Outdoor Recreation: Bigfootin’ It
Modern equipment makes snowshoeing accessible to all age groups.
Gallery: Snowshoeing - Winter 2014 [6 Images] Click any image to expand.
by Mary Syrett
Snowshoes are devices attached to the feet that enable a wearer to walk on snow. Recently, snowshoes have come out of the backwoods and into the spotlight, as people of all ages discover their versatility, aerobic value and the simple fact that snowshoeing is fun.
Snowshoes were in use throughout northern Europe 6,000 years ago, but the actual “invention” may have occurred much earlier. Constructed of plant and animal material, the first snowshoes did not leave behind any ancient artifacts for positive dating. Snowshoes may have found their way to America via the Bering Strait Land Bridge.
To ancient peoples of the northern latitudes, the snowshoe was serious business: hunting and trapping depended on them. This dependence is still true today among persons who hunt or trap for a living in areas characterized by deep snow.
The snowshoe contributed significantly to cultural development. First, it made the northern regions more accessible to human occupation. And, by allowing greater contact among peoples, snowshoes encouraged an exchange of ideas, contributing immeasurably to the complexity of northern cultures.
During the great westward expansion of this country, snowshoes were as indispensable as the axe and flintlock rifle. Traders, hunters, explorers and surveyors all depended upon the snowshoe to carry out their work.
The sport of snowshoeing was a social mainstay of winter recreation in this country up until the 1930s, when the glamour and speed of skiing made the sport passé. Outdoor clubs often organized group snowshoeing “tramps” for men and women.
In the 1970s, snowshoeing experienced a resurgence after the Sherpa Snowshoe Co. introduced a compact synthetic snowshoe which forever changed the perception of the snowshoe’s utility. Wearers could now leave flatlands behind to climb in mountainous terrain.
The essential parts of a snowshoe are a solid decking that “floats” a person on snow, a lightweight frame and teeth to grip ice and snow. Categories of snowshoe buyers include fitness-minded individuals who use snowshoes for workouts, hiking/mountaineering enthusiasts and recreational users who easily can be coaxed outdoors for a stroll.
When selecting a snowshoe, keep in mind the kind of topography you intend to traverse, the condition of the snow you will be walking on and the object of your winter wanderings. If the land is rough or the woods thick, you need a short, broad ‘shoe; if an area is open and smooth, a long, narrow snowshoe works better. When snow is light and soft, you will need a larger size than when it is hard and dry.
There is a popular misconception that it is difficult to walk with snowshoes. Supposedly, snowshoes drag heavily on the feet and make a person straddle the legs awkwardly to keep ‘shoes from banging into one another. On the contrary, the actual weight of the snowshoes is scarcely felt—they are not lifted completely off the ground when walking. The toe only is raised to clear the surface of the snow.
The walking action has nothing of a straddle in it either, since the snowshoe that is raised passes over, not around, the other one. Even on a hard-packed trail, where snowshoes aren’t needed to keep a person from sinking into snow, it is as easy to walk with snowshoes as without them.
Where to Go
A great thing about snowshoeing in Susquehanna country is that you’ll never run out of places to do it. Just about anywhere you can hike or mountain bike in summer you can snowshoe in winter. The wooded areas you enjoy when it’s warm offer delightful winter experiences as well. For snowshoe rentals, head for Buffalo Valley Outfitters, Lewisburg. To purchase them, head to Country Ski and Sports, Montoursville.
At R.B. Winter State Park, in Union County on PA 192, 18 miles west of Lewisburg, a limited number of snowshoes are available for use. Find out about snow conditions and make arrangements to borrow snowshoes by calling (570) 966-1455. Five miles of park trails provide easy snowshoeing, with additional connecting trails on adjacent state forestland.
Another enjoyable place to snowshoe is Shamokin Mountain Trail, located off Forest House Lane, south of Lewisburg on the eastern side of Stein Ln.
Or try the Merrill Linn Trail, a one-mile loop off of the Mid-State Trail on state forestland, in extreme northwestern Union County.
Milton State Park, Route 642 in Milton, PA, features an 82-acre island on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River with 3.5 miles of trails that are ideal for snowshoeing.
The PPL Montour Preserve (700 Preserve Road in Danville, (570) 437-3131) offers a variety of recreational opportunities, including snowshoeing. Trails, ranging in length from a quarter of a mile to over four miles, include: Goose Woods Trail, Braille Trail, Ridgefield Point Loop and the Oak Woods Trail.
The good news: snowshoers can go virtually anywhere. And that, snowshoers agree, is the real beauty of their sport. It is indeed an ideal way to enjoy winter. There’s no expensive equipment to purchase—a participant just goes out and bushwhacks.
Why Do It?
The study of countless small tracks in the snow is an interesting part of the winter scene. The chance acquaintance you may make with winter birds and other animals often proves a delightful accompaniment to a day’s outing. Through it all is the timeless beauty of the Pennsylvania landscape and the endless thrill of snowshoe wandering. Fun, exciting and the perfect way to enjoy a winter’s outing are the sentiments often expressed by snowshoeing enthusiasts.
As author William Osgood observes in The Snowshoe Book (The Stephen Greene Press; 1971): “There is something in snowshoeing’s simplicity and closeness to nature that speaks directly to an increasing number of people who seek to live with nature, rather than subdue it.”
Mary Syrett is a freelance writer, and avid outdoor enthusiast.