Trail Tales: Skis’ Ancestors

Skis have been around for centuries, long predating the wheel.

The earliest skis found have been dated at approximately 6,000 B.C., about 2,500 years before someone decided that wheels were a good idea.

Theorists have postulated the snowshoe as an ancestor to the ski, perhaps another thousand years or so older again, and a widespread ancestor at that. While we tend to associate the snowshoe with North America’s First Nations communities, examples of early snowshoes have been found around the circumpolar north.

Once Europeans started settling in North America, they quickly realized how practical snowshoes were for winter travel and adopted them with great enthusiasm. And, as with many things in life, the snowshoe quickly evolved from utilitarian purposes to sport and recreation.

The first snowshoe clubs were founded in Quebec in the 18th century, but quickly spread to the rest of the country, as winter enthusiasts discovered the joy and freedom the snowshoe brings to the aficionado.

Here in the Yukon, snowshoes share all of this history. And at the ski club, aka the Whitehorse Nordic Centre, the snowshoe is a solid winter fixture.

Along with 80 km or so of superb ski trails, Mt Mac boasts great single-track trails constructed by our mountain biking friends over the years. These trails, snaking through some pretty fine terrain, provide the perfect venue for the snowshoer.

And, just in case you are wondering, snowshoes are fine to use on the ski trails as well. Just keep to the side, watch for oncoming skiers, don’t walk directly on the tracks and all is good.

Snowshoeing is a great sport. Anyone who can walk can snowshoe, and with its relatively short learning curve it’s a great social activity.

It’s also a great activity for the skier who wants to do something different but still needs their fix of outdoor life.

When we get those cold days with fresh snow that seems to reduce glide to a distant memory, snowshoeing is great cross training for the aspiring recreational racer (or the elite one for that matter).

As with all sports, somebody along the line turned the utilitarian into a competition. Up here, snowshoe racing has long been a key sport in the Arctic Winter Games and there are other snowshoe races mixed into the winter schedule around the territory.

Equipment varies a bit, from traditional wooden snowshoes to modern, high-tech designs with grippers and space-age materials, but the principles are pretty straightforward: the large surface area spreads the load (you) over the surface of the snow, keeping you from sinking.

Some people use poles (trekking poles with baskets, or basic ski poles) to aid walking, and some don’t. It’s all personal. There is no magic here.

Dressing is similar to cross country skiing. You will be expending energy and keeping yourself warm, so dress in layers, protect yourself from wind and head out the door.

Most of all, you will be having fun in the outdoors.

See you on the trails.

Claude Chabot is executive director of the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club. If you have questions about the club or its extensive network of trails, you can reach him at [email protected]

Claude Chabot is executive director of the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club. If you have questions about the club or its extensive network of trails, you can reach Claude at [email protected]

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