THE SNOWSHOE CONCEPT
Snowshoes work by spreading your body weight over a larger area to increase floatation on top of soft snow. Traditionally, wooden frames were bent to shape and laced with strips of rawhide. This open webbing allowed snow to fall back through the lacing to avoid buildup on the shoe. Early European explorers, trappers and traders learned snowshoe use from the Native Americans. Hudson’s Bay Company employees have recorded traveling hundreds of miles on snowshoes each winter.
Snowshoes were developed to meet the user’s needs. In thickly wooded terrain, they needed to be shorter to make turns, and wider to provide enough floatation. In more open terrain, the snowshoe could be longer and narrower. The use of locally available materials allowed the snowshoes to be maintained and repaired when needed. Different shapes and sizes were developed based on culture, lifestyle, available materials and local snow conditions. The various designs are now named after the people or geographical area where they originated, such as Alaskan, Ojibwa, Maine or Huron. The most useful designs have a slightly turned-up toe to raise above the snow as you step ahead, and a tail that drags behind to balance the snowshoe and help it track in a straight line.
Today, technological advancements have allowed for snowshoes to be made of aluminum and plastic. But, space-age snowshoes have little artistic or sentimental value. You don’t see them hanging over the fireplace in any lodge or cabin, do you?
Many people still prefer using traditional snowshoes, and the art of making wood-framed snowshoes lives on. Making and using your own snowshoes is a very rewarding endeavor. Along with the experience’s educational value comes the sentimental and artistic value of a wellmade, handcrafted item. It also leads to the feeling of self-sufficiency valued by us modern pioneers.
Whether your snowshoes will be enjoyed through use or hung above the fireplace, making your own will allow you to break your own trail in more ways than one.