From Our Archives: Snowy Two Shoes

From “Trekking on Rawhide,” by Robert Deis, in our January 1980 issue.

man wearing Maine snowshoe

The nationwide physical fitness boom that has seen Americans take to the jogging paths, hiking trails, tennis courts, and ski runs in unprecedented numbers of late has also proved a boon to a traditional Maine sport — snowshoeing. Backpackers, cross-country skiers, and winter picnickers are now adding their tracks to those of the thousands of woodsmen and other outdoor workers who have snowshoed about their business for generations.

It is no coincidence that when most people think of snowshoes, the image which first springs to mind is the teardrop-shaped style named after the state of Maine. The traditional model, long called the “Maine snowshoe,” has existed in basically the same form for hundreds, possibly thousands of years; during that time, it has become one of the most widely used, most popular styles ever devised.

In 1980, modern snowshoes with aluminum frames, synthetic decking, and built-in crampons were merely a curiosity, used by a few hardy mountaineers out West. By the 1990s, though, the synthetic “Western snowshoe” had effectively displaced the “Maine snowshoe” (also called the Beavertail, the Michigan, or the Huron) and fueled an explosion in the activity’s popularity. Snowshoe manufacturer Tubbs — founded in Maine in 1906, later relocated to Vermont — helped drive the transition. These days, the company’s based in Seattle and dominates the market, but traditionally crafted snowshoes, including many made in Maine, are mounting a quiet comeback among traditionalists and fans of artisan gear.

See more From Our Archives!