Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Snowshoes From Yesteryear to Today

by Anita Mae Draper

Last week was the first of my 2013 historic winter sports posts with Early Snowshoes For Man and Beast. But lest anyone thing snowshoeing is only a winter sport, may I draw your attention to this 1867 print which shows an actual race on turf.

1867 snowshoe race at the Crystal Palace in London,
published by The Illustrated London News.

As noted in the caption above, the print was published along with the race results in The Illustrated London News. Yes, it was a real race and proved to be great entertainment to those gathered to watch. But snowshoeing wasn't that entertaining over on this side of the ocean where it sometimes became the only method of transportation through the deep snow. 

Out in snowshoes, 1871, Courtesy of the
Encyclopedia of French Cultural Heritage

According to the Encyclopedia of French Cultural Heritage "The first inhabitants of New France had to borrow snowshoes from the Amerindians to get around on foot when snow lay thick on the ground. These snowshoes were made from sinew (leather thongs) knotted and braided on a wooden hoop ... The troops of Canadian and native militiamen led by the brothers Le Moyne (Jacques Le Moyne de Sainte-Hélène and Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville), to name one example, crossed considerable distances in snowshoes to strike British villages and outposts from New England to Newfoundland in the 1690s."  

However, it wasn't long before North Americans saw the recreational value of the snowshoes and formed a club.  

The Victorian Age emphasized a sound mind as well as a sound body and encouraged physical training for men and women.  Snowshoes clubs allowed participants to enjoy the sport together, often ending the time with a cup of hot cocoa.

J. Beattie's snowshoeing group, Montreal, QC, 1869-70, 
Courtesy of the McCord Museum

Inevitably, racing provided a goal as well as entertainment. Who can turn away from a rousing snowshoe hurdle race? It reminds me of the sport of steeplechase. 

Does that look as dangerous to you as it does to me? So much for extreme sports being a product of the 20th and 21st centuries. 

Snowshoeing isn't limited to adult men and women. Anyone who can move their legs can walk and/or run on snowshoes. 

Harold Hammond, High Park, February 1910, 
M. O. Hammond, Archives of Ontario

Snowshoes are round, oblong, pointed, long, and short. I used to think they were different depending on who made them, but I've since learned that it also depends on what type of snow you'll be travelling on.

Traditional snowshoes
Courtesy of wikipedia
Atlas racer snowshoes
Courtesy of wikipedia

Courtesy of wikipedia

According to Wikipedia:

"Snowshoes today are divided into three types:

aerobic/running (small and light; not intended for backcountry use);

- recreational (a bit larger; meant for use in gentle-to moderate walks of 3–5 miles (4.8–8.0 km)); and

- mountaineering (the largest, meant for serious hill-climbing, long-distance trips and off-trail use)."

And of course, two people alone, not having to worry about anyone hearing their tentative words of love ... snow crunching beneath their feet ... cheeks and noses tingling from cold, but adding to the awareness of being with that special person ... how positively romantic.

Couple snowshoeing, 1907,
John Boyd, Courtesy of the Archives of Ontario

There are several YouTube videos out there that show you how to snowshoe, and all the preparation including buying the right kind and how to fall so you can get up again, etc. And although all those videos show you how to move with snowshoes on, they have what I call a big yawnability factor - they were boring. Not only that, but most of my images were from Canada - you know, the foreign frozen north country - So I've chosen a video that was filmed right in the state of New York and is called,

So, are you game? Which type of snowshoes would you buy if you had the chance and the time?


Anita Mae Draper is retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan, Canada with her hubby of 30 plus years and 2 of their 4 kids. She writes stories set on the prairies of Saskatchewan, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. Anita Mae has semi-finaled in the Historical Romance category of the ACFW's 2011 Genesis contest and finaled in the Inspirational category of the 2011 Daphne du Maurier, the 2011 Fool for Love, the 2011 Duel on the Delta and 2009 Linda Howard Award of Excellence contests. Anita Mae is represented by Mary Keeley of Books and Such Literary Agency. You can find Anita at http://www.anitamaedraper.com/


  1. Cute, Anita. I love the picture of the snow shoe race without snow. I can't imagine hurdle jumps in snow shoes. Yikes.

  2. Suzie, I agree. I can't imagine them NOW with the smaller racing snowshoes. Those long ones, though, seem like suicide.

    I take my hat off to the photograper who took the hurdle photograph though - such clarity in a moving pic. wow.

    Yeah, who says you need snow to snowshoe, eh. LOL

  3. Great post, Anita Mae. As usual, your photos are fabulous. I learned a lot, too.

    Snowshoeing sounds like a great way to stay fit and build up leg muscle. I've never used snowshoes--I haven't been in that deep of snow and I've maneuvered fine in boots. But who knows? One of these days...

  4. I've certainly had days when I needed snowshoes just to get home -isn't that crazy? Since that one particular winter, I haven't needed them. Anita, have you used them yourself?

    I was also amazed at the illustrations with such details. What a great subject, and post. Thanks!

    In the school district where my son-in-law teaches, schools have snowshoes, so it is a winter sport they can do. These days it's more about teaching lifelong sports, so gym class seems like a lot more fun. Today - I don't think so. We have some nice Canadian (rather, Arctic) winds blowing a below zero wind chill...

  5. Super cold here too, and Anita, you've inspired me.

    Not to snowshoe. I'm going to make some hot chocolate. ;)

  6. Anita, these are so fun! I shared your last post (with the snowshoes for horses) with my parents during our Sunday breakfast together.

    I haven't tried snowshoeing myself... my recollections of crashing while cross country skiing as a child keep me out of the snow these days. : )

  7. Yes, Debra, I used them quite a few times - back in the '70s and '80s. Then I switched to cross-country skiing because they were narrower. I found those old long snowshoes too hard to keep up my energy, but the skiis were great 'cause I could glide. Then we had the goats until 2005 and with them, I was too tuckered out to play after my chores were done.

  8. Gee Barb, not sure how I've inspired you, but I'm glad I did. :)

    And thanks for telling me.

  9. Susie! I replied to your comment hours ago, but then it locked up for a few mins... I should have checked back sooner...

    Now that you've seen the print of Londoners snowshoeing on turf, you have no excuse. Ha! I'd go for the short racing ones. :D

    And thank you.

  10. Niki - you're in luck. One of the YouTube videos is how to pick yourself up after you trip on your snowshoes. Haha

  11. your post makes me want to learn to snowshoe, Anita. of course, that would involve me moving back to Colorado, where i could find snow (none around the beach).

    i had friends in Colorado who participated in in snowshoe racing/clubs. they always had the best looking legs too.

    very cold here today. off to find some hot chocolate.

  12. Hey DebH, so you don't get any snow at all? Gee, I wonder if they work on water. At least the wooden ones. LOL

    Yes, running with any kind of weight on your feet help shape your legs. But do they get - uh - enhanced - thighs like speed skaters?

    Very cold today here too although it has warmed up to -14C from -24c this morning. That's still below 0to anyone on the Imperial scale. Brrrr.


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