Connecting Lake Simcoe's Community

Font size: +

Snowshoe basics

2022 01 29 snowshoesBy David J. Hawke — My snowshoes gave a pleasing “whoof… whoof… whoof” sound as I broke trail after that recent dump of snow. The snowfall certainly brought about the need for these winter appendages, as without the webbed devices Julie and I would have been floundering a bit.

We took turns at the lead position of compressing the snowflakes down to a packed layer. One of us would go until the huffing and puffing sounds started to interfere with the sounds of winter silence; then Julie would take over until such time I felt guilty at her covering twice the distance I had done and would therefore urge her to switch up again. Sometimes she ignored me and kept on with her task of trailblazer.

For most of December and January the accumulation of snow had been minimal, making it quite easy to roam about with just winter boots. And the low snow level allowed for some interesting animal tracking, as all the winter critters left their mark on the white landscape. Deer, coyote, grouse, turkey, vole, mouse, both red and grey squirrels, as well as cottontail rabbit and snowshoe hare had left a criss-cross of trails from their nightly wanderings.

But today’s landscape was quite different… almost unmarred by any animal activity. This was partially due to the cold temps causing them to hunker down for a day or two, but the increased depth of snow also means that new behaviours have to be employed.

White-tailed deer will be more constricted in their travels, wanting to remain inside the thick groves of hemlock trees. By following each other around and around the conifer woodlot they pack a trail with their hard hooves, eventually making a ‘sidewalk’ for themselves to get around.

A couple of the other species that frequent our region have evolved a special adaptation to keep themselves trucking around… home-grown snowshoes!

Just as its name implies, a snowshoe hare has little problem moving about in the winter months, thanks to its already large feet getting even larger. The secret of good snowshoeing, even for humans, is to watch the ratio between body weight and the area of coverage provided by the foot pad.

A snowshoe hare does not weigh that much when compared to us, but it still has to ensure it stays on top of the snow. Having large hind feet helps but the additional area of coverage provided by thick and long winter fur on said feet goes a long way to the hare’s ability to evade foxes and coyotes. The extra ‘foot size’ supports the existing body weight much better.

Another natural snowshoe expert is the ruffed grouse, or partridge. Like all birds, the feet of the grouse are covered in lizard-like scales (a reminder, some say, of the origins of birds… just fancy flying lizards). The grouse that live in the northern climes of the world have adapted to growing their own set of snowshoes. Some of the scales that line the toes become longer (kind of like you not cutting your toenails, but not nearly as gross) and these scales provide a large footprint, thus allowing the grouse to wander about nipping at tree buds, low-hanging fruit and over-wintering insects.

With the warmer weather of spring, the snowshoe hare simply shed their winter fur and go back to a more svelt-looking foot; the same with grouse as they lose the long fringe of scales.

Human-based snowshoeing requires a bit of thought as to proper fit, taking into account your weight and the snow depth. There are charts available to help you figure this out, but the basic rule is: the bigger you are, the bigger your snowshoe needs to be. But that also depends on snow depth and quality.

If you are travelling on packed snow, perhaps in a provincial park, then the shoe size can be quite a bit smaller than if you are trekking across a field blanketed in an virgin aggregation of deep and loose snowflakes. Some trails get so packed that snowshoes are not even required (until you step off the trail and then you’re knee-deep in the white stuff).

A few careers ago, when I was taking school students on winter hikes, the snowshoes were often more hindrance than help. Yes, the program offered was billed as a winter walk with snowshoes, and yes, the students may have been reading up on the history of snowshoes, but the concrete-hard trail meant that these great inventions were not needed… at all.

But “clack… clack… clack” down the trail we went, with a few sideways slips as the plastic snowshoes failed to find grip on the icy surface. But hey, the kids got fresh air and exercise if not a true snowshoe experience.

As Julie and I finally complete our exhausting loop through the never-ending rows of pine trees and make it back to the warm and waiting sanctuary of home base, I am so ready for a hot chocolate and a change of clothes. Julie says that she too will be right in, as soon as she shovels the walkways, checks the mailbox, puts out seed in the feeders and takes a box or two of stuff across the yard to the neighbours. Showoff!

Dave’s Notebook: Brrrrr. Minus 30C here this morning. But the sun is shining through. And only seven weeks to spring!

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

© 2022 David J. Hawke   

Stay Informed

When you subscribe to the blog, we will send you an e-mail when there are new updates on the site so you wouldn't miss them.

Love is in the air
A sweetheart waiting for a loving home

Get Your Free Subscription! Delivered Straight to
Your Inbox.

Enter your email to receive updates from us. You can unsubscribe at any time.