Curling’s Old News…How About Snowshoeing?
It’s got to be one of the least sexiest winter sports around. There isn’t the grace of ice skating or the speed of downhill skiing. It’s not cool like snowboarding. It’s not quirky enough, like curling. Most of the time, enthusiasts are lost in the woods so you’re not likely to see them either. It’s big in Fairbanks, Alaska and Salem, Oregon. And even when it’s correct in print, it looks misspelled. But snowshoeing followers are there…and slowly growing in numbers.
Since 1977, the United States Snowshoe Association has existed in Upstate New York to spread the word about running through snow with tennis rackets tied to your feet. But this is not a sport for the Aspen fancy-pants ilk. Take a look at their website and then look at the US Skiing and Snowboard Association‘s. The same number of “S”s but worlds apart. There are snow shoe races and events called “invitationals.” It’s serious stuff, but there is a definite dual sense of wishing their sport was more mainstream but not wanting everyone in on the secret. As for numbers, well, they do reflect growth. But the latest stats available are from the 1990s–not exactly accurate for today, when you consider that those numbers reflect a time when Olympic snowboarder Shaun White was in elementary school.
The secret might be out soon if the exercise benefits get some press. According to the Snowsports Industry Association, snowshoers burn 45 percent more calories than walking or running at the same speed.
Nanook of the North
Snowshoeing has been around for about 6000 years. Legend has it beginning in Asia, where ancestors to Inuits and Native Americans migrated bringing snowshoes with them. Their design mimics the feet of animals who walked in the snow. If you have ever taken a step and found yourself in snow up to your knees, you’d agree that those folks were on to something.
The old wooden snowshoes you see with leather webbing and ties were, not surprisingly, hard to keep on. In the 1960s and 70s, technology and plastic were introduced, leading to designs we use today.
And for you skiers out there, the guy who invented step-in ski bindings contributed to modern snowshoe design in the 1990s. Rick Howell lent his expertise to the Vermont-based Tubbs Snowshoe Company, which grew to be a leader in the industry.
You want to start?
As far as sports equipment go, snowshoes won’t leave you broke. For around $150 you can get a set of entry level shoes and a set of poles if you’re not planning on scaling a huge mountain. Poles, which are usually telescopic, aren’t essential, but help with balance.
According to the USSSA, about 30 manufacturers market aluminum-framed snowshoes, the standard used today. Tubbs, Atlas (owned by Tubbs), Redfeather, Sherpa, and TSL are the leaders. And of course, Maine’s L.L.Bean brands their own snowshoes too.
There are three types of snowshoes: Recreational, Hikers, and Runners. The majority of shoes bought and sold are recreational–versatile, spread across wide price-points, in many sizes and styles.
Snowshoes tend to come in two sizes: 8×25 and 9×30. There are also 8x21s for smaller users too and even tinier ones for children. Size is determined by the total weig
ht of the user–including whatever gear he or she might be carrying.
The Buddy System
Like many sports whether there’s the possibility of being swallowed by a wave or a bear, traveling in a group is usually recommended.
However, part of the thrill is being able to take in the peace of the woods on a solo mission, just you and the crunch-crunch-crunch of your snowshoes in the snow.
The first place many people encounter snow shoes is when they want something other than skiing to do on a winter vacation. It’s an activity regularly offered at New England bed and breakfasts. Outdoor shops sponsor treks which might end with hot chocolate. To take a trek is usually an economical afternoon–around $30 per person, including rentals.
Don’t knock it till you try it. It’s a way to connect with nature and be outside in colder weather. That abominable snow man crossing the tundra otherwise known as a school yard on the next snowy day might just be you.