What’s behind a snowshoe?
When non-snow-sport-athletes think of snowshoes, the obvious image is probably similar to the traditional model developed by North American indigenous peoples. While varying in length (46 cm to approximately 6 m) and size (from triangular to circular or ski-like), these shoes are recognized by the intricate latticework of the “sole”. These are typically made by lacing rawhide over a hardwood framethe lattice prevents snow from piling up on the shoe and distributes body weight to prevent sinking.Modern snowshoes (dating back to about the 1970s) originated in the Cascade Mountains of Washington. Instead of hardwood frames, the shoes are made of aluminum tubing; instead of rawhide lace, these models use neoprene and nylon decking, and have cleats added on the bottom. Some newer models of snowshoe have no metal frame and are equipped with ascenders to lift the heel during hill climbing.Perhaps the most interesting development to come with the new snowshoe development is the adoption of snowshoeing as a winter sport all its own. Many hikers use these shoes to traverse further into the depths of the winter wonderland than would be possible on skis or snowmobile. Some ski resorts offer specific snow-shoeing trails for their guests to explore in between ski outings.Optimum conditions for snow-shoeing require a significant amount of snow on the groundat least 8 inches in most cases. The shoes do not perform well on especially icy or steep terrain. In addition to hiking, though, there is also a significant following for snowshoe racers. Snowshoe segments are included in many multi-sport winter events. In the United States, the U.S. Snowshoe Association is the governing body for snowshoe athletes and hosts an annual national championship event. Events include a running/walking race, children’s and senior’s events, and a team relay.Like skiing, snowshoeing is relatively painless to learn on your own as long as you stick to flat terrain. Don’t take unnecessary risks by tackling steep slopes before you’re readyafter some practice, you’ll have a better sense of what your shoes can and can’t handle.When purchasing your first pair of snowshoes, try to find a good recreational hiking model. Aerobic/fitness and hiking/backpacking models are designed for more experienced snowshoers, and are also more expensive. You should be able to find a good beginning model for around 100.