It was several years ago when I was asked to make a series of "How to Snowshoe" videos. Since then I've learned how to do a better job explaining a few aspects of snowshoeing.
Two of my friends and I were snowshoeing on what is known as the historic "Mormon/Pony Express/California Trail" in the Wasatch Mountains, just outside of the Salt Lake valley. I am "breaking trail" (which means I am the leader) with about a foot of beautiful, untouched, powder snow. My friends are walking behind me, following in my path. They are back there talking, laughing and pretty much enjoying themselves. I wish I could say the same about me but on this snowshoe outing I thought I was going to die!! It was so hard to be the leader that day and I didn't know what was wrong. I knew I was a strong hiker but on this day I had to stop and catch my breath about every 25 feet it seemed. This was ridiculous! I couldn't figure out why I was struggling so much. There was no way I could talk much and I certainly didn't feel like laughing!
Finally, I swallowed my pride and admitted that I needed to have someone else be the leader since I was so weak that day. I took the third spot in this single file lineup. We started walking and it immediately hit me WHY they were talking and laughing so much without any effort. The person who breaks trail works at least 3 - 4 times harder than EVERYONE else!! I had not realized that until I took the #2 or #3 spot! Anyone who is behind the "trail breaker" gets a MUCH easier workout than the leader! I had either forgot or didn't realize how hard it would be to "break trail" in that kind of snow conditions.
I now have a plan. I keep a few of my strongest hikers up front with me and when I start getting tired, I immediately let someone else break trail for awhile until they are tired. We rotate around and share the burden which has worked out SO much better!
If you are snowshoeing in a foot of fresh powder and your friends are having way too much fun behind you, have them break trail for a short while and it will help them appreciate the leader's job real fast.
Breaking trail is by far the best and hardest workout you can get snowshoeing. You will always burn the most calories of anyone in your group! Make sure you drink plenty of water, take a break often and share the load!