Snow shoes and cross-country skis: then and now
Snowshoes provide the freedom to make your own trails while cross-country ski racing makes for great competition
I remember having conversations with my uncle in Lake Placid, N. Y. and he would ask what Ive been doing for fun. I would tell him that I was out snowshoeing and he would say, Youre doing that for fun?
He would use snowshoes only as pieces of equipment to get around in the winter woods while trapping or checking his maple syrup operation. Actually it wasnt until about the 1970s that snowshoes were used for recreation.
The earliest evidence of snowshoes dates back to around 6,000 B.C. in central Asia. It is believed that snowshoes arrived in North America when these people migrated here via the land bridge that once connected the two continents. Perhaps the first people to make snowshoes observed snowshoe hares and saw that these animals could easily travel across deep snow.
The first snowshoes were thought to be nothing more than thin slabs of wood. These evolved into something a little more recognizable today – a frame consisting of a bent green branch tied with rawhide lacing. Wooden snowshoes eventually became identified by their shape such as a bear paw or beavertail. Yukon snowshoes were invented for deep, powdered snow and measured three to four feet long.
As technology progressed, the old wooden frames were replaced with lightweight aluminum tubing and the rawhide was replaced with neoprene and nylon decking. The Sherpa Snowshoe Company became the most popular brand but today theres no shortage of snowshoe manufacturers; there are currently over 20 companies that make them, led by familiar names such as Atlas and Tubbs. Most snowshoes now measure eight or nine inches wide and 25 to 30 inches long.
Today, almost six million people in the country participate in snowshoeing. Sixty-nine percent of snowshoers are between the age of 16 and 44. Participation has grown 93 percent since 1998 with annual increases of 20 to 30 percent. There are at least 500 schools today that offer snowshoeing in their physical education program.
Snowshoes can take you to places where skiers and snowmobilers usually cant go. Besides that, theres no worry about the constantly changing snow conditions or waxing of skis. Those who opt for snowshoes will be rewarded with some great exercise (snowshoeing can burn up to 1,000 calories per hour) and the chance to see some stunning views.
I like snowshoeing because it provides the freedom to make my own trails without worrying about damaging any of the fragile vegetation under the protection of the snow. Snowshoeing can make the familiar summer hikes an exciting and unique winter adventure. If the snow is deep enough, there are no worries about obstacles such as large boulders or fallen logs.
With snowshoeing theres a very short learning curve; if you can walk, you can learn to snowshoe. Plus, it can be done anywhere theres enough snow. Snowshoes are also among the least expensive forms of winter sports equipment.
For those just starting out snowshoeing, a good option would be to take a tour with the Forest Service. Their Natural History Snowshoe Tours are free to the public and the Forest Service provides the snowshoes. No prior experience is necessary. Participants must be 10 years old or older, wear warm boots and clothing. Tours last about 90 minutes and start at the Forest Service snowshoe hut in Mount Bachelors West Village. Two tours will be offered daily on Saturdays and Sundays. For up-to-date information call 541-383-4055.
Wanderlust Tours of Bend also offers snowshoe tours during the day as well as by moonlight and starlight. For more information call 541-389-8359.
Cross-country skiing is the oldest type of skiing and originated in the Scandinavian countries in prehistoric times. It was still widely practiced in the 19th century as a way of moving from place to place in winter or to gather firewood. Game animals such as moose and deer were hunted by skiing. There were usually long distances between small, isolated communities and during the hard, snowy winters skiing became an important means of keeping in social contact. The word ski is a Norwegian word which comes from the Old Norse word skid, a split length of wood.
Nowadays many people in countries with strong cross-country skiing traditions such as Norway, Sweden and Finland have used or regularly use skis. By contrast, skiing is relatively new in North America and was introduced by Norwegian and Swedish immigrants in the 1850s.
After a while competitions eventually emerged. Norwegian army units were skiing for sport and prizes in the 18th century. The first race on record is 1842. The famous Holmenkollen Ski Festival started in 1892, with the focus initially on the Nordic combined event (cross-country skiing and ski jumping). However in 1901, a separate cross country race was added to the festival.
The mens event debuted at the first Winter Olympic Games in Chamonix in 1924 and the womens event debuted at the 1952 Oslo Games. Through most of the Olympics, cross-country skiing has traditionally been dominated by the Nordic countries. The 2014 Winter Olympics from Sochi, Russia begin February 6. Itll be fun watching the cross-country skiers race for gold (or silver or bronze).