Snowshoeing for the uninitiated 

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A person stands on a mountain top in their snowshoes, taking in the scenic view.
I think I can, I think I can, I think I can… Jay Morrison via Flickr

Walking the walk with three-foot long shoes is harder than it looks

Early on a Sunday morning in February, I gathered with my family and strapped on snowshoes for the first time. These shoes were not like typical shoes; each was three to four feet long, and made of metal.   

So, I strapped on my shoes, started to make my way, and the first couple of steps were a real struggle. The added length made it troubling to get up and move around. As I lifted my right foot, I would have to nearly lunge to lift my foot for a step and put it down, compared to just a simple step forward like you do when walking regularly. It took a while to get a bit of momentum going when getting into this walk.  

I had only the snowshoes for mobility, while some of my other family members had a hiking pole in each hand as well. This appeared to give them an advantage, as they could take their left hand, reach forward, then stamp the stick down, pulling themselves forward before repeating the motion with the opposite side to walk. They were using all their limbs, which appeared to give more momentum, stability, and balance. But why is it hard, why is momentum important, and what is the story behind snowshoes?  

That is exactly what we are going to look at. Today, I am going to translate this science for you to hopefully encourage you to try a new activity before snow melts for the season. Based on research done by snowshoe company Gros-Louis, I have some history and facts to share that helped me to fully understand the story of snowshoeing.  

Snowshoeing has been around for a great deal of time, and the look of these shoes has developed over the years as well. According to research by Gros-Louis, snowshoes used to be made of white birch or ash, and the technology originated with and has been expertly developed by Indigenous groups through past centuries.  

The older models look very cool, different from a modern look (like those in the article’s image), and they serve an additional sentimental value to those who make them. Over time, snowshoeing has developed in many communities and cultures, which has led to alterations to the equipment and the technology involved. Over the years, Gros-Louis has altered how they make snowshoes, and tend to use materials like aluminum, magnesium, and wood.  

The reason one would wear snowshoes while walking on snow is to help prevent the wearer from sinking into the snow drifts. That theory seems to have support; as I was walking, the shoe was designed to distribute my weight along the bottom to help prevent me from sinking. As I took my steps on my journey, I could definitely see this being beneficial, because that is exactly what these shoes did most of the time.  

A few times on my trail I did manage to fall through the snow. I think it’s because of the path that my family chose, as we followed one another through some cattails. This means there were some long, tall plants, and roots of the plants which may have caused the packed snow to shift.  

Let me tell you when you do sink in ‘non-sinking’ shoes, it is very difficult to get up. I had to lift my foot up really high and over while the snow was on top of it, then get the other up and over the snow drift immediately after to ensure that I did not sink in again! If that sounds like something you want to avoid, I’d say that is doable if you do not go where the snow piles are disrupted.  

As a personal reflection after my first time snowshoeing, it is a great activity! As I was doing this activity, I focused on moving my feet in different ways and maintaining my balance with some core work – overall, it is a great workout. I say ‘workout’ because, honestly, it does seem like a lot more additional work to walk around with these big shoes compared to just normal shoes.  

I had a great time with my family, and I highly recommend you go with a group of four or more people. The reason being that if you follow someone else’s snowshoe tracks, it is definitely easier to walk behind them! So just be sure that you walk in pairs and that you are in the back, if possible.  

I had a great time snowshoeing with my family, and I am sure you’ll have a good time when you try it, too! This winter is ending quickly, but you may still have the chance to strap on some shoes and go on your own journey. You can rent snowshoes from Fresh Air Experience in Regina, and a great deal of Saskatchewan parks such as Buffalo Pound, Duck Mountain, and Echo Valley. If you check out the provincial parks website, they have a list of snowshoe trails as well. Head on there and you can choose one that may be perfect for you and your group!  

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