History of Snowshoeing
Did you know that snowshoeing was practiced 6,000 years ago? The world’s oldest known snowshoe was discovered in September 2016 at an altitude of 10,280 ft on the Gurgler Eisjoch glacier close to the Italian-Austrian border.
While snowshoes are used recreationally in modern day New England, the original intended use of snowshoes was survival-based, allowing people to travel and hunt in the winter on foot, across snowy terrain. The Native Americans developed the traditional webbed design with some of the earliest snowshoe designs measuring over 7 feet long! Their design was modeled on the observation of particular animals who were able to swiftly move through deep powdery snow.
European settlers, hunters, and trappers observed the Native American snowshoes and began to use and produce them as well. Often these were made with white ash frames and untanned animal hide.
As industry continued to flourish in the 1900’s and cities began manufacturing more goods, the need to hunt and trap food in the winter became less of a necessity. As a result, the snowshoe’s role in human history shifted from being functional to recreational. Snowshoes became a way for winter hikers and walkers to experience the outdoors. The materials have also changed from wooded frames to aluminum, which allow the snowshoes to be lighter and more comfortable to wear.
Download our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts to learn more about the history of winter sports, including ice skating, nordic and alpine skiing.