If you’ve ever tried wading through thick snow then you would appreciate an ancient invention – the snowshoe.
If you’ve ever tried wading through thick snow then you would appreciate an ancient invention – the snowshoe. Akin to strapping tennis racquets on to your feet, the snowshoe redistributes your weight over a larger area, meaning you don’t sink as far into the snow. The earliest evidence for snowshoes comes from central Asia, dating back to over 6,000 years ago. Constructed from bent twigs, with rawhide lacing, these early snowshoes may have been inspired by animals with oversized feet, such as the “snowshoe hare”, ptarmigan, and bear.
Archaeologists speculate that Ötzi the iceman (the man found preserved in the ice in the Ötz valley in the Italian Alps) was wearing snowshoes when he perished, 5,300 years ago. In his case the shoes were quite sophisticated, made with a bearskin sole, deer-hide uppers and a tree bark netting and probably a wooden frame to distribute the weight.
Using such shoes helped people to cross thick snow swiftly, enabling them to continue hunting through the winter and live in snowy locations. People in different parts of the world developed different designs. Alaskan snowshoes were long and narrow, with an upturned toe, used to break a trail for the dog-sled teams; Michigan folk had more tennis-racquet shaped shoes, useful for hunters carrying heavy loads of elk and buffalo. Scandinavians abandoned the shoe shape and developed the stumpy “Nordic ski”. These days snowshoeing has turned into a recreational sport.
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