Big Foot

Snowshoe

Photograph by Mark Fleming

Fluffy, sticky, soft, or icy — Pleasant Ridge Plantation’s Bob Howe has a snowshoe for that.

During long winters in the North Woods, Master Maine Guide Bob Howe snowshoes 10 to 12 miles a day, taking guests on rabbit and hare hunts. Until a few years ago, he says, “I had to change snowshoes two, sometimes three times a day, because in the morning the snow’s frozen. By lunchtime, it’s softening up, and when it’s time to go home at 3, it’s soft and collapsing.”

Now, he uses just one style, the Rabbit Hunter, a narrow, oblong ash-frame shoe that’s upturned at both ends. “I changed how a snowshoe hits the ground,” says Howe, who’s been making wooden snowshoes since 1998, when he acquired Pine Grove Lodge and Cabins in Pleasant Ridge. “Other shoes are tail-dragging shoes: you walk along and they drag. These shoes carry the weight over the center of the shoe. The tying pattern was important — getting the right hole size so the snow falls through.” The Rabbit Hunter (and its shorter sister, the Bunny Hunter) performs well in fluffy January snow, sticky March snow, and pretty much everything in between, Howe says, so it’s a good all-purpose shoe. Plus, the uplifted tail allows the wearer to back up easily. That comes in handy when trying to draw a bead (or focus a camera lens) on a snowshoe hare streaking along the edge of field. Howe calls it “the first snowshoe with reverse.”

The Rabbit Hunter is one of 12 styles in Howe’s Maine Guide Snowshoes line. Others include a short, light racing shoe that racer Judy Holmes wore to two first-place and one second-place wins at the 2017 Beaver Creek Snowshoe Race Series in Colorado. The nimble Sportsman, with its upturned nose and short tail, is a favorite of surveyors. Montana game wardens and Trans-Alaska Pipeline workers like the 5-foot-long Alaskan Super Shoe, capable of supporting up to 300 pounds in deep powder.

All have a hand-cut ash frame strung with interlaced polymer rope (or traditional rawhide), which Howe says is superior to contemporary aluminum shoes with synthetic decking and crampons. “When you step in the snow and sink, you gotta carry both the shoe and the snow,” Howe says of the latter. “And without the crampons, it would be like walking on a plastic bag — those crampons aren’t there to help you climb mountains; they’re there so you don’t fall down.” Plus, he says, the crampons are often a nuisance, jamming up with snow.

Howe builds and finishes the frames and installs his signature bindings. He hires former Charleston Correctional Facility inmates to tie the webbing. Sales support his not-for-profit Pine Grove Programs, which offers free weekly hunting and fishing trips to military veterans. $235–$280 (excluding bindings).

Maine Guide Snowshoes, 823 Ridge Rd., Pleasant Ridge Plantation. 207-672-4011.


Virginia M. Wright

Virginia M. Wright is the senior editor at Down East.