By Becky Nelson
It sure has been wintry of late. We just finished repairing tubing lines in the maple woods this last week, delayed, in part, by cold weather. It is hard to work on the tubing and connections when very cold as they tend to snap in the cold and we get cold, too. It is snowing again as I write. The last storm put a nasty twist on all our efforts, with a thick crust of ice now on top of the snow making foot travel difficult and dangerous in the very icy places, and I fear this beautiful, fluffy snow will make snow travel even more slick.
Up until this storm we have traveled in the woods on foot, using snowmobiles to get to the farthest reaches of the farm, then trekking with tall boots and gaiters to keep the snow out. Though the snow was pretty deep, it was easier to travel and work without snowshoes. We tried to work without them on this last repair trip, but breaking through the ice and slogging through the snow was almost impossible…and exhausting. It was difficult even with snowshoes, but easier than “barefoot,” and we were able to finish up and be ready to start tapping this weekend.
Snowshoes have come a long way over the last few decades. We have invested in several pairs of “Tubbs” and similar snowshoes, which look nothing like the type we used twenty years ago or so. The old style snowshoes we used were made of wood and leather or shellacked sinew (some of them were very old) and the leather straps, laces and bindings would stretch when wet. We spent seemingly as much time putting the shoes back on when we slipped out of the bindings than we did working sometimes.
The new bindings are a dream, some with ratcheting plastic and others with nylon straps. It is rare to fall out of the bindings, which is usually a blessing. Catching the toe of a shoe under the ice or a branch or a fallen tree is no fun, however, and many face-plants in the snow or on the ice occur. Unlike the old style shoes, the new ones have great ice-gripping metal plates on the bottom, too. It is obvious that the designer of the new shoes was a user of the old style. The old wooden “tails” are gone, too. I couldn’t count how many times I crossed the tails when working on tubing or when tapping a tree only to try to take a step and end up in a painful and unattractive pile of tools and self in the snow. Good job, snowshoe designers. I appreciate your improvements.
My brother, who helps us in the woods work, takes the new bindings to a whole new level, having a dedicated pair of boots strapped into his snowshoes so all he has to do is slip out of the boots he has on and into the boot/bindings. Maybe that’s a direction snowshoes can take in the future — bindingless, booted snowshoes. Hmmm.
We were hoping to pick up another pair of shoes this week, but like many pandemic items, they were nowhere to be found locally. Folks trapped in their backyards with travel restricted have learned to enjoy what we have to offer in their backyards, I suppose, and snowshoes have disappeared from the shelf with folks enjoying the great outdoors.
Even though I wasn’t able to find snowshoes, I am happy that folks are exploring their surroundings. Getting outside into the woods and enjoying the trails is a wonderful way to lift spirits. Finding animal tracks, seeing animals and birds in their habitats and just plain enjoying fresh air and sunshine (or clouds) is a simple step toward mental health when the world seems to be blowing up or disintegrating around you.
I hope that while we are out trudging through the snow and ice to get our trees tapped many of you will be outside as well, enjoying the snow on the trails for hiking and snowmobiling, the ice on the ponds and lakes for fishing and skating, the slopes for tubing and skiing, or simply looking out the window of the house or car to enjoy the sights. And if you are out on snowshoes, appreciate the new design.
Becky Nelson is co-owner of Beaver Pond Farm in Newport, New Hampshire. You can contact her through the farm page on Facebook and Instagram, visit the retail store or email her at email@example.com.