It might make sense to offer tips for running in the cold before throwing snow into the mix. However, I am a human space heater and wear roughly half the clothing that most people seem comfortable with for a cold-weather run. So if you’re a newbie to things like layering, my advice is to check out some advice from people other than me – try here and here. If you’re looking for tips for running in snow, I can help you out with that.
Snow is probably my absolute favorite condition to run in. While it’s snowing? Right after it snows? The next day? Whenever, I’m not picky. While snow does occasionally cause hazardous running conditions, there are a few steps I take to minimize the danger and maximize the fun. Note: these tips are for snow, not ice. Ice is much nastier and I don’t recommend running on it.
I’m not talking about trail shoes that also work as road shoes here. My trail shoes basically have cleats on the bottom, which is helpful for keeping your footing on super-compacted snow. I have Salomon Fellraisers, but any company that specializes in trail shoes will offer at least one model with aggressive lugs (I believe that’s marketing speak for trail cleats). If I were buying shoes exclusively for running in snow, I would probably choose a waterproof pair. My feet stay warm as long as I keep moving, but they can still get soggy in deeper snow. Squishy running isn’t the most pleasant sensation.
I know a lot of people use YakTrax or similar traction devices for running in snow; I personally just haven’t found that I need them. But if you don’t already own trail shoes, they would be a less expensive option – you likely will need more grip in the snow than road shoes provide.
City trails > sidewalks.
The best places to run when it’s snowy will depend partly on where you live; you’ll want to find routes that are well-maintained and/or well-traveled. At least where I live, that means choosing the dirt and gravel trails that run throughout town over sidewalks or roads. The trails get a lot of use all winter long, so in most places the snow is packed down so it’s firm and stable underfoot. And since the trails only get foot traffic, the snow isn’t so compacted that it becomes icy and slick, as can happen on the roads. The safety of the sidewalks varies drastically depending on who’s responsible for shoveling them, so I mainly run on the sidewalks long enough to get to the nearest trail.
Adjust pace for snow quality.
In perfect conditions, the snow is packed enough that I don’t sink in but loose enough to get good traction. My pace isn’t affected in that case, but sometimes running through deep or slick snow is unavoidable. For example, there’s about a 1/4 mile of sidewalk leaving my neighborhood that’s never shoveled – that’s where I am in the bottom picture. Traversing that stretch requires stepping high up and over the snow, then sinking down into the snow – the technique is more like a high knees drill than running. It’s slow and tiring, and really only maintainable for short distances.
As I mentioned earlier, ice is nasty and I don’t run on it, so I’m not going to give you tips for that. Sometimes you can’t avoid slick spots, though. If it looks like a solid sheet of ice ahead, I’ll slow to a walk and cross carefully. If it just looks like a slick patch of snow, I change my stride to take shorter, lighter steps. But when in doubt, walking over a slick spot is better than wiping out.
Do you have any tips to add for running in the snow?