Winter 2011 Forward to a Friend




“It’s so versatile that … you can go out wherever you would like to go that’s covered with snow. That’s what’s great about the sport.”

– Ryan Alford, founder of Snowshoe magazine

“It’s never too late to start. Running or walking on snow is extremely forgiving on the legs, the body, the knees. It’s the perfect sport for all ages.”

– Phillip Gary Smith, senior editor, Snowshoe magazine

Animal tracks and markings left by blowing grasses and other vegetation that remain from warmer months serve as messages: They are singular signs that humankind is not alone and that we share the planet.

Snowshoeing on a new layer of snow gives you the opportunity to contemplate that relationship.

Outdoor winter travel does not need to be at speed. There’s an alternative to using skis, snowboards, or ice skates to cross the season’s frozen surfaces. With snowshoes, you can enjoy winter at a different pace, whether for overland travel, recreation, communing with nature, serious exercise, community building, seeking isolation, or competition.

Snowshoeing has enjoyed a renaissance the last few decades. Once necessary footwear for enabling members of native tribes to mobilize during winter months, snowshoes are just as useful today as they were as many as 6,000 years ago.

The concept behind snowshoes is that they spread out a person’s weight across a wide area so the snowshoer doesn’t sink like he or she would if just wearing shoes or boots. As an early human invention, snowshoes have a long history.


In his book Snowshoeing: From Novice to Master, author Gene Prater claimed that the invention and development of snowshoes were as important to humankind as the invention of the wheel. The 6,000-year history of snowshoes places their origination in central Asia, probably as crude slabs of wood. One theory is that both snowshoes and skis developed from this technology. As it spread to the west, the wooden slabs became skis in what are now European countries. To the east, the slabs were taken across the Aleutian land bridge from Asia to North America and became snowshoes.


“Behind all the fun of being out on the trail, I get to reboot my mind. And one finds their favorite area, and there is a point where those endorphins kick in, and the most amazing solutions come to you. You find your inspiration hill.”

– Phillip Gary Smith

North America’s Native American tribes further modified snowshoes to the point of their being crucial for survival. They were used extensively from the northwest across the plains to the northeast.

Usually, snowshoes were made with wood frames that had leather cords crisscrossed from side to side. Footwear was bound to the leather webbing and/or frame.

Snowshoes played important roles not only in daily life, but also figured prominently in war, enabling troop mobility in winter months that was far superior to that of non-snowshoed enemies. European settlers adopted Native American snowshoe technology, finding it just as necessary for transportation as the natives did.

Snowshoe Diagram

Designs reflected application – that is, form followed function. Long snowshoes with emphatically turned-up toes were developed for use in powder snow in open country. Snowshoes that were narrow in front were for pushing through brush as well as for reducing the amount of snow that accumulates on the tips. Shoes intended for climbing had wider, flatter fronts.

Native American snowshoe designs have carried into the 21st century, and basic traditional snowshoe shapes used for walking through different environments often carry the names of tribes. For example, among the basic snowshoe shapes are Huron, Yukon, Ojibwa, and Cree.

Snowshoes became a part of winter tradition, and what have become social clubs in Canada and in the United States have maintained their use – some for more than 200 years. Snowshoeing clubs have been important to the formation of snowshoe competitive and recreational events.

In the early 1900s, communities in New England organized snowshoe hikes as part of their winter recreation. These community hikes would take participants out of town to nearby farms, where they would stop for rest and refreshments, then back to town again.

“It’s a very healthy sport – healthy pursuit during the winter. That’s what attracted me. I was able to get out there, not spend much money, and have something that allowed me to explore the backcountry.”

– Ryan Alford



Estimated calories per hour per pound of body weight burned during exercise at a comfortable pace:

  • Dancing, ballroom: 1.6
  • Weight training: 1.9
  • Volleyball: 2.2
  • Golf, walking: 2.3
  • Walking, 3.5 mph: 2.4
  • Skating, ice: 2.6
  • Skiing, downhill: 2.6
  • Bicycling, 10 mph: 2.7
  • Tennis, singles: 2.9
  • Water-skiing: 3.0
  • Rowing machine: 3.1
  • Swimming, slow crawl: 3.5
  • Hiking, hills: 3.6
  • Skiing, cross-country: 3.7
  • Soccer: 3.7
  • Jumping rope: 3.8
  • Racket ball: 4.1
  • Jogging, 6 mph: 4.2
  • Squash: 4.3
  • Snowshoe walking: 4.5

For comparison, here are estimated calories per hour per pound of body weight burned during daily activities at a comfortable pace:

  • Housecleaning: 1.6
  • Chopping wood: 2.3
  • Scrubbing floors: 2.9
  • Snow shoveling, light: 2.9
  • Farming, heavy: 3.2
  • Gardening, hoe, dig: 3.2
  • Sawing, by hand: 3.3


  • “How Many Calories are Burned Doing Various Exercises,” Brett Denton, examiner.com
  • Physiology of Sport and Exercise, Jack H. Wilmore and David L. Costill, 2004
  • Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Nancy Clark, 1997


Modern snowshoes were introduced in the 1950s and had another spurt of development in the 1970s. These tested the applications of aluminum and plastics for frames and a variety of synthetic and high-tech materials for the rest. Instead of a toe hole and toe cord for binding, metal mechanical bindings are now a part of many designs.

Through the course of the last 60 years, some of the materials have proven to work better than others, and today’s snowshoes reflect substantial refinement. Contemporary snowshoes are lightweight and durable.

Snowshoes are made for individuals of any size – from children through adults. Wood-framed snowshoes are still available, and most outfitters have snowshoes of different types and materials for whatever your destination and application might be – casual hiking, backpacking, or climbing.

Snowshoe size, materials, and types of bindings can be determined with the help of experienced professionals. The location where you snowshoe as well as the condition of the snow must be considered. Your preferences also should be considered.

Snowshoeing is an activity for just about anyone, provided, of course, you have access to approximately six inches or more of snow. There are no restrictions on age or skill level. Men, women, and children participate in this activity, which has grown by more than 50 percent during the last decade. It is inexpensive and easy to learn. If you can walk, you can snowshoe! Plus, barring a misstep off a cliff or into a tree, it is a safe, low-impact activity that provides several health benefits.


The bottom line on snowshoeing is that it’s one of the best forms of exercise you can find for burning calories. It’s a relatively safe form of exercise that combines aerobics for cardiovascular fitness, strength training, and muscle endurance.

When it comes to burning calories, snowshoe walking is in league with jogging, racket ball, and squash. Snowshoeing is a little more effective than the other three. Also, snowshoeing burns approximately twice the number of calories as walking at the same speed.

The sport of snowshoe racing is growing along with the overall expansion of snowshoeing. Find information about racing events on the United States Snowshoe Association website at www.snowshoeracing.com.

Although snowshoers easily can exercise themselves to improved health, their contact with the outdoors leads to mental and emotional benefits as well. Plying through the snow on a cold, crisp day and enjoying the surroundings is relaxing, and the experience often is reflective.

That’s especially true if you’re the first to cross freshly fallen snow.

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As with any other physical activity, a few considerations will enhance your snowshoeing experience:

  • Consult with an experienced snowshoer concerning equipment (consider renting at first)
  • Carry a safety kit prepared for incidents in cold weather and isolated locations
  • Wear weather-appropriate clothing (in layers)
  • Warm up before starting out
  • Be ready to experience the beauties of nature

When snowshoeing, follow the seven principles of the United States Snowshoe Association and Subaru partner Leave No Trace:

  • Plan ahead and prepare
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Leave what you find
  • Minimize campfire impacts
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of other visitors

Find these principles defined in greater detail at the Leave No Trace website.

If you’re wondering where to snowshoe, all you need is access to approximately six inches or more of snow. Consider these destinations:

  • Park trails (city, county, state, national)
  • Forest trails (city, county, state, national)
  • Golf courses (check for permission)
  • Find more locations specific to your area at www.snowlink.com

Two resources about snowshoeing:

  • Snowshoeing: A Trailside Guide, by Larry Olmsted; W.W. Norton & Company
  • Snowshoeing: From Novice to Master, by Gene Prater; The Mountaineers Books

For more information about snowshoeing:

  • Web search for snowshoeing will lead to a number of manufacturers’ websites; many have snowshoeing tips and help to determine the best snowshoes for your particular needs
  • Try snowshoeing for free at the 16th Annual Winter Trails Day at select locations on January 8 (www.snowlink.com/wintertrailshomepage.aspx)
  • First-time snowshoers can find more information here: www.snowshoemag.com/first.cfm

Miscellaneous information: