My background is primarily in journalism, but I’ve spent a fair amount of time as a copywriter, churning out PR and ad copy on behalf of all kinds of clients. One of the ad agencies I worked for represented a snowshoe manufacturer, SnoCraft Corporation of Norway, Maine, a company that started around the turn of the last century but which now appears to be out of business. The following feature story was part of a press kit we put together for SnoCraft retailers — we hoped they would attach the names of their own businesses to this piece and then distribute it to local news media. This project was a bit out of the ordinary, but I do remember having some fun researching the history of snowshoes and then trying to come up with a snappy lead. I also recall that I carefully left out any reference to what French Canadians refer to as “mal d’raquette” — pain in the legs and ankles that develops from too much snowshoeing.
Snowshoes: Their history, uses, and where to buy them
Snowshoes help expand winter horizons
NORWAY, Maine – If it hadn’t been for the snowshoe, America might never have been discovered.
No, Christopher Columbus didn’t wade ashore in the New World while wearing snowshoes. But the aboriginal peoples who were the first settlers of North America were probably wearing snowshoes thousands of years ago when they crossed the land bridge over the Bering Strait from Asia.
While many think of snowshoes as something identified with Eskimos, those Artic peoples have actually had little use for snowshoes — most of their travel is over ice and wind-packed snow, making snowshoes unnecessary.
It was the North American Indians of the more temperate climates who really refined the snowshoe from a primitive branch-and-bark device to a sophisticated method of winter transportation.
But the history of the snowshoe goes back far beyond the history of North America. Snowshoes allowed early man to move northward in Asia and into northern Europe, Scandinavia and Siberia.
Many historians believe that the invention of snowshoes ranks with the wheel in its importance to the development of mankind.
So – what is this ingenious device? A snowshoe is simply a foot extender, something that attaches to the foot to make it bigger, allowing a person’s weight to be spread out over a larger area.
To work properly, snowshoes have to be large enough to handle a person’s weight – larger people require larger snowshoes. And snowshoes also should be suitable for local snow conditions.
SnoCraft Corporation of Norway, Maine, which has manufactured quality snowshoes since 1910, produces seven different snowshoe styles, many of them in different sizes, to fit both different snow conditions and snowshoers of different sizes.
As with horses, automobiles, boats and nearly every other sort of transportation, people have found ways to have fun with their snowshoes. Snowshoe clubs have been popular in the U.S. snow belt and in parts of Canada for many years, sponsoring races and social events.
Community snowshoe hikes were very popular in New England until reliance on the automobile increased in the 1920s.
Today, as always, the snowshoe is used for both work and play. Snowshoes are part of the regular winter equipment of game wardens, foresters, linemen and farmers, as well as winter campers, hunters and ice fishermen.
But, these days, the most typical snowshoer is the person who simply loves to be outdoors in the wintertime. With snowshoes, there simply isn’t the raucousness of the snowmobile, or the blurred scenery that rushes by those on skis.
Ready to give snowshoeing a try?
Your first discovery will be a delightful one. If you can walk, you can snowshoe. There is no need for lengthy training sessions; most people feel comfortable on snowshoes after just a few minutes. SnoCraft recommends that novice snowshoers begin with the Green Mountain or Beavertail models. Poles can be used, at least at first.
The gait is similar to walking. Just remember the one basic rule of walking on snowshoes: pick up your foot high enough to clear the other snowshoe, and stride far enough to keep from coming down on the other snowshoe.
It is not unusual to find an outdoors shop, a sporting goods store or a store’s camping department that rents snowshoes. You may want to rent or borrow a pair for your first outing – it’s a good way, also, to try different snowshoe styles and sizes.
There is a SnoCraft dealer nearby with a wide selection of snowshoe types and sizes plus a full line of accessories. He can help you select snowshoes that are right for you, and provide tips and information that will help you get the most out of your snowshoes.