The first time I had heard of and even seen snowshoes, was when I was 12 years old. A father of a boy in my class, occasionally took business trips to Frobisher Bay in the Canadian Arctic. Remember, this was in the early 1970’s when the Canadian Arctic was still a whited-out blizzard blank slate to many southern Canadians. And the Canadian
government just 15 years ago, had relocated some Inuit in the far Arctic to supposedly better locations for them.
Nowadays at the end of Frobisher Bay, is Iqualuit on Baffin Island, capital city of Nunavut, Canadian’s third territory as of 1991.
Tom, the classmate, did bring in snowshoes and even tramped around in them with his parka on, once or twice. The snowshoes were made aboriginal- style of traditional wood and animal hide strappings.
Snowshoeing Hobbled by Lack of Movie Star, Olympic Glamour
Now, in a small city in southern Ontario, snowshoes were pretty foreign to most of us. Skating, hockey and skiing were the reigning sports for us.
However even now, snowshoeing is still probably lacks the cache of glamour, cool and speed, compared to skiing or snowboarding. Who sees paparrazi gossip magazines featuring movie stars kicking up snow in snowshoes?
Snowshoeing hasn’t even made the Winter Olympics yet.
But running in snowshoes up a mountain slope or in deep snow, will convince anyone, that it can be serious work-out, enough to knock out your breath and your legs, if you aren’t careful.
Sport Simplicity of Snowshoeing: Like Walking
In the past 20 yrs., snowshoeing in some North American corners with lots of snow, has gained traction in leaps and bounds. Some fitness fans want to maintain their running, cycling or warm weather fitness but want sport simplicity and lower winter sport costs.
Montreal 1843: North America’s First Snowshoe Club
The first snowshoe club in North America was in Montreal 1843. There in snowshoeing clubs in Eastern Canada and Northeastern U.S. late 19th century into the 1930’s. Then the clubs melted away for a few decades. Frame material innovations in snowshoe design helped make the snowshoe more long-lasting and make the sport more broadly accessible with a revival in the early 1980’s onward.
Snowshoeing will invigorate your winter fitness. Yes, true you can go tramping about along the golf course snowy hills and across the fields. In a terrible winter snowstorm
when snow plows have not reached your neighbourhood, you’re probably more mobile in snowshoes, not in skis, in a highly urban environment with sidewalks, roads and building corners.
I started snowshoeing in 1992 when I first moved to Vancouver. The city has mountains nearly in our backyard. Back then, there was less choice of snowshoe models. I paid over $300.00 for my MSR Evo pair. Now there seems to be 2 different Evo pairs, with the one model I have, but now 50% lower at rack price compared to mine.
Snow Steps: Humble Reminders of Canada’s Vastness and History
Unlike skiing, snowshoeing does mean traversing slower. When I’m ploughing up the mountain slope or through an evergreen forested glade drooping with snowy boughs, I feel like trudging in the traditional snow steps of the Canadian aboriginal Indians centuries ago. Even in recent memory, they and others may have to snowshoe to hunt and do other chores in deep snow.
When I snowshoe across white deep snow and that’s all I see for many kilometres: I am humbly reminded how enormous tracts of Canada are like this in winter. Canada is so friggin’ vast! Huge hunks of our land are still in wilderness and often, uninhabitable. It has been argued that large areas of Canada were explored by snowshoeing since horses cannot nor skis (did not appear in North America from Scandinavia until 1800’s) can penetrate some areas.
Different Snowshoe Shapes for Varied Snow Conditions
Snowshoes are believed to originate in central Asia 6,000 years ago and were brought over by tribes migrating across what is now Bering Strait, into Alaska and across the continent. There are 4 main styles of snowshoes shaped by different native Indian groups in various regions because of different snow conditions: Bearpaw, Huron, Objiway and Alaskan.
I thinking my MSR snowshoes are based on Bearpaw. They are squat and broad. Not long tapered elegance for snowshoe running or racing.
Men shaped the wood snowshoe frames while women created the babiche, the lacing made from untanned caribou, moose, or deer hide strips, to provide snowshoe flotation over the snow. Native Indians in Labrador and Eastern Quebec made far tighter and finer meshes for the dry, deep snow there. Looser weaves were for slushier, warm snows by the coast and early spring.
I can vouch that the drier powder snow in prairies is noticeable compared to more softer snow on the coastal and interior mountains in British Columbia where it’s a touch warmer –that is if you consider -10 degrees C warmer than -24 degrees C in Albertan Rocky Mountains.
So layer up, and tramp upward along gentle mountain slopes on snowshoes. You will plumb into winter’s magical soul.
More Stories and Photos
Chong, J. More Snowshoeing for Snow Mountain Addicts and the Vertigo-Inclined. In Cycle Write Blog. Feb. 12, 2011.
Gillespie, C. From Bear Paws to Beavertails: The History of Snowshoes. In Snowshoe Magazine. Jan. 1, 2007.
GV Snowshoes. Snowshoe History.