A Guide to Winter Snowshoeing

A guide to winter snowshoeing, a relaxing winter activity, including exercise, snowshoe styles, forms and function, technique, clothing and accessories.

| November/December 1986

A guide to walking into winter—and back out again. Learn about the quiet art of winter snowshoeing. 

A Guide to Winter Snowshoeing

As a child, I had a favorite escapist fantasy: passing a winter holed up in a rustic, high-country cabin. In this dream I smiled a lot, at peace in my solitude, warmed inside and out by a winking wood fire while a friendly wall of white mounted deep beyond the door. Today I live that dream, sort of, in a board-and-batten aerie perched at 8,000 feet on a steep mountain slope.

My little redoubt is connected to the blacktop two-lane down in the valley by a series of rutted but passable dirt roads, and thus is far less secluded than I would like during the summer months. But the place gets remote real quick when the autumn snows begin to fall, chasing my few summer neighbors down to greener winter pastures and sealing the road behind them. (Here on the Western Slope of the Rockies, we measure snowfall in feet rather than inches.) From November until late April, the steep, twisting drive up to my place is no more than a line of white through the forest, upon which even the most brutish 4 by 4s fear to tread.

Romantic, yes—but romance has a way of fading with familiarity. Not only must I snowshoe down to the nearest cleared road each time I want to go anyplace on wheels during winter, but I must also haul in provisions and haul out all nonburnable garbage. Without snowshoes, I wouldn't be able to live as I do.

Ski down? I tried that my first winter here. I fell a lot. And for the trip back up I had to tote my skis plus everything else... on snowshoes. I soon discovered that while cross-country skis are the sports cars of muscle-powered winter travel, winter snowshoes are the 4 by 4s, the tractors, the ATV's—less than graceful in form and function, yet graced with ruggedly functional form. That's why they've been around so long and are still going strong today.

The earliest specialized snow-going footwear was probably crafted around 6,000 years ago in Central Asia—a solid wood platform with a crude binding that was neither snowshoe nor ski, but a primitive forerunner of both. In the millenia following, Eurasia tribes spreading west to settle what is now Scandinavia stretched the original design into an early version of the Nordic (cross-country) ski—while those who eventually moved east across the Bering Land Bridge to North America refined the webbed conveyance we know today as the snowshoe.

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