Above it all: Snowhoes make winter a 'walk in the park'
By: June Kallestad, Living North
Like most of us in the northland, Trish and Bruce Sodahl needed a way to embrace Minnesota’s winter wonderland. “We bought snowshoes last year because you don’t need a groomed trail, they don’t need maintenance,
and we can head right out our back door into the snow,” Trish says.
Likely it was this necessity – to get out into the snow – that spurred the invention of snowshoes some 6,000 years ago in central Asia. The discovery that distributing weight keeps boots from sinking into the snow made walking easier and travelled from the east to the west with human migration.
And while the shoe shapes have evolved over the centuries, the activity is still very popular according to Mick Dodds, Ski Hut Nordic Department sales Manager, who says that on a snowy Saturday their rental snowshoes are often gone by noon.
“It’s as easy as walking,” he says. “You have to pick up your feet a little more, but it’s just a slightly modified walk. And it can be as vigorous or as easy as you want it to be.”
This winter’s forecast calls for lots of snow, which makes perfect conditions for snowshoeing. The old-fashioned wood snowshoes work well on flat terrain, like bogs or frozen lakes. Dodds says they “float” the best, but they’re slippery on a slope.
Aluminum snowshoes have become very popular for a couple of good reasons – they have traction “teeth” on the bottom for going up ravines and they’re very durable.
Many people think they’re lighter than wooden snowshoes, but Dodds says that’s not necessarily the case. Wooden shoes are typically made with a very light wood.
“What’s most important is that you know what kind of snowshoeing you want
to do,” says Dodds. “What are you going to get yourself into? How adventurous are you?”
If you’re planning to stay on packed trails, you won’t need to worry about
floating above the snow as much. In that case, any basic snowshoe will work. If you’re going to be scrambling up rock ledges and over deep snow drifts, you’ll want larger snowshoes with extra traction and durability.
Folks who want to give it a try can head over to Hartley Nature Center where snowshoes are rented as a mode of transportation to learn about winter ecology and wildlife tracking.
“We get kids on snowshoes who have only been walking for a few months,” says Joy Dunham, who coordinates the nature center’s early childhood and school programs. “We rent them like crazy here, more than skis. It’s a quick learning curve and we get people off the trail, under trees, over logs and into deep snow.”
The Duluth area is rich with designated snowshoe trails. Jay Cooke State Park has 10 miles of trails and rents both wooden and aluminum shoes. Park Naturalist Kristine Hiller says people are welcome to go off the trails into the woods, as long as snowshoers stay off the groomed ski trails.
More trails can be found in the “Winter Fun” section of www.northshoreguide.com.
Snowshoes can be purchased at both Ski Hut locations in Duluth, Continental Ski & Bike, Northwest Outlet in Superior, Duluth Pack Store, Dunham’s Sports and Gander Mountain.
For the Sodahls, snowshoes were a great investment.
“I’m looking forward to winter,” says Trish. “Last year we went out in the woods around our house, across our lake and explored the Sucker River where we watched otters playing in the snow. It was beautiful.”