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What are Snowshoes?

Updated on November 14, 2010

A snowshoe is a lightweight wooden frame interlaced with strips of animal hide. A snowshoe is attached to each foot to enable a person to travel over the surface of deep snow.

The frame of a snowshoe is made by bending a piece of hardwood into an oval about 3 feet long and 1 1/2 feet wide. Strings of animal hide then are stretched across the frame. The portion of the snowshoe under the ball of the foot is closely woven and is strengthened by a wooden crosspiece. The portion under the heel of the foot is made in a similar fashion. The large flat surface provided by a snowshoe distributes the weight of the wearer over a larger surface than that of the foot itself, enabling him to travel over the snow without sinking into it.

In putting on snowshoes, the wearer inserts the front of each foot in a strap, leaving the heel of each foot free to move up and down. As he walks on snowshoes, his toes raise the forward part of a snowshoe, and the snowshoe drags along the snow as his leg advances.

Expert snowshoers can travel at speeds exceeding 5 miles (8 km) per hour. They use an outward swinging motion that requires considerable practice.

Snowshoes were standard gear for primitive Indians and Eskimos in North America. They now are used also by hunters, trappers, lumbermen, farmers, and sportsmen. In Canada, races on snowshoes have become a regular feature of winter sports. The American Snowshoe Union of Lewiston, Me., encourages amateur snowshoe racing in the United States and Canada.

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