Get Out and Snowshoe!

Written by Omar Bonilla-Ortiz
    Wednesday, 08 January 2014
Native Couple Snowshoeing Native Couple Snowshoeing

If you have never tried snowshoeing (and maybe even if you have!), the word probably conjures images of fur trappers or mountain men trudging through the snowy pass with pelts dangling from a line - at least that was the mental picture I started with!

Compared to most other winter pastimes, I had never even considered snowshoeing as something you'd do for recreation. Where's the exhilarating speed of sledding or the reckless abandon of a good snowball fight? It wasn't until I strapped on a pair of snowshoes last December and found myself out crunching along in (what would otherwise be) "ankle-high" snow, that I experienced the sheer pleasure of one of the fastest growing winter sports. In just minutes I was blazing a fresh trail at my own pace. There was no technique to master before heading out (although you can gain mastery with time), and as long as the terrain had ample snow cover I didn't need a special path or an ideal hill to have fun. I could, to borrow a phrase, "just do it."

A Brief History

While the exact origins of snowshoeing are a mystery, most evidence points to central Asia as the likely source. Comprised of short wooden slabs lashed to the wearer's feet, these early predecessors to snowshoes are referred to as snowskis. Over the centuries tribes adapted and refined this design to better fit the terrain they encountered; those who ventured west towards the Baltic states developed what are now Nordic skis, while those who migrated east into the Americas produced the wooden lattice models that preceded the modern snowshoe.

Regardless of where they were first created, it is clear what inspired the snowshoe design! Take a look at the wooden snowshoes pictured on the left. Notice anything interesting when you compare their shapes to the ones in the image to the right? Borrowing on nature's design, a technique known as bio-mimicry, snowshoes use a wide surface at the point of contact with snow in order to better distribute weight. After all, it's worked out all right for the snowshoe hare!








Ready to Go?

Before you head out, here a few tips to keep in mind for snowshoeing success!

Dress for the weather. Be sure to wear layers and don't forget your hat and gloves.

Stay hydrated! It's easy to forget to drink water while out on a trail, but a good rule of thumb is to drink at least 16-20 ounces of water per hour.

Be ready for changes in the weather. What started out as an ideal temperature can become too warm or too cold at a moment's notice.

Tell someone your plans. Especially if you plan on visiting a remote area!

Check the conditions! Generally, a foot of snow provides the best experience for snowshoeing, but depending on the texture of the snow (thicker packing snow being preferable to powdery snow) you can manage with at least six inches.

Plan your route.  Remember, snowshoes are not meant for concrete surfaces so plan your route accordingly. If you do encounter areas that are paved or do not have sufficient snow on the ground you can always take off your snowshoes and hike to a more suitable area.


If you're new to snowshoeing, and would like to try it out in a group setting, be sure to check out the program and events tab on our website, where you can look at all our upcoming events and find the date and times that work best for you. Remember, space is limited, so when you do find an program that interests you, please be sure to register beforehand! However, if you're looking to strike out on your own, here are a few nearby spots we recommend checking out:

Whitnall Park - 6751 S. 92 St., Franklin, WI

Washington Park - 4145 W Lisbon Ave, Milwaukee, WI ‎

Wehr Nature Center - 9701 W College Ave, Franklin, WI ‎

As always, feel free to contact any of our three branches for more information on snowshoes or any of the other winter gear we have on hand. In no time at all we'll get you set up and ready to have a great time outdoors!

Photo Credit: Cornelius Krieghoff
Omar Bonilla-Ortiz

Omar Bonilla-Ortiz

Having grown up in the Silver City neighborhood, Omar is thrilled to be part of the Menomonee Valley team in his role as Visitor Services Assistant.  A graduate of UW Madison, Omar's background is in Sociology; but before arriving at the Center he worked in landscaping and construction, where he developed a passion for woodworking and green design.  In his off time he enjoys drawing, finding new restaurants, and tinkering with old bikes.


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