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It's been a difficult year for tourism operators, who have worked quickly to pivot due to COVID restrictions.
Last summer, the province’s ‘Stay Home Year’ campaign invited Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to explore local amenities and helped to keep tourism-related businesses afloat for the season. Now, operators are finding ways to do the same during the winter - and introducing people to a traditional activity that can be done in a COVID-safe way seemed like the perfect way to do it for Shawn Rowsell.
Rowsell is the owner of Indian Falls Chalets in Springdale, a four-and-a-half-star property on the Indian River. His summer season is spent primarily as a fly-fishing guide, along with operating the three chalets on site. In the 2020 season, all of his visitors were locals - a marked difference from most years, when 90 per cent are from out of province, including tourists from China, Germany and France.
Rowsell has been in business since 2018, when he and his wife Michelle took an early retirement to begin a new career in tourism. “Things were better than expected until COVID,” he says.
With winter here, Rowsell is offering snowshoe and Skidoo experiences to guests. The Fire and Ice snowshoeing walk that Rowsell has offered in past winters has been a popular winter experience. It features a one- to two-kilometre night hike along a prepared trail to a lit-up Indian Falls, followed by a campfire where guest cook bannock over the flames.
Roswell says snowshoeing can be a way for people get outdoors and enjoy winter while safely socially distancing.
“We can only have five people total,” says Rowsell of the current tour limitations under phase five.
The package is open to both guests and any other visitors, and past years have local community members taking part.
A daytime snowshoe walk and boilup are also offered by Indian Falls Chalets.
“There’s no pressure on anybody – whatever the group wants to do,” says Rowsell of the snowshoe route. “It’s not difficult to do.”
As part of the package, Rowsell also provides the needed snowshoes.
“It’s a great spot for anyone who’s an outdoor person,” says Rowsell.
At Blow Me Down Ski Club in Corner Book, Shawn Leamon has seen an increase in interest in snowshoeing in recent years. The club currently has 100 dedicated snowshoers.
For Leamon, part of the appeal of snowshoeing is that it is a sport that can be taken up at any age.
“We’ve got one member who is 90. She skis mostly, but on icy days, she snowshoes,” says Leamon. “We’ve seen them as young as three years old.”
Blow Me Down makes a point of accommodating new snowshoers by allowing use of any trails that they would feel most comfortable on. Along with Blow Me Down’s 10 kilometres of dedicated snowshoe trails, there are 42 kilometres of ski trails that snowshoers can access.
“We also allow snowshoers that are just starting out to snowshoe alongside our regular ski trails,” says Leamon.
Plans in the work to expand the snowshoe trails by another 10 to 15 kilometres next summer.
Leamon, who has been with Blow Me Down for 18 years and is an avid snowshoer himself, has advice for those looking to purchase snowshoes.
“It you’re starting out, you don’t want to get a snowshoe that’s too wide. The wider the snowshoe, it may seem a bit awkward. But try to get the snowshoe that’s appropriate for your weight.”
For those who haven’t been on snowshoes in many years, says modern designs are a huge improvement, with a variety of sizes for any body type and added safety.
“Most to the new snowshoes have cleats or crampons on them, so they’re even good in icy conditions,” says Leamon.
For those with balance or mobility issues, Leamon recommends using poles for added stability and safety.
Health, recreation benefits
During the current COVID protocols, Blow Me Down is not offering day passes or snowshoe rentals, but season passes for snowshoers are $100 for an individual membership and $250 for a family.
While the snow was late arriving this year in some parts of the province, compared to other winter activities like skiing, you can enjoy a longer season.
“The other good this about snowshoeing is that the sport even with lower snow you can still snowshoe,” says Leamon.
Snowshoeing also offers some fitness advantages over skiing for people with joint pain.
“I don’t have to go as far to get the same cardio workout. I ski, but I find the skiing actually bothers my knee. And the snowshoeing doesn’t because I can stop and rest at pretty much my own pace,” says Leamon.
“All it takes is that first step. If you can walk, you can snowshoe.”
Another aspect of snowshoeing in the opportunity to get outdoors with other people in a way that still safely follows public health recommendations.
“It’s a nice, social thing that you can do – you sit on one side of the fire, they sit on the other,” says Leamon. “Getting out there in the woods, lighting a fire, having a boilup and a cup of tea – that fresh air, there’s something to be said from that endorphin rush from physical exercise outdoors.”
Like Blow Me Down, a snowshoeing excursion at Indian Falls Chalets can end with a boilup being one of the highlights.
“We’ve had some interesting groups come out. Around the campfire, we’ve had some good laughs. Some real characters,” says Rowsell.
With winter still here for a while, there’s still opportunities to find a welcoming place in every corner of the province to try snowshoeing.
Snowshoeing memberships for Blow me Down Ski Club are available online
Information on Indian Falls Chalet
For more snowshoeing experience across Newfoundland and Labrador, visit the province’s tourism site page on Snowshoeing and Cross-Country Skiing