Modern Pioneer - - [snowshoes] -

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.

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