Long coveted as a rustic-chic cabin-wall decoration, snowshoes are again gaining traction—ha—as a cheap and fun modern means of winter travel. And why not? Jon “Snowshoe” Thompson famously delivered the mail across California’s massive Sierra in the mid-1800s; Robert Redford made ’shoes look pretty cool even as an alleged cannibal in the movie Jeremiah Johnson; and snowshoeing is an official Olympic sport (well, just the Special Olympics, so far). And modern materials mean better performance than Grandpa’s oversized tennis racquets made from tree branches and twisted beaver guts. But is the romantic vision of snowshoeing the same as the reality? Here’s how it shakes out.
Striding effortlessly beneath towering spruce trees, you climb a high ridge, deep in the mountains and far from civilization. Powder floats aesthetically off your sleek, efficient snowshoes as you expertly traverse a ravine, and you can’t help but grin like you’re in an REI ad—it’s just plain exhilarating. The sun is out, the sky is blue, and you look fabulous in your snowshoeing tights and toque (that’s Canadian for “hat.” Canadians are the best snowshoers, obviously). At the ridge, you pause for a selfie—#shoes4snow, #walkonthewildside—and take in the view. You’re eight miles from the trailhead and barely even breathing hard. Plus, you got digits from both a Nordic skier stud and backcountry skier bro who you breezed past. They really should check out snowshoes.
OMG, you’re sinking. Might as well be out here on stilts. You try to wipe the sweat from your eyes and wonder how snowshoeing can be so much work. IT’S JUST WALKING! Your knees are killing you from the awkward, bowlegged trailbreaking, and every step feels like you’re wearing ankle weights. Because you are. They’re called snowshoes. You tried to traverse a ravine just to get back to the groomed trail, but the damn things couldn’t sidehill at all, so you fell, and now your tights are soaking wet and your ass is numb. The grinning fools in those REI ads are assholes—who wears tights in the woods in the middle of the winter? And what are they smiling about? This is boring, slow, and tons of work. And this itchy toque can suck a beaver pelt. You’ve managed to posthole about a half-mile (you can still see your car), and some of that was on the groomed Nordic trail, which was packed firm enough that you could’ve walked it in heels. The best part of the day was when you got passed by a bunch of hot skier guys, but they were out of sight in about 20 seconds. You did take a selfie, but your #snowshoethompsonBADASS hashtag backfired when your Mom commented: “Snowshoe” Thompson actually used skis to cross the Sierra—skis are faster and far more efficient—have fun dear!
When you get home, the snowshoes will sit in your garage for the next eight years, where you’ll remember this horror every time you open the door until you finally sell them for $20 at a garage sale. The buyer will use them once and the snowshoes will sit in his garage for another eight years until a relative from Minnesota takes them home after Christmas, never to be seen again (the snowshoes, not the relative).