If you can walk, you can snowshoe | VailDaily.com

If you can walk, you can snowshoe

Christine Ina Casillas
Special to the DailySnowshoes have come a long way since their early days. Now they're light and as easy to use as a good pair of shoes.

What do you visualize when someone says lets go snowshoeing? Do you see a mountain man trudging through the deep snow with animal pelts from his trap line slug over his shoulder, and snowshoes with heavy bent-wood frames and rawhide webbing.

Those days are gone.

Today’s snowshoes are made of lightweight hi-tech alloy frames and special fabric netting with improved bindings. The mountain man and his pelts have been replaced by recreation-minded folks with daypacks out enjoying winter’s beauty. The advancements in snowshoe design have made it one of the easiest winter sports to learn.

Fifteen minutes of practice and a few inches of snow is all you need to get started. Equipment is easy to use and inexpensive when compared to gearing up costs for other sports. Snowshoeing can be enjoyed by people of all ages and levels of physical fitness. It isn’t just for serious athletes, it’s a winter sport that almost anyone can enjoy.

Ease of learning, relative low cost of gearing up, and minimal requirements for physical fitness have contributed to snowshoeing becoming one of the more popular winter activities.

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Snowshoeing enthusiasts say if you can walk, you can snowshoe. Beginners can start by renting a pair of snowshoes from one of the local outfitters.

They can also suggest the best locations for your outing. Professional guides can take you into Central Colorado’s scenic backcountry and provide tips that will help you get the full enjoyment out of the sport of snowshoeing.

The Central Rockies have exceptionally scenic snowshoeing trails. Backcountry huts linked by over 300 miles of trails are available for rent. (See more about the back country hut trips later in the guide.) A word of caution, all backcountry travelers should check local weather and avalanche conditions before entering the backcountry of Colorado in winter.

The first snowshoes were used by northern eskimos and indigenous peoples in the far northern countries across the globe. Native Americans in the north used snowshoes to extend their hunting activities and the first snowshoes were just bent saplings with rawhide binding straps to hold your foot.

For a long time most snowshoe designs had long tails. You had to walk a little bow legged but they worked quite nice and allowed the Natives to fish, hunt, travel and trap. White settlers adopted snowshoes for their winter work as well.

As materials and crafting skills got better the trails were shortened into what became known as Bearpaw Designs. There were many variations but essentially they were oval shaped and not as long. Most snowshoes today could be called modified Bearpaw design.

Basically bent wood with rawhide lacing. The rawhide is very strong and is usually coated with some sort of varnish or waterproof resin. These ‘traditional’ style snowshoes are still available and some craftspeople make wooden snowshoes so beautiful they are like artwork.

As materials got better, they discovered that a solid piece of material would support more so the snowshoes could be smaller. You can buy a pair for about $100 so it is much cheaper to get into than skiing. The most popular type of snowshoes are all very hi-tec.

They feature lightweight aluminum frames, durable decks and lacing and best of all great bindings that hinge under your foot. They are quite comfortable to walk in. Most even have a traction bar set of teeth under the ball of you foot so you won’t slip on ice.

Snowshoeing is best with a few people. The first people make a nice trail and the rest hardly sink in the snow at all. It’s like building a packed road.

You can be cruising over logs and forest debris with the greatest of ease. You need to take turns breaking trail so one person doesn’t have to do all the work in front.

Leadville Chronicle Editor Christine Ina Casillas can be found somewhere on the trails during the winter, when she’s not horse riding or snowboarding.

Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado CO

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