The Last of the Snowshoe Lacers

Copyright © Claire Walter 2004.

Tubbs aluminum-frame snowshoes are largely credited with the sport’s modern renaissance, but the Vermont company is also the keeping the flame of wooden snowshoe making—and Stowe, Vermont’s Joan Scribner-Lemieux is the one-woman fire tender. This mother of three, stepmother of seven, grandmother many times over and even a great-grandmother is New England’s last remaining snowshoe lacer.

Working in a former woodenware factory above the Little River, she first soaks cowhide to soften it, then slices it into thin strips. She clamps a bentwood frame of sturdy white ash onto a rack and threads the flexible cowhide through it. With a large hook, she crosses the strip back upon itself, keeping it flat in places for floatation and twisting it in other places for strength. When she needs to splice two strips together, she cuts slits near the ends and subtly knots them together. It takes her about an hour and a quarter to lace a pair of snowshoes, after which they are dipped in varnish to seal the wood and the cowhide. Finally modern bindings are attached.

Joan was when snowshoeing wasn’t cool. In fact, she was a snowshoer long before she started making them. “For years, I volunteered with the Girl Scouts,” she recalls, “and every year, we took a winter camping trip on snowshoes. It was great to watch the girls learn about snowshoes, about what they could do and where they could go with them.”

She was already in her 50s when she grabbed the opportunity to learn snowshoe lacing from Marlene Patch, a Tubbs lacer for 32 years. The skill came naturally to her, and now she herself has mastered the craft, lacing snowshoes and even the bentwood chairs laced with cowhide that Tubbs once marketed.

Joan has her own lacing pattern, and she is also a snowshoe detective who has diagramed patterns of antique snowshoes sent to her from all over the country for relacing. She long ago lost track of how many snowshoes she has laced.

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Claire Walter