Morgan Connelly, Guest Writer
One of the best parts of snowshoeing is being able to share the experience with others. There is nothing quite like being out in the woods on a beautiful winter day, the crunch of fresh snow underfoot, and the sound of laughter amongst friends filling the forest around you. To some, leading a successful group snowshoe hike is the ultimate experience because being responsible for others having a great time provides an additional element of satisfaction.
Of course, we all know that group hikes can go poorly as well. Whether due to a sudden change in conditions, lack of adequate gear, or challenging group dynamics, all of us have undoubtedly experienced a trip go bust.
The key to ensuring a positive experience for all on a group adventure is preparedness. Execution is important as well, but is nothing without adequate preparation. Below are some guidelines to follow to ensure that your trip is a success!
Assess your group ahead of time
It is easy to have fun, regardless of your group’s skill level, as long as you plan a trip suitable to the experience level of the group. A good rule to follow is to design a trip for the lowest common denominator, i.e. the least experienced person’s skill-level and fitness. Ideally, your group will all be around the same level, but it’s much easier to hold back the rabbit of the group than it is to deal with someone struggling to keep up.
Get the gear!
Providing a comprehensive gear list, including all clothing, equipment, food / water, and accessories to the group ahead of time is a great idea. This way, everyone will be on the same page regarding what to bring, and you will know in advance what additional gear you need to provide for those without the adequate supplies.
Know the route, but be flexible
Spend some time choosing the right hike for the group, going over the trail map in detail (either online or the good old fashioned way), and planning for contingencies. What if the weather changes last minute, on the drive to the hike? Do you have a backup hike in mind? Have a rough guide in mind as to timing (e.g. one hour in, we need to be at the 2 mile mark) so you can assess whether you will need to cut the hike short, or if you can extend it if possible!
Remember the 10 Essentials
You may not think you need all the items for just a simple day trip, but then consider how easy it is, especially between a big group, to make sure you are covered. For example, it’s not hard to simply keep waterproof matches in your bag so they are on hand in the rare event of a serious emergency. For reference, here is the list: map, compass, sun protection, extra clothing, headlamp or light, first-aid kit, firestarter, matches, knife, extra food.
It is particularly important to keep this in mind for beginner groups, or those that do not have much experience being active outside in winter. Remind everyone to start with a good, breathable base layer (poly-materials), and build out from there. It will be easy on the trail to add or remove layers as long as you have the adequate clothing with you in your pack.
Food, water, and hot drinks
Having a full thermos of coffee, tea, or hot cocoa to share will make you a rockstar and be sure to lift sagging spirits if needed. Make sure everyone has adequate snacks, high in calories and good for the trail (trail mix, beef jerky, and dried fruit are some go-to staples), and plenty of water. Drinking plenty of fluids is especially important when it’s cold out, because it’s tougher for the body to know when it needs hydration.
Early bird catches the worm
Getting an early start is hugely important for any group hike. You can never go wrong starting early, as it allows for greater flexibility if your group decides to lengthen the trip and includes a built-in buffer if things don’t go as planned.
Get into the rhythm
There are different schools of thought regarding who is best suited to lead. The obvious choice is the group leader, but give some thought to letting the slowest, or least fit member of the trip lead. This way, you can ensure that the group stays together and you will not have to worry about folks lagging behind and being uncomfortable with the pace. It’s also important to take lots of breaks, especially at the beginning. Then you can assess where the group is at and whether you can pick up the pace (or not).
Don’t be a slave to the plan
There is nothing wrong with turning around before your intended point. Conditions change in the mountains, and group dynamics can change too. Maybe the group is happier taking more breaks and hanging out in the woods to spot wildlife. Be sure to keep your ears and eyes open so you are attuned to the wishes of the group.
Obviously, this is the most important part of the group hike! Remember what you are doing and why you are doing it in the first place. It’s all about playing outside with friends, and sharing awesome experiences together.