When winter blankets North America in her white, wispy shawl of snow, many of us turn instinctively to hibernation-like habits to survive. But, as it turns out, we were meant to get out there and move. Just look at our ancient ancestors – enduring the howling winds and waist-deep snow of winter, thousands of years ago they turned to nature for inspiration and survival tactics. Observing the snowshoe hare with its over-sized feet, bounding effortlessly on top of the snow, the idea for a shoe specifically designed for snow travel was born. Made of white birch or ash wood and weaved with the hides of deer, the invention of the snowshoe dramatically altered the lives of these people forever.
During the course of centuries, the snowshoe was strictly necessary for all peoples confronting deep snows in winter, to enable them to hunt, trap and travel long distances. When French fur traders settled in what is now Quebec in the early 1600s, they were introduced to snowshoeing by the First Nations people. This allowed them to carry on with their trading throughout the long winter months, and from there the concept of snowshoeing spread out over the Northern Hemisphere.
Today snowshoeing is generally viewed as a winter recreational activity and a way to get back to nature, with the resurgence in its popularity acknowledged as a nod to the past. So strap on your snowshoes and explore the snowy terrain, where the only thing stopping you is your growing appetite after a good work-out in the snow.
And if travelling by ski is more your style, take on the thrills and spills, Nordic-style.
As for me, I would never consider myself a fearless Nordic skier, but I was feeling rather self-assured on this particular day in Callaghan Valley, B.C. Having glided my skate skis across virgin tracks, past snow-laden trees under dreamy blue skies, one measly slope stood between me and a steaming thermos of tea. I hesitated as two ski patrollers on their ski-doo waved for me to come down, but then brazenly pushed off. I nearly made it … then my left ski stopped co-operating and my previously graceful movements descended into an awkward struggle for balance. Sure enough, gravity won out and I face planted in front of my audience. I’ll give them points for not laughing, but I know underneath their scarves they were grinning. And I was too.
Blissful Nordic skiing and seriously exceptional snowshoeing take the cake in terms of the ultimate way to experience winter head-on. So the next time you peer out the window to the doom and gloom of winter, resist the urge to jump back in bed and pull the covers over your head and instead embark on a Nordic skiing or snowshoeing adventure. Guaranteed it’s a better way to get through winter, with the perk of staying fit too.