If you’re looking for a winter fitness activity that allows for casual strolls, you may want to consider snowshoeing. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Maybe you got them as a birthday gift, or possibly an early holiday present.

Maybe you just bought them yourself.

No matter how you acquired them, you’re now the proud owner of a pair of snowshoes—or a pair of cross-country skis.

As you ready for outdoor fun and fitness this winter, don’t just don your new gear and venture into the cold without taking a few precautions ahead of time.

“Snowshoeing or cross-country skiing are great ways to get outside in the winter when otherwise people might be cooped up,” said Jacob Reisner, DO, a specialist in non-surgical orthopedic sports medicine at Spectrum Health. “And they are something you can do by yourself or with family and friends.”

For the novice or beginner, Dr. Reisner suggests starting with snowshoes.

“If you can walk on the ground, you can walk on snowshoes,” he said. “Snowshoes are easier to master. Even if you are in good shape, if you are not familiar with these activities, they could be challenging and frustrating at first.”

Know your body

Cross-country skiing is an Olympic sport, so there’s little question about the level of physical activity involved.

It requires more strategy and training for someone involved at competition level, Dr. Reisner said. There’s also more risk involved because other skiers are moving rapidly ahead and behind you.

Even so, you don’t have to be an Olympics-caliber athlete to enjoy cross-country skiing.

You just have to know what to expect and make sure you’re in proper shape for the sport.

Snowshoeing, on the other hand, is more of a fun, casual activity that allows people to access areas of snow-covered land that aren’t always reachable in the winter.

In Lake Tomahawk, Wisconsin, a popular tourist attraction, there’s a snowshoe league where people play baseball while wearing snowshoes, Dr. Reisner said. (In fact, they play in winter and summer. In the latter, they just place saw chips on the ground in lieu of snow.)

“Whether for fun or competition, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing can be lifelong activities,” Dr. Reisner said. “Participants are of all ages, starting with children and going up to people in their 90s.”

Here are 10 tips for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, with safety top of mind:

  1. Be smart and do some warmup exercises. Take special care to stretch your extremities.
  2. Plan ahead and dress for the weather. Go online and checkout the weather forecast beforehand.
  3. While online, check the snow conditions of the trail you plan to use. Will it be powdery, icy or granular? It could affect your choice of equipment.
  4. If you head into the wilderness, have a plan in case of emergency. It’s best to go with someone.
  5. Know your limits and your experience level in reference to the difficulty of the trail you choose.
  6. Hydrate yourself before going out and take ample water and food to stay hydrated and nourished.
  7. Learn how to fall. You’re going to fall, but you must learn to do it safely.
  8. Learn how to get back up after a fall.
  9. Make sure you’re familiar with the equipment you’re using—and make sure it’s in top operating condition. You don’t want a mechanical problem when you’re in temperatures of 20 below zero.
  10. Generally, if you’re not an active person, you should discuss the activity with your personal physician before heading out. Make sure you’re in proper physical condition for the activity at hand.