The History of Snowshoes and Snowshoeing
While archeologists have been unable to pinpoint exactly when the first skis or snowshoes were used, it has been suggested that the first type of equipment resembling either was used in Central Asia, making the concept one of the oldest inventions. Recently, Italian scientists discovered an example of a snowshoe in the Dolomites mountains, dating between 3800 and 3700 B.C.
By using primitive snowshoes and skis, aboriginals were able to explore and settle across continents of the northern hemisphere. In fact, the Central Asians using this innovative idea were able to reach far-flung areas such as modern day Scandinavia and Siberia. Other groups likely used snowshoes to reach North America by crossing the Bering Strait; at this time in history, it was possible that current-day Asia and North America were joined.
This geographic divergence is likely what caused skis and snowshoes to be developed separately. The northern American native peoples did not appear to use ski-like equipment during this time, seemingly adopting the snowshoe as their own; consequently, snowshoeing has become a large part of Native American heritage. However, the ski became more developed in northern Asia and Europe.
Snowshoes were further developed by the Native Americans for the next generations. As they tended to migrate into forested zones, snowshoes were essentially required for easy transit during the winter when the snow was soft and deep. Natives in the colder, arctic areas, usually travelled over sea ice or hard-packed snow and tundra, and therefore did not require the snowshoe.
The Athapascan and Algoqinuin natives further improved upon the snowshoes of their ancestors. Beginning with a basic design, they created many variants of patterns to suit the conditions that they faced. The snowshoe was not only a necessity for travel, but for activities like hunting in the winter.
Around 1000 A.D., the first white men landed on North American shores, led by Leif Ericson. While there is no record from his voyages about the use of snowshoes, they were already in use by the native groups. However, when the French came to the St. Lawrence River area in the 1600s, there was a definitive effort to co-mingle and learn from the natives how to adapt to both summer travel (canoe) and winter (snowshoes). During the French and Indian war, the battle between the French and English for North America, the French used tactics they had learned from the natives, including using snowshoes, to assist in their raids.
Other groups, such as the Dutch and English, did not mingle with the natives as freely, and thus, had a more difficult time adapting to the land. One Englishman, Robert Rogers, did learn, however and during the Battle on Snowshoes in 1758, used his knowledge as he led British forces against the French and the natives. From this experience, the colonies made snowshoes a part of the basic equipment. As the Europeans continued to venture west to expand, snowshoes became invaluable during the winter season. Men of all occupations, including trappers, hunters and surveyors, used the snowshoe.
Snowshoes were continuously produced based on the patterns established generations before the Europeans came to North America. This production was mostly for personal use, though it is likely that some with the talents and acumen made snowshoes for sale or trade.
Despite their sharing of knowledge, native communities have led for hundreds of years in snowshoe production. The industry continues to this day.