My introduction to ‘shoeing’ came when I was six-years-old. My grandfather strapped a pair of black ash Bear Paws on me, asked how they felt, and said, “Now get out there and enjoy winter!”
Years later while in high school I was assigned a short story to read by Jack London called TO BUILD A FIRE. I was mesmerized by the setting London presented, and enthralled by the plight of the antagonist a lone man, accompanied by a large Husky is shoeing through a frozen wilderness when he breaks through the ice and wets his feet and legs. As quickly as possible he needs to build a fire to dry out or perish…. The story led me on many vivid imaginary trips to the Yukon, where I was a man’s man like London. I survived with instincts, a gun and my trusty snowshoes while doing battle with grizzlies, avalanches and blizzards.
Now, many years later I realize that strapping on a pair of lightweight snowshoes will not automatically ensure immediate transformation to the icy tundra of the Northwest Territories. However, over the course of many years I have learned why so many people are enjoying this sport. There’s an old adage that, ‘if you can walk, you can snowshoe.’ This holds true for the many hundreds in my region who shoe through the hills, valleys, riverbanks, and frozen lakes of Northwest Lower Michigan. Not only is it easy to pick up, it’s inexpensive, there are few boundaries (except snow is needed), and provides a tremendous cardiovascular and fat-burning workout. Another positive for those who strap on Bear Paws, Standards or yet another choice are the natural views that can be observed in the serene, and often back-woods settings snowshoers find themselves in.
In the heart of the Mid West skiing mecca, the small Michigan towns of Petoskey and Harbor Springs touch the shores of Lake Michigan. The tourist industry is the lifeblood for the residents of these small communities and downhillers, boarders, and cross country lovers flock to the area from early December until the first of April. Yet sometimes lost in the influx of winter enthusiasts is the growing number of snowshoe lovers who seek to get away from the crowds and venture far from groomed hills and trails.
There are numerous adventures that can be attained while snowshoeing, and with proper preparation a day in a ‘neck deep with snow forest’ can be one chock full of memories. In fact, one of the best outdoor activities to undertake which won’t involve fighting crowds is to consider a family picnic to an out of the way area. In a backpack load: hotdogs, buns, condiments, water, skewers, paper plates, napkins, and a plastic garbage bag. In another load: a few pieces of kindling, paper, matches, and a blanket or two if they fit comfortably. With these supplies a family of four can set out into the deepest swamps and have an immensely enjoyable experience. I would also recommend that a cell phone, GPS, county map(s), flashlight, and a candle be included as part of your gear too.
Both Petoskey and Harbor Springs are lakefront towns offering many miles of Great Lakes, inland lakes, rivers and streams to explore by foot. In addition, there are thousands of acres of public land that can be traveled on and a few state and local campgrounds which allow snowshoers to enter.
Snowshoes allow all body types of children and adults to traverse deep drifts and fresh powder that brings a sense of mobility on terrain rather than the frustration of plodding and sweating. With new technology advancing the design of snowshoes also, there are a myriad of choices for the individual to look at before purchasing. However, there are also numerous places for the individual to rent their snowshoes. In the Petoskey-Harbor Springs area there are a number of rental shops that charge a nominal fee on an hourly or daily basis. In addition, the choice of shoes is far and above what one might expect.
Though this article stressed a Northern Michigan locale, in reality, if there is snow, there will usually be the opportunity to enjoy it on snowshoes. Maybe my grandfather could see into the future, as long as we live here why not “enjoy the snow”?
Need more local information for rentals, maps, lodging, shopping etc.? It can be obtained by contacting:
Harbor Springs Chamber of Commerce
@368 E Main St.
Harbor Springs, Michigan 49740
Petoskey Chamber of Commerce
@401 E Mitchell St.
Petoskey, Michigan 49770