So what are Snowshoes?
Snowshoes are footwear for walking over deep snow. They work by distributing your weight over a larger area so that the person's foot doesn’t sink completely into the snow. The heel is left ‘free’ as on cross-country skis, as this makes walking easier. On modern snowshoes a series of straps are used to fasten your normal walking boots to the snowshoe.
The only additional equipment used are ski or walking poles, as these help with both rhythm and balance. If you can walk, then you can snowshoe – it really is as simple as that! Of course there are a few techniques that your Tour Leader will show you regarding turning, climbing and descending, but within minutes you will have it mastered and be ready to explore.
Find out more about the history of snowshoes
Before humans built snowshoes, nature provided examples. Several animals, most notably the snowshoe hare, had evolved over the years with oversized feet enabling them to move more quickly through deep snow.
The origin and age of snowshoes are not precisely known, although historians believe they were invented from 4,000 to 6,000 years ago, probably starting in Central Europe. Inhabitants of the Caucasus used to attach flat surfaces of leather under their feet and the Armenians used round wooden surfaces, something akin to blocks, instead. However, the traditional ‘webbed’ snowshoe as we know it today had direct origins to North American indigenous Indians.
Nearly every Native American tribe developed its own particular shape of shoe, the simplest and most primitive being those of the far north. The Inuit have two styles, one being triangular in shape and the other almost circular, both reflecting the need for high flotation in deep, loose and powdery snow. However, the Inuit did not use their snowshoes much since they did most of their foot travel in winter over sea ice or on the tundra, where snow does not pile up deeply. The Plains Indians wore snowshoes on their wintertime bison hunts before horses were introduced. Despite their great diversity in form, snowshoes were, in fact, one of the few cultural elements common to all tribes that lived where the winters were snowy.
Traditional snowshoes are made of a single strip of some tough wood, curved round and fastened together at the ends and supported in the middle by a light cross-bar, the space within the frame is filled with a close webbing of caribou hide strips. They were then fastened to their moccasins by leather thongs or sometimes by simple buckles.