It was back in 2003 that I had my first nightshoeing experience. I stumbled on a snowshoe trail around a lake marked by glowsticks. It was magical. My wife and I searched for the next marker in the dark and walked through the snow by the light of the moon.
That was a long time ago, but the memory of the experience has stuck with me. I recently had the chance to recreate it for my three kids and nine of their friends while we were at a mountain lodge for the weekend. It was a great success even though most of the kids had never been on snowshoes.
Here's how we made it an event they'll remember for quite a while.
Set the course before dinner
I recruited two of the other parents in our group and we headed out with a bundle of glowstick bracelets while it was still light. One of us stood at the starting point while the other two snowshoed into the woods. While still easily in sight one would stop and hang a bracelet on a tree. The other would continue along and the first would catch up after confirming he could see the bracelet.
We repeated this process to set a course a quarter mile long through trees, up a small hill, across a clearing, and back to the start. We used a total of about 20 bracelets.
Repeat the course just before dark
Even though we'd put a lot of care into ensuring each bracelet was visible from the previous one there were some that were hard to see. By repeating the course when it was a little darker I was able to adjust some of the bracelets (turning some so they were O-shaped rather than |-shaped when viewed from the previous spot, replacing others) so they were more visible. I also found that some of the bracelets weren't glowing very much. Green, orange, and yellow did the best. White and purple were really weak.
During dinner, hint at a surprise
The kids ranged in age from four to 11-going-on-teenager. (Yikes!) We used a couple of different methods to get them excited about... something that was happening outside after dinner. Each parent did it differently.
I was pretty sure my kids knew since they saw me packing our fleet of Tubbs Snowshoes into the rooftop carrier before we left home and we hadn't used them yet. I confided in them and asked them to be my special helpers since they were experienced and official Junior Ambassadors for Tubbs.
Have everything ready
If you're going snowshoeing it's going to be cold so have everything ready to go. I had the snowshoes all laid out and with my kids and other parents helping we got everyone in snowshoes in under 10 minutes! The only problem I ran into was a shortage of the coolest snowshoes, the Snowglows that light up when you walk. We reserved those for the littlest adventurers and I think I've made some lifetime converts to the sport.
Set your safety rules
Snowshoeing in the dark, "nightshoeing," requires a few extra precautions. We had a little safety talk to remind everyone to stay together, help one another, and let us know if they had any questions. My mantra is, "safety, fun, summit" so this was no surprise to my kids.
Minimize your lights
Use of headlamps or flashlights will degrade your night vision and make it harder to find the next glowing bracelet so we kept the use of lighting to a minimum. For lights with a "red light" mode we used those. Of course, in the darkness of the trees we had little choice to stay safe. (Next time maybe I'll bring pirate patches so everyone can save one eye for seeing at night.)
Especially in a group with a wide range of ages like the one we had it was important to make sure each of the kids had a chance to spot the next marker and lead the way there. As a bonus, each kid got a bracelet (and the chance to trade for a different color). There's something about glowing jewelry that's just really cool.
The most important thing about our adventure was that we did it together. We helped each other up some of the steeper slopes, over exposed branches, and back to the lodge at the end. Kids that were arguing after being in the lodge for a day and a half were working together to figure out where to go and how to get there. Running around in the dark brought the group a little closer together.
There's always room for improvement. Next time I do this I think I might bring enough for two bracelets on each tree or maybe bigger glowsticks that are easier to see. If it was going to be a longer trip, I think there'd be a need for a hot cocoa break in the middle. And finally, as a Tubbs Ambassador I completely failed to have Tubbs stickers for all the kids because kids love stickers. DUH!
I'd also probably have chosen a flatter course. Even though we had only about 75 feet of vertical gain it was all at once and that's a lot for little legs on new snowshoes.
Now I just need more snow so I can put these improvements to the test. If I come up with any other ideas, you can be sure I'll share them. And no fair holding out if you have good ideas!