Snowshoes offer outlet for winter enthusiasts

Posted: Friday, February 06, 2004

LEWISTON, Idaho Snow-shoeing has evolved from a pragmatic means of winter transportation into a sport that celebrates simplicity.

Its appeal, according to an outdoor educator, is almost anyone can do it. Plus, strapping on a pair of snowshoes and making tracks through powder can wrest people from their natural tendency to avoid exercise in the winter.

''Anything that gets you out is great,'' says Mike Beiser, director of the University of Idaho Outdoor Program. ''They are very simplistic and easy.''

In the 1970s, retailers of outdoor equipment marketed cross-country skiing by saying it's as easy as walking. Beiser acknowledges Nordic skiing can be easy, but he says some basic skills are needed to make it enjoyable.

He thinks many people purchased cross-country skis, found them more difficult to use than they were led to believe and left them in garages and closets to collect dust.

''Snowshoes are truly what they were selling cross-country skis as.''

Snowshoeing is more comparable with walking, but it wasn't always that way. The shoes that are designed to keep hikers floating on top of deep snow rather than post-holing to their knees, were once made with wooden frames and rawhide lattice. There were different designs, but they were generally long and wide.

They allowed woodsmen and others to move through the snow, but the shape and size made wearers waddle as much as they walked. In recent years, makers of snowshoes have turned to modern materials and the shoes have shrunk in length, width and weight.

''The biggest evolution was when the material shifted from hand-crafted products to modern aluminum and plastic,'' Beiser said. ''Now these new designs allow you to maintain a natural gate or a natural walk without swinging your legs from one side to another.''

Add a pair of ski poles and snowshoeing is an easy and stable way to move through the snow, he says. It's also an excellent form of exercise.

A typical pair costs about $100, although snowshoes can be found for less or for quite a lot more.

Those interested in snowshoeing can try them before they buy. Several retailers rent snowshoes.

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