybe the analogy fails?

Oh Right, The List of Lists

If being outdoors is not fun for you, or you can't get out, but you do want to waste time for a couple hours and forget your life, published a really great list of stuff to explore. You're guaranteed to be lost online within minutes, for at least 15-20 minutes total wasted time. Here's the link:

Learn More

Snow Shoe Videos

Which is better, snow shoes or cross country skis?

Extreme Snow Shoeing

Learn How to Snow Shoe

Learn How to Cross Country Ski

Best Places to Snow Shoe or Cross Country Ski?

Which Burns More Calories?

Snow Shoe Racing (Seriously)

The 2012 List of Lists


  • Tim Slavin

    Tim is an award-winning writer and technologist who enjoys teaching tech to non-technical people. He has many years experience with web sites and applications in business, technical, and creative roles. He and his wife have two kids, now teenagers, who are mad about video games.

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