With the 31 inches of snow the Lehigh Valley received, the deep, fluffy, white stuff opens another winter opportunity that, aside from alpine and cross-country skiing, can be done by anyone who enjoys walking. What we’re referring to is snowshoeing. It’s fun, offers great aerobic exercise, can be done by young and old, doesn’t require athletic ability nor is it costly.
Snowshoes allow you to walk on top of deep snow, rather than in it. The latter is extremely tiring and places stress on the body. But it’s not necessary to have deep snow to enjoy snowshoeing. A mere six inches makes any snow trekking easier. In fact in Canada and Maine, snowshoes are often a necessity. Man-made webbed feet provide an opportunity to explore nature’s offerings at a time of season that can be very beautiful, despite nature’s slumber.
As for the snowshoes themselves, traditional wooden shoes, as most folks are familiar with, have a romance of their own. Mention snowshoes and many people conjure images of a trapper in Canada trudging through waist deep snow while checking his trap lines. Or, if your old enough to remember the TV show Sgt. Preston of the Yukon, his snowshoe pursuits of bad guys over the deep fluff was the only mode of travel at the time in that snowbound wilderness.
According to historians, snowshoes originated in Central Asia about 4000 B.C. The shoes enabled aboriginal people to move farther north into Scandinavia, Siberia and into North America via the Bering Strait land bridge. Subsequently, the Athapascan Indians in the West and Algonquin’s in the East depended on snowshoes to hunt big game. They allowed hunters to move easily over the deep snow to stalk floundering animals like buffalo. And in Pennsylvania, the Delaware and Susquehanna Indians used them in the same manner.
So it came to be that trappers, explorers and surveyors were exclusive snowshoe users and found them indispensable when having to traverse snow-covered topography.
Snowshoes are not difficult to use if you select the right type for your body weight and terrain. Traditional snowshoe frames are made of white ash with rawhide webbings and leather bindings. Aside from their practical use, they’re often seen adorning walls where the intent is decorative ornamental.
In recent years, snowshoe manufacturers have been making snowshoe frames from aluminum, magnesium and plastic. And their webbings are often made of long-lasting, nylon-coated synthetics such as neoprene.
The frames too are more durable, lighter, stronger and easier to use and are virtually maintenance free. But if you opt for traditional shoes, keep in mind that they’re customarily made in three basic designs: Alaskan, Michigan and Bear Paw. Each is suited for particular conditions, terrain and the users body weight. There are also ones designed primarily for runners and fitness enthusiasts.
It’s recommended that beginners at snowshoeing use shoulder height ski poles, like those used for cross-country skiing, until they get a good sense of balance. After some practice one pole can be used and it also serves as a prodding stick to check for deep pockets in unknown terrain. With use, novice snowshoers will get used to not stepping on their feet – so to speak.
And regardless of design, snowshoeing is a great way to extend your winter activities at a minimal price. There are no ski lift tickets or carrack to buy. Just the cost of snowshoes that range from $85 to $250. Other than that, only hiking boots are needed – and a flask of water.