Snowshoeing Education 205: Snowshoeing is a Community Affair

During the holiday season a large numbers of Americans annually watch Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life.”  In this classic movie, George Bailey, played by James Stewart is shown by his guardian angel all the lives he touched and his contributions to the Bedford Falls community. George’s community also came together in the end to help save him and his family’s building-and-loan company. A sense of community was the theme throughout the film.

In the third edition (1983) of “The Snowshoe Book,” authors William Osgood and Lesley Hurley wrote about a sense of community as well…community snowshoeing. Snowshoe hikes were popular in New England villages in the 1920s and early 1930s. Their story focuses on events in Northfield, Vt. Planning of the events were informal and included an announcement in the local newspapers inviting anyone in the community interested in an evening snowshoe hike to meet at the village square.

Anywhere from 30 to 100 people would show up for an event. Once the group gathered, one person would lead the group on a planned route, and two would take up the rear to be sure nobody was left behind. Their job was called the “whipper-in.”  Rest stops were set up along the way. After a couple hours of hiking, the group reached their destination at a selected farm where, according to the authors, the family made “fresh baked biscuits, homemade preserves, oyster stew, sandwiches, doughnuts, cider and coffee.” And often group singing filled the air.

Participants pitched in 10 to 25 cents each to the farm family to cover the cost of food. After supper, the return hike often took another fun route and ended as people would snowshoe back to the town square about 10:30 to 11:00 p.m.

Past community snowshoeing events like this were enriching activities that most likely fostered healthy community values. Community snowshoeing events today can do the same. These events can help to create a bond that not only contributes to the cohesiveness of the community but in some cases can also help enrich the community’s economy. From community snowshoe hiking events to local and national snowshoe racing, this too is a story about community.

Snowshoe Racing Community

A community comes together at the United States Snowshoe Association (USSSA) National Championship snowshoeing races annually. A snowshoeing community is created, made up of many athletes who competed in regional races around the country, including their families and friends. And they all come together for the culmination race at the end of the season where they renew acquaintances. Local participants and spectators join the community as well.

The USSSA is holding its 11th Annual 2011 Dion Snowshoes U.S. National Snowshoe Championships in my state of Wisconsin, the day after I send this article to Snowshoe Magazine. The national event is held in concert with the annual Hot Air for Hearts Balloon Rally and Snowshoe Race, a local hot air balloon rally for charity event held at Lakewoods Resort near Cable, Wisconsin on March 11-13. National and local communities join together for these two events.

USSSA anticipates that athletes from 25 to 30 states will compete in the traditional Junior Boys and Girls 5km events, and the Men’s and Women’s 10km events. There is also a 5km Citizen’s Run/Walk event, a Kid’s Kilo event and a 4×2.5km Snowshoe Team Relay race.  New in this 2011 event will be an “International” race, and an “All-Military” event.  When you think about it, the national races bring people together for a weekend from around the country to form this huge snowshoeing community. It enhances relationships and also enhances the local community of Cable by helping boost their economy.

There are three regions that host races across the country designed to qualify athletes to compete in the nationals. Each of three regions hold five qualifying races; the Northeast Regional, the North Central Regional, and the Western Regional. The fourth region is the Alaska Regional where the Fairbanks Snowshoe Classic is the qualifying snowshoe racing event.

The regional events take place in communities where not only athletes from the regional states come together, but where people from local villages, towns, and cities mingle with rural folks making this truly a snowshoeing community. There exist many other community snowshoe races across the country too. Some are sponsored by clubs, resorts, township organizations, recreation programs, parks and small communities, where hundreds of people come together to enjoy competition and camaraderie.

Special Olympics: A Special Community

Another series of events that pull a community together are the Winter Special Olympics snowshoeing races. It warms the heart to share in the enjoyment of competitive winter sports for people who have intellectual disabilities. The Special Olympics is an international nonprofit organization that spans the globe as participant with disabilities of all ages compete in roughly 30 Olympic summer and winter sports. There are some 3.5 million Special Olympians worldwide. Snowshoeing is one of several competitive sports in the winter Special Olympics at the regional, national and international event levels.

The 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games are scheduled to take place in Pyeongchang, Korea. They anticipate more than 2,500 athletes from 105 nations coming together to compete in alpine and cross-country skiing, figure and speed skating, snowboarding, floor hockey and snowshoe racing. Now that’s a huge community. Timothy Shriver, Special Olympic International CEO stated that “Special Olympic World Winter Games provide a global state for our athletes to showcase their talents and we invite the world to join our world of welcome – a world of inclusion and mutual respect, without bias or prejudice.”

In the USA, Special Olympics winter games are held in various states and many events include snowshoe racing.  My nephew Michael competes in Michigan Special Olympics downhill skiing and has taken the gold on occasion. His family and community members share in the excitement at these events. Someday, I hope Michael will take up snowshoe racing and take gold in that event.

Candlelight/Moonlight Snowshoeing

An increasingly popular community activity is the candlelight snowshoeing events sponsored by parks and nature centers across the northern states. At these events candles flicker in containers along snow-covered trails giving an illusion of hundreds of Tinkerbelles shinning across the landscape and illuminating forest trails.

In 2011, Wisconsin alone had 36 candlelight snowshoeing events scheduled at state properties including state parks, forests and trails. Community members are invited to attend. For several years I helped setup and collect candles for an annual candlelight snowshoe event at Rib Mountain State Park near Wausau, Wisconsin.

About 100 to 200 participants snowshoe along three miles of lighted trails. We use vigil-size candles placed in open plastic containers. Several hundred are spaced out about every 20 to 25 feet. Throughout the early evening, snowshoers return to the park’s shelter and enjoy sweets, hot chocolate and camaraderie while sitting near a warm fireplace. This is truly a sense of community…again, a snowshoeing community. The Rib Mountain snowshoe event organizer reported that this year up to 500 people attended two different weekend events.

Just as candlelight events are scheduled by parks and centers, so are moonlight hikes.

Moonlight snowshoeing hikes are guided by the glow of the moon. Our eyes acclimate to nature’s dim lighting cast by moon-reflected light off the snow. Conditions are best when there is a clear sky and a full moon. When this occurs, illumination for snowshoeing is sufficient.

To take full advantage of a full moon, check your wall calendar that marks the 29.5 day orbit of the moon around the earth. During the snowshoeing season, we have one night a month from December through March to enjoy snowshoeing under a full moon (clear skies pending of course).

In looking over a Midwest calendar of community snowshoeing events, I also found a variety of activity such as snowshoeing and howling for owls, biology and ecology snowshoe hike, naturalist led snowshoe hikes, yurt-to-yurt snowshoeing, frozen sea cave and waterfall snowshoe hike, and snowshoeing for families at a nature center.  All these activities brings a community together.

School Sponsored Snowshoeing

In Wisconsin, some of our public schools fund “school forests” that provide outdoor and environmental education for school age children. Occasionally, the school forests sponsor family events for their community.

Boston School Forest (named after a family donor) is part of the Steven Point public school system in the town where my employer, the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point is located.  For the past several years, I have volunteered to help with their annual family snowshoeing event. Anywhere from 40 to 60 participant show up for a candlelight and nature hike, snowshoeing games, and a presentation about snowshoeing while enjoying cookies and hot chocolate. Kids and parents from the community share in the fun playing games like hide-and-seek, follow-the-leader, and Simon-says, as well as competing in kickball, volleyball and relay races…all on snowshoes.

More and more schools in snow areas are purchasing snowshoes as part of their physical education and outdoor education programming. Not only do school kids benefit from use of snowshoes, but on occasions some schools offer family and community evening or weekend snowshoeing events as well.  All contributes to enriching community recreation.

A Sense of Community

Community cohesiveness takes place in almost any outdoor recreational activity that involves bringing people together for joyous events. These events become a thread that is woven to create part of our social fabric…our community well being. Snowshoeing events are one type of activity that adds to the cohesiveness of this social fabric in that they bring people together for the sheer joy of snowshoeing.

In 1986, community psychologists David McMillan and David Chavis, out of George Peabody College of Vanderbilt University (my alma mater), defined “sense of community” as having four elements: 1) membership, 2) influence, 3) integration and fulfillment of needs, and 4) shared emotional connection. In their study, they wrote that in community there is, “a feeling that members have a belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that member’s needs will be met through their commitment to be together.”

I believe that a sense of community is something that can be achieved by snowshoeing in your communities. People who snowshoe together seem to have a feeling of belonging and a shared faith that member’s need will be met through their commitment to… snowshoeing.

At the start of each winter season, check your local newspapers for snowshoeing events in your area…and then participate.  Let your community be a part of you; and you, be a part of your community.

About the author

Jim Joque

Jim Joque

Jim Joque is a Midwest writer on snowshoeing, backpacking and canoeing. He retired from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point as director of disability services and adjunct adventure education instructor, having taught snowshoeing, camping, backpacking, adventure leadership and Leave No Trace.