It is spring break at the school I teach for, and instead of heading to Florida or the Virgin Islands along with my students for vitamin D and warm air on my skin, I am here in Maine, running in the snow. Thankfully the trails right now are runnable again, with no fresh snow for a couple of weeks and serious diurnal temperature fluxes, the snow has compacted and solidified. That alone hasn’t made the trails accessible to me and my home made studded sneakers though*. The credit has to go to the hardy breed of winter adventurer who goes out walking with snowshoes.
I’ve never been much for snow shoeing myself. In a bit of pure winter sport snobbery, I actually used to think that snowshoeing is for people who can’t ski. I know that this isn’t true but having spend time winter camping on both skis and snow shoes, I can say that I prefer the fussing with wax choices or skins and cold boots that comes with skiing to the inevitable clomping through the snow, sweaty and overdressed that comes with carrying a heavy winter camping pack on snow shoes. Its extremely likely that when I was snow shoeing, I didn’t know what I was doing, and was only still learning to care for myself in the back country, so snowshoers, forgive me my ignorant bias. Snow shoes are the underdogs of the winter sporting equipment quiver. They do the job when no other piece of equipment will work. When the snow is hard or icy, you climb the mountain with crampons and an ice ax, when the snow is deep and the terrain is flat or rolling, you ski. Sometimes though, the snow is deep, and the terrain is rough, full of boulders, or steep and thickly treed. Its too deep to have only boots on your feet, and too convoluted for long skis. There is nothing sexy about snow shoes, but they get the job done when nothing else will.
I have a pair of snow shoes, old classic wooden ones, from L. L. Bean. They long and skinny and nearly as tall as I am, and are best for open terrain, like crossing tundra, or frozen lakes. My father got them for my grandmother, and I inherited them from her. I used to like to take them out, but they weren’t designed for poking around in thick woods; that and a broken leather binding kept me from using them too often. They are beautiful though, and account for another reason I haven’t come around to the modern snow shoes. The old wooden ones are elegant and hand made, and the new ones are ugly and plastic.
The trails I have been running this week have been packed and solid, and the only reason for this is because people on snowshoes (not skis, not crampons, snowshoes) went out and packed the trail down so nicely. If not for them, I would still be trying to post hole miserably in the semi solidified snow pack, or limiting my runs to plowed dirt roads or snowmobile trails. I owe the snow shoe tribe a deep dept. Their work outside has added another dimension to my winter sustenance, allowing me to get back out into the places that feed me. And I thank them for it. And I’ve taken a silent pledge. Next year, I’ll get a pair of snowshoes myself, ones appropriate for the Maine woods, and I’ll do my part packing down the area trails, hoping it helps some one else get out and enjoy the intensifying sun of late winter.
*Making your own studded sneakers is easy. Get some 1/4 inch hex head screws, and a screw driver that has or will take a hex head bit. Screw the screws into the thick parts of your soles, feeling inside to make sure they aren’t poking through. Buy extra screws because they do fall out from time to time, and some sneaker treads seem to hold them better than others. They are best on warm ice, mixed and textured snow slush and ice, or packed snow. The help a lot but don’t expect them to keep you from slipping on cold hard ice!