Snowshoeing, the Six Thousand Year Old Sport of the Nineties

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in Triathlete, March 1993 and Northern Arizona Outdoors, January 1994.

Snowshoeing may have been around parts of the Northern Hemisphere for six millennia, but it's finally coming of age in the current decade. In fact, some (myself included) think that snowshoeing will be the BIG sport of the Nineties. Credit the development of light, fast, and maneuverable snowshoes, a growing snowshoe racing circuit, and a resurgence in the popularity of back-country adventures for snowshoeing's explosive growth.

This simple but effective piece of equipment opens up domains that are otherwise largely inaccessible. In effect, snowshoes allow their users to become explorers and adventurers, to take the paths less traveled (or, more precisely, untraveled).

But unlike many other sports, snowshoeing is not technique, equipment, or cash intensive. This makes it more accessible for outdoor athletes of diverse backgrounds and more immediately gratifying for all who give it a try. While marketing hype would have otherwise, the average person appreciates simplicity and a fast trip up the learning curve. Snowshoeing offers both and a whole lot more.

Snowshoes take their wearers into serenely beautiful winter wonderlands amongst the flora and fauna that comes into its own with the fall of snow and the accompanying decrease in human traffic. Plain old strolling in the woods, serious hiking, and even full- fledged running are more than possible with the best of the new 'shoes, providing great fun and fitness opportunities. And the springy feel provided by both the 'shoes and the snow makes it a low-impact workout. Also the talons or cleats on the bottom of the 'shoes provide unbelievable traction in steep and unsteady terrain, making snowshoes even more critical when venturing into the outback.

Competitive events are varied: 100 yard dashes, 1 mile hill climbs, marathons (the world record is 3:06, set at 30 below), on up to 100 milers across the Alaskan wilderness. Many winter multi-sport events include snowshoeing, along with ice skating, skiing, and other sports.

Expect to pay $175 to $250 for a decent pair of hi-tech, aluminum- framed sport snowshoes, such as those by Atlas of San Francisco, Redfeather of Aspen, or Tubbs of Stowe, VT. They'll last a lifetime and change your life, too. Happy 'shoeing!