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I like to walk. This is probably a good thing since my job for the postal service requires me to travel an average of 8 miles per day. But that’s not where my love of walking lies. What I really love is snowshoeing in the winter.
There is nothing more captivating than donning a pair of snowshoes on a moonlit winter night and feeling the crisp snow underfoot, seeing the starry night above and listening to the sounds of wildlife in the distance. If I’m really lucky, I might also spot a deer, rabbit, or other creature on a moonlit walk.
If you think this is a strange passion, know that snowshoeing has been around for hundreds of years, first born out of necessity and later evolving into a hobby. By definition, snowshoes are shoes for walking on snow. They work by distributing a person’s weight over a large area so that a person’s foot does not sink completely into the snow, a quality called “flotation”.
Traditional rackets have a hardwood frame with rawhide lacing. They are made of a single strip of hardwood like white ash, curved and tied together at the ends and supported in the middle by a light crossbar. The space in the frame is filled with a tight caribou strap, leaving a small opening just behind the crossbar for the toe of the moccasin foot. They are attached to the moccasin by leather straps or buckles. This type of original snowshoes are still made and sold by indigenous peoples.
There is still a large group of snowshoe enthusiasts who prefer these varieties of wood. Wood frames don’t freeze as easily as new aluminum ones, and the wood variety tends to be quieter. Despite everything, many of these wooden clogs were intended to become decorations, mounted on the walls or on the coats of ski lodges.
The “modern” racquet known to many today was “born” in 1972 by Gene and Bill Prater as they experimented with new models in the Cascade Mountains of Washington. They started using aluminum tubing and replaced lace with neoprene and nylon. They developed a hinged binding and added crampons to the bottom of the boots to make them easier to use in mountaineering.
The Sherpa Snowshoe company started to manufacture these shoes which became very popular. It was a lighter, more durable version that required little maintenance. The use of solid decking challenged the belief that the mesh was necessary to prevent snow from accumulating on the shoe. These more athletic designs helped the sport regain its popularity with the number of snowshoers tripling during the 1990s. Some ski resorts began to offer snowshoe trails to visitors.
There is often the feeling that if you can walk you can snowshoe. This is generally true, but walking with shoes requires slight adjustments compared to regular walking. I know, it sounds weird that you have to tell someone how to walk, but when you first strap a racquet onto your foot, you literally feel like you’ve strapped on “clodhoppers” because of their size. . The best method of walking with these accessories is to lift the shoes slightly and slide the inner edges over each other with an exaggerated stride.
To complicate matters even further, after having mastered the simple movements on snowshoes, it is then necessary to master the art of the turn. With plenty of space, this is done simply by walking in a semicircle. Up close or on a slope this method is not practical so you have to perform a “kick turn” similar to the technique used on skis: lift one foot high enough to keep the whole racket in the air while keeping the other planted, put the foot at a right angle to the other then plant it on the snow and quickly repeat the action with the other foot.
A word of warning; whatever you have to do to avoid it, don’t fall (and I’ll say it again)! I learned the hard way that once you fall with three foot long hooves strapped to your feet, you won’t be able to get up. The snowshoes sink into the snow and it is only with a few nimble maneuvers that I stand up without calling in the troops. My motto when I started was “If I fall, forget!”
For this very reason, many snowshoers often use hiking poles as an accessory to help them maintain their balance on the snow. These are especially useful when going down a mountain or a hill. Improvements to the crampons and traction of modern snowshoes help climbers to climb a slope. The descent is a whole different scenario. Many snowshoers have found a way to speed up the descent that is fun and rests the leg muscles. It’s called simply sliding, or sliding down on their buttocks. When this method is not practical, they descend the slope with exaggerated steps, sliding lightly on the snow as they do. Trekking poles are very useful here.
In the past, snowshoes were essential for anyone who had to travel in deep and frequent snow, such as fur traders and trappers. They are still needed today so that rangers and others can get to where motor vehicles cannot walk.
Besides the need to have rackets under certain conditions, some people just like them for sport. Although snowshoe racing has been around for as long as there have been rackets, it is relatively new as an organized sport. The United States Snowshoe Association was founded in 1977 to govern the practice of competitive snowshoeing. It is headquartered in Corinth, New York, which considers itself the “Snowshoe Capital of the World”. These races are part of the Arctic Winter Games and Special Olympics Winter Games although it is not yet an Olympic event.
I am definitely not interested in racing. For me, snowshoeing is a way to get a little more leg exercise and enjoy winter nights in the great outdoors. I always come back rested and calm. What more could you ask for from a sport.
Posted on November 10, 2020
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Continuing to explore historic hotels, in this article we will take a look at the history of three other hotels built in the 1800s and early 1900s.
Travel season at last! Take a look at historic hotels across the United States.