Cold rains in October stir images of the upcoming winter in northern regions. Winter weather is already knocking at the door as colorful leaves float to the ground and home heat is needed to stay warm. Almanacs, the weather services and soothsayers always have a prediction about the amount of snow and bone chilling cold.
Winter is winter and it is going to snow (my prediction). Sidewalks and driveways will need to be shoveled, sometimes batteries go dead in the cold, maybe water pipes will freeze. Winter, with decreased light, is hard for some people; for others it is a time for weight gain. There are only so many movies one can watch, video games get too commonplace, and money is usually tight in the winter months.
Those were some of my thoughts at an October yard sale last year as vendors were packing unsold items to take back home. The sale was nearly over. That is when I noticed the snowshoes sitting on the table.
They were the wooden, Alaska style, long and skinny with a tail. I had a similar pair when I was a kid and remembered just having as good a time on the snowshoes as I did in a snowball battle or a sledding expedition. The vendor graciously just gave them to me not wanting to be bothered packing them away again. I hit the jackpot!
I spent a lot of time last winter enjoying those snowshoes without really spending any money, enjoying the quiet of woods covered with snow and the wildlife I was able to view and photograph. I could walk and see things in places where not even a snowmobile could go. And besides the snowshoes proved to be great, invigorating winter activity as well.
Admittedly, I am no snowshoe expert (just yet), but I do know it is a great way to have a quiet, green winter outdoor experience without dealing with the price of gas and oil or artificial snow. There are different types of snowshoes depending on the terrain, a person’s height and weight, even the type of snow. There are even snowshoes specifically designed for women and others for children.
Snowshoes are readily available in places other than yard sales. Sporting goods stores and departments have a wide array of snowshoes available and often knowledgeable sales people. Oftentimes, local conservation districts or similar agencies will conduct classes on how to make your own snowshoes.
There are many public parks and game lands where the trails are free. Often private landowners will readily give permission since snowshoeing is harmless and silent. There are also areas with groomed trails which charge a small fee; after all it doesn’t cost all that much to keep a snowshoe trail compared to other winter sports.
Equipment is fairly basic, and likely involves items already being used for the winter months. A warm, comfortable and waterproof set of boots, a good pair of gloves and a warm hat. In expensive telescoping snowshoe poles are becoming more popular and can be used effectively. Snowshoeing is vigorous activity so it is important to dress in layers; there is no need to buy expensive snow suits. Water is important and can be carried in a canteen.
Cell phones seem somewhat out of place in the woods during the winter on a pair of snowshoes. However, it can be an important safety device; always make sure someone knows the area where you will be and an estimated arrival back time.
Snowshoes have a long history, perhaps the earliest use can be dated as far back as 6,000 B.C. They were essential for travel in the early days of the country, not just by the trappers, but by many frontier families. Oftentimes, snowshoes were the only available transportation in the wilderness. Even the US mail was delivered by a postman twice a month on snowshoes, “Snowshoe Thompson”.
Snowshoes offer the opportunity to enjoy a green winter activity; the sport, while somewhat uncommon, offers the chance to enjoy the beauty and drama of the winter months and often an inspiring view of native wildlife which otherwise could not be witnessed. Snowshoeing is a vigorous and healthy exercise and can be an affordable, inexpensive family activity. My “shoes” are sitting a few feet away from where I write as a cold October rain falls steadily outside.