You can make, buy or simply try the different models.
© Michigan state parks.
Members of a snowshoe-making class show off their results.
It’s easy to see why snowshoeing is so popular. It’s slower than skiing, but you can go wherever you want, on footwear that doesn't need to be waxed and on trails that don’t need to be groomed.
A lot of people will be getting or giving snowshoes as holiday presents. Many people automatically head for the high-tech metal shoes that are ubiquitous in sporting goods stores, but it’s worth considering other kinds.
Aluminum snowshoes are light and have crampons for scaling hills, but they don’t give wearers much loft in deep snow,
and they’re kind of noisy.
If you’re envisioning a snow-draped trek through the quiet north woods, choose one of the wood-framed styles that have been used for centuries.
Rounded bearpaws are best for maneuvering around trees and brush. Ojibwas, with pointed toes and long tails, and Alaskans,
which are similar but have rounder toes, are best for traveling cross-country in deep powder.
They’re also good for people who pack a few extra pounds, on their bodies or in backpacks.
To get a look at some of the different kinds of snowshoes and bindings, check Country Ways, the Twin Cities company that makes the kits used in many state-park and environmental-center workshops.
It charges $279-$289 for wood-framed snowshoes. Aluminum snowshoes can cost that much, but they're also available for as
little as $90.
It also sells kits for $139-$149, so you can save a lot of money if you're patient, dexterous and willing to shred your fingers.
I once tried to weave Ojibwa-style snowshoes at a workshop in Jay Cooke State Park, and it seemed like the kind of
self-flagellation that only Scandinavians could love.
For two days, I tugged on 22 feet of nylon lace. My eyes were crossing. My fingers were bleeding. My shoulders were aching.
© Beth Gauper
Like Ojibwa snowshoes, Alaskans have a large surface area for traveling in deep snow.
"If you get so frustrated you want to throw it in the fireplace, that’s the time to take a walk,’’ said naturalist Linda Radimecky, who now teaches the workshops at Fort Snelling State Park in the Twin Cities.
Of course, if you actually finish your snowshoes, you’ll be able to brag about it for life.
Many Minnesota state parks offer wood snowshoe-making workshops, with kits included. They're held in the fall.
Near the Twin Cities, Wild River State Park offers
a Nov. 17-18 workshop that costs $75, including bindings. Sign up by Oct. 12.
Just across the Wisconsin-Illinois border, the McHenry County Conservation District's Lost Valley Visitor Center near Wonder Lake offers a three-session
snowshoe-making workshop Oct. 25 and Nov. 8 and 29, $140-$175.
On Lake Michigan, Ludington State Park
offers workshops Oct. 26-27, Nov. 9-10 and Dec. 8, $180 including bindings.
Chicago's Northerly Island, near the Museum Campus, offers the lowest-cost snowshoe-making workshop. Materials and instruction for a pair of PVC snowshoes is only $40.
In Wisconsin’s north woods, near Tomahawk, Treehaven offers snowshoe-weaving workshops for $299, including
lodgings, five meals, instruction and the kit.
So if you do throw your unfinished snowshoes in the fire, at least you'll have had a nice weekend away.
If you make your own, choose bindings with care. Those that are hard to put on and keep on will take the fun out of the sport.
And if you're not ready to buy or make snowshoes, try them out first at state parks. In Minnesota, 25 parks rent snowshoes for $6 a day.
Many of the parks also offer introductions for beginners and guided snowshoe hikes, some by moonlight. I’ve used Alaskan snowshoes at one of Whitewater State Park's moonlight hikes, and they were perfect for the riverside excursion in deep snow.
In western Wisconsin near New Auburn, the Chippewa Moraine Interpretive Center has many snowshoes available.
In Wausau, Rib Mountain State Park, which has dedicated snowshoe trails, rents snowshoes and holds candlelight snowshoe hikes.
Many other state parks, nature centers and outfitters also rent snowshoes; check the ones closest to you.
Want to know where to go? See Great places to snowshoe.
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