Walking in a wonderland of snow

Aurno Khan
23 January 2012

Above: Image © Snowshoers in Bryce Canyon, Wikimedia Commons

“Ever tried snowshoeing before?” I was asked back in Grade 6. I replied, like most people, with a firm, “No, can’t say I have.”

Looking back I probably should have tried it, at the very least, because, after doing a bit of research to find out how snowshoes works, I’m pretty impressed by the sport.

So, what exactly are snowshoes and how do they work?

As the name implies, snowshoes are footwear designed to help a person walk over deep layers of snow.

You've probably noticed that when you walk through deep snow in just your boots, your feet tend to sink with every step. That's because the snow is not strong enough to hold up your entire body weight when it's concentrated in a small area — like the area beneath your boots. Snowshoes keep your feet from sinking into the snow by distributing your body’s weight over a wider surface area than that of your feet alone, allowing you to "float" on the surface of the snow.

Did you know? Surface area is the total surface space an object takes up expressed in square units.

Modern snowshoes are made of light plastic and metal and are more practical and durable than snowshoes made of plywood and leather meshes (although these can still be purchased). The largest part of the snowshoe is called the deck. It's usually flat and is the part of the snowshoe that keeps your feet from sinking. Bindings secure your boots to the snowshoes and crampons — metal teeth on the bottom of the snowshoe — help give you traction on the snow when you are climbing or descending hills. Snowshoes can be suited to different types of terrain depending on the design.

Did you know? Traction is adhesive friction, often used in the context of tire grip.

An example of an animal that benefits from the same principles that snowshoers do is the snowshoe hare. With it's wide, furry feet (and therefore greater surface area), the snowshoe hare has more traction and grip in the snow than other animals, making it easier for it to hunt and escape predators. The added grip of crampons on the modern snowshoe allow snowshoers to walk uphill with better traction than even the snowshoe hare!

Even with the advent of modern technology it's interesting to note that the original principle of weight distribution behind the construction of snowshoes hasn’t changed. It goes to show that sometimes the simple technologies we had in the past are just as relevant today as they were hundreds of years ago. Sure, snowshoes have changed in composition (from wood to plastic) but their use, function and significance remains the same.

Learn more

Article first published on March 28, 2010.

Aurno Khan

Education: Thesis Student at McMaster University
Age: 21
Specialty: Ecology and Psychology
Hobbies: Reading, writing, and running.
Future plans: Grad School in Ecology or Psychology

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