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HIGH FIVES, March 2009, by Karen Demers
Snowshoes, a.k.a. the ‘original winter tire’. It has been said that the invention of the snowshoe was just as important as the creation of the wheel. “Why?” you ask. Because without the invention of the snowshoe, people would never have gained the ability to move across the snow. I know what you’re thinking – who would ever want to travel through the snow when they can just stay inside by the cozy fire? Well, let’s read on and find out why the ‘original winter tire’ is so important to the history of Canada.
Brief History: The snowshoe has its origins rooted in Central Asia. About 6,000 years ago someone took two pieces of solid wood, some basic binding and tied the wood to the bottom of their shoes, creating the “shoeski”. This invention allowed people to travel through the snow. Without this mobility, people would never have been able to migrate to northern Europe, populating countries like Sweden, Norway, and northern Asia or North America. The wonder of wood!
Here’s something cool to think about! The early settlers of our world did not march on snowshoes across Europe and sail across the Pacific Ocean to reach Canada. Back then, it is believed that Asia and Alaska were joined by a land bridge, now called the Bering Strait. This connection allowed the settlers to travel to new lands and settle in North America. How cool is that?! From here, historians believe that the people who occupied North Europe enhanced skis and the people who settled in Canada perfected the snowshoe. Specifically, the Athapascan Indians of the west coast and the Algonquin Indians of the Ottawa and St. Lawrence River valley areas introduced hundreds of designs of snowshoes for all possible conditions. Snowshoes were needed for survival during the winter and used for hunting, travelling, gathering wood, surveying new land, and war. It was not until the 1900s that snowshoeing became a recreational sport. In the early 1920s, communities would host snowshoeing hikes and advertise for participants in the local newspapers. The use of snowshoes became an important part of military travel, training and competition. From these developments, snowshoeing grew as a recreational sport and clubs sprang up across the country.
While traditional snowshoes were made of wood, (white ash), and rawhide, more lightweight aluminum snowshoes were created in the 1970’s, making travel easier in certain conditions. This also allowed more people to participate in this sport.
Commitment Level: Snowshoeing has become a great recreational winter sport for people who are looking for an activity with little to no commitment.
Starting age: as young as 5 and up!
Physical Requirements: Little to none! Make sure you have no difficulties walking, and relativity good balance. Snowshoeing is an aerobic activity and will require you to have strong lungs!
Equipment: Snowshoes, of course! You’ll also need proper winter boots/shoes and clothes. When you’re outside in the winter it’s important to layer your clothes to keep warm.
Average Cost: Many places that offer ski rentals also offer snowshoe rentals starting at around $15. To buy a pair of traditional wooden or aluminum snowshoes you can pay between $90-300 depending on the style. Occasionally there is a small fee at ski resorts to use their trails.
What do parents think of snowshoeing?: It’s a great outdoor winter activity that doesn’t require teens to attend regular practices, games or tournaments like many other sports do.
Why should others consider Snowshoeing?: It is an unusual winter sport that doesn’t require too much commitment or a high level of fitness. It allows you to
get outside, get some fresh air and try something new and different!