Adventures At Afton State Park – First Time Out: Forging A New Path On Snowshoes

By Deborah Locke, Information Officer, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources




The Afton State Park naturalist said to strap the snowshoes a certain way and walk a certain way and avoid the ski paths and know that if you fall, no big deal, and remember that snow can crust and be sharp so be careful.

As the park naturalist explained how to walk in snowshoes, I thought, no way. I am not climbing into snowshoes. I’m not shoving my boots into brackets with small ties and buckles inside of what looked like a massive, mutant wood tennis racket – all with the expectation of walking on snow. The act defied natural law.

We had assembled on a Saturday in early January at the Afton State Park visitor center where Park Naturalist and snowshoe master Linda Radimecky clarified the art and science of successful shoe shoeing. As Linda spoke about this ancient transportation mode, I stared at the floor.

Why? One need not be a physics professor to know that weight sinks into soft matter like snow, lots of snow, so what was the point of this? I would sink like a rock. Additionally, there was a lot of gravity outdoors on the park prairie trail, gravity eager to take us down and out after one clumsy step.

The 10 or 12 group members each received a pair of the shoes based on size and height and followed Linda outside about 300 feet to a snowbank parallel to the prairie. The sun smiled on us and on billions of snow crystals that perfect winter day without wind. Everyone scampered over the snowbank, easily slid into their snowshoes and trudged away, on top of the snow.

I hung back, said I was going home and turned to return the shoes to the visitor center. After hanging the shoes up, I decided to watch everyone, and returned to the prairie. Linda asked for the shoes again. So it was back to the visitor center, then 300 feet to the prairie, then a quick climb up the snowbank to hand off the snowshoes. Linda asked if I would reconsider, and said she’d help strap the shoes on.

Five minutes later I was breaking new powder, knees high and wide apart with each step, sinking only two inches into the snow crust. It was glorious. What a comeback! Colleagues who earlier watched me retreat, now waved their approval.

Oddly enough, it was easier on snowshoes to create a new path than to follow an existing path. The exertion through snow required the use of hip and calf muscles, but not enough to create strain. Ahead around a curve a mom helped her small child stand after a fall, promising that when they got home, they’d put on jammies and watch a movie. One woman in the group said she fell right away, but it was a soft landing.

We marveled at the natural beauty of the park, the way shadows fell across the snow, and the deep blue sky. The outdoors — when viewed from snowshoes — slow down and require a long look. You can see far into the wooded area without foliage and hear bird call that sounds like a form of music. Two planes flew overhead, but in snowshoes, you can’t spin around for a quick look. There’s no spinning in snowshoes. Laughter rang out, a sound that carried far in winter.

Linda told us to watch for wildlife signs. We spotted a perfectly round mousehole in the snow near a small tree trunk, and eagerly searched for mouse prints. Later a woman reported seeing deer prints and ascertained with Linda that the deer was running.

The afternoon ended with long shadows on snow, loosened coats, surprise at how easily everything went, and the satisfaction of trying something new.  

Images courtesy Minnesota DNR.

Afton State Park is located near Hastings, Minnesota. To view naturalist programs that teach a variety of winter skills, go to Most programs are free, but you may need to register. A daily park pass is $7; an annual park pass is $35.

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