Get on the beaten snowshoe path


January 22, 2021

Ruth Reeves snowshoes at Gooseberry Falls State Park.

Minnesotans know of many ways to enjoy the snow. They eat it, throw it, build with it, slide on it and jump into it. A favorite way that my outdoor companion Keith and I enjoy the frozen precipitation is to strap snowshoes to our boots and walk on it. Snowshoeing can be an affordable and spontaneous outdoor activity that allows you to explore areas with deep snow by "floating" on top.

As many parents and teachers know, a great way to play outside and introduce a fun physics lesson to kids is by snowshoeing. The large shoe disperses your weight over a greater area, helping you to sink less in deep snow. The many shapes and styles of snowshoes are designed for specific conditions because not all snow is created equal.

When the pandemic struck, many Minnesotans turned to the outdoors for activities that naturally allow social distancing. Snowshoeing is one of the sports that has surged in popularity this winter. According to analytics, snowshoe sales increased 279 percent in October 2020 compared to the previous year. Jenny, an employee at Outdoor Advantage in Cloquet, says the store saw snowshoe sales go gangbusters last winter because of the good snow conditions. People have been asking for them this winter but, like other recreational equipment, snowshoes were late in arriving this season. The order did arrive, and they now have assorted sizes.

Keith and I have enjoyed snowshoeing in the region for many years, but this year we have noticed an increase in participants, with entire families forging trails. The sport does not take any special training, making it possible to include all ages. Simply strap on the snowshoes and go.

During my years as a naturalist at Long Lake Conservation Center, I enjoyed teaching hundreds of fifth-graders from around the state how to snowshoe. Each group brought new energy along with the same fun learning antics. Hiking in a line, some students would inevitably crowd the person in front of them and step on their snowshoes. It is hard to back up with big feet, especially with a line of students behind you. The domino effect would send half the line tumbling into the snow as they attempted to move forward with shoes stuck, offering another great physics lesson. Luckily, the snow was soft and the result was laughter as kids lay on their backs, lifting feet high in the air to untangle the web of snowshoes.

Snowshoes offer a quiet way to move close to animals without spooking them. While cutting a trail in the Warren Nelson Memorial Bog a couple of weeks ago in Meadowlands, Keith and I watched a snowshoe hare cut its own trail relying upon the big feet provided it by Mother Nature. We wondered if one of this hare's ancient relatives inspired the first manmade snowshoes.

The earliest snowshoes are believed to have originated in what is now central Asia more than 6,000 years ago, according to an article in Snowshoe Magazine. They were basic slabs of wood lashed to the bottom of the wearer's feet. Tribes brought the concept to North America as they migrated east across the Bering Sea land bridge.

If snowshoeing is a sport you have not yet tried, I recommend it. There are many trails in area parks, or make our own trail in the backyard or back 40. Jay Cooke and some other state parks typically have snowshoes to rent, but due to Covid, the rental programs are not operating this winter. Their trails are open for use. All vehicles parking at a state park must have an annual sticker or a day pass.

Ruth Reeves, a former journalist and naturalist, lives in rural Carlton County and enjoys outdoor adventures in all seasons. Email her at [email protected]


Step into it

With the exception of the groomed ski trails, snowshoers are welcome in most public lands and public parks unless posted. In Carlton County, consider Jay Cooke State Park, Spring Lake Road trail, the Cloquet Forestry Center and the mountain bike trails at Pine Valley. You don't need a trail to snowshoe because they're made for deeper snow conditions. Snowmobile trails should be avoided for safety reasons. Do not trespass on private land.


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