Dashing through the snow.

OK, dashing sounds a little optimistic, because I usually plod, slog, or flog my way through it. Trying to wade through deep snow can be a real chore, so for thousands of years people have been trying to come up with new and improved ways of doing it.

Way back in history people came up with skates for lakes, skis for cross country and of course snowshoes. Who invented what is always a bit of a mystery, because it happened so long ago and no one had cameras or cell phones to record these momentous events.

Probably someone, after a long and perilous journey through deep snow, lay warm in bed one night and tried to dream up ways of making the trips easier. They probably thought about the ways birds and animals managed to move around in deep snow and thought there has to be a better way. Then they started experimenting.

Tales from the Dump

Some birds and animals seem to get around easier because they have bigger feet. Take a good look at the ptarmigan as they waddle along, on their big, feathery feet. So, what would happen if you made bigger flat shoes and tried walking in them. I am sure they discovered these first models were heavy and awkward to use, but it was a start.

Eventually they discovered that a wooden frame with a mesh made from rope or strips of hide worked well. The hide mesh is one of the reasons people didn’t leave their snowshoe out overnight, because an animal would come along and eat them. Over the eons these developed into what we call snowshoes. Even though they really aren’t shoes. According to the internet this all started around 4,000 to 6,000 years ago in northern Asia and possibly came to North America with people crossing the Bering Sea.

I am not so sure of that and I suspected several groups developed them independently. Certainly there are a wide variety of shapes and sizes of snowshoes to deal with local snow conditions, developed by indigenous groups in Canada.

I spent a lot of time on snowshoes in winter staking mineral claims, cutting line, and running geophysics. We bought ours from the store. They do work and make getting around easier, but breaking trail is still a good workout. When we switched from axes to chainsaws to cut line, occasionally someone would hobble into camp after they had cut through the ends of their snowshoes. Luckily, it was usually just their snowshoe they cut and not their toes.

We used to strap them on using lamp wick, which didn’t break like leather or rubber straps

Skis were probably invented in Scandinavia around 1,000 BC and started out as planks of wood. They were used to get from one place to another. What we call cross country skiing. Downhill skiing turned the skis into the sleek and much faster versions people have today.

Skates are another mystery, but they think that they may have also originated in Scandinavia. Someone probably noticed that sleds with runners were quite slippery on the ice and tried making blades for shoes, just for the fun of it. The origin blades were made of bone but when the blacksmiths saw this, they started to make metal blades.

People like to make work easier and they like to play around, so when engines came in, it was only a matter of time until they tried using them. In 1935 Joseph Bombardier made the first commercial snow machine. They have come a long way since then and by the 1960s they were in use across the land and changed from a work machine and to a recreational pastime.

This makes you wonder what the next great snow travel device will be. Hopefully, it will not be as noisy or as harmful to the environment. Maybe a noiseless snow glider anti-gravity dasher? Then people can dash over the snow rather than through it. That would be fun.


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