Snowshoeing: Sport, Art, or Enigma?

Posted by on Jan 5, 2013 in Feature Articles | 0 comments

A blank slate!

A blank slate!

Snow fell from the cold night sky. Ahead, a 5-acre meadow covered with the virgin crystals waited for my arrival. No grass or sage protruded from the 16 inches of soft whiteness. No sign of life in any form—not even a deer or moose track—marred the perfect blanket that covered this part of Mother Nature. The blank slate before me not only waited, it beckoned. Who am I to ignore the call?

Although the dark skies were filled with snow-saturated clouds, the hidden waxing moon illuminated the mountainside just enough to allow me to continue forward without the aid of my headlamp. Step after deliberate step, I pressed my shoes into the whiteness, leaving a single compacted trail in my wake. Quickly, the untouched meadow was transformed into a work of art, collaborated only by me and Old Man Winter. White canvas with a single white arc interrupting its form and texture: I call it, snowshoeing.

Snowshoeing is an exercise in contradiction; an enigma within itself. Truly utilitarian in origination, those northerners that were forced to trek through deep snow found it was easier if they didn’t have to sink in so far, and thus they appreciated being able to “float” nearer the surface. But like so many other events in modern society, functionality has been set aside, and we in-part, partake because of the nostalgia and exercise factors. And believe me, this sport lacks neither.

Perhaps only wrestling will burn more calories per hour than traipsing through a foot or so of fresh powder. Upwards of a thousand calories will be left afield, and even on the frostiest of winter days or nights, a sweaty brow will remind you of its intrinsic cardio-pulmonary value. Remember to carry a bottle of water, as dehydration is not temperature dependent, and a cold drink is oft forgotten about in cold weather.

Karen, cliffs, and icicles.
Karen, cliffs, and icicles.

In the nostalgia of the sport lies its contradiction. We have advanced as a society and have the capability of snowmobiling or cutting a path with a snow-blower, or utilizing a myriad of other modern-day machines that will afford us the easy option of getting from point A to point B. But easy is not what snowshoeing is about. If you want easy, just read a story about the adventure, and then go back to operating the remote control.

Snowshoeing is about the experience of the act itself, and not about speed or finish lines. It’s about the quietude of nature in her insulated white glory, with the sound of compacting snow as the only distraction. It’s about being able to hover slightly above the ground, and to traverse and overcome obstacles that would be insurmountable without the protective fabric of deep snow. It’s about creating a glimpse of our ancestral life; because we want to, and not because we have to.

There is no timer, no buzzer, and no opponent. In fact, once the game begins, it is impossible to lose.  Mysteriously, snowshoeing is a sport without overt competition. But the classic conflicts of Man vs. Nature and Man vs. Self are alive and well. Nature creates the playing field and the conditions, and they are constantly changing. And if you can push yourself to keep high-stepping through bottomless snow, and perhaps even generate a rhythmic dance between your shoes and poles, then the game is won.

Within the basic act of snowshoeing lies a mysterious contradiction found only in the human condition. We want something easy, but we make it difficult in other regards. Most of us long for a simpler, easier existence, only to be tethered by technological gadgets that provide immediate gratification, albeit suck the freedom and serenity from our lives. In the same way, if snowshoeing has a goal, it is a self-defeating one. Nothing is more rewarding and exhilarating than cutting a fresh track through an un-blemished snowfield, yet if we have to traverse the snowfield again, we most often use the same track…to make it easier. In fact, the seeming hidden agenda behind snowshoeing is to create such a well-used, tightly compacted path that eventually, snowshoes aren’t needed at all. There-in lies the contradiction of the sport in all of its enigmatic glory.

So if you are of the “left-minded” group and long for a neat and linear existence, then by all means forge your path in the fresh snow as straight, as groomed, and as easy as you want it to be. If you’re more creative, weave winding trails in and out of pines and over icy ledges; make art if you will. The joy of snowshoeing, as beauty, lies in the beholder. Make it what you will, and simply enjoy the experience.

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