There are so many places to buy outdoor gear, online and off, and so many varieties. Prices are all over the place, last year's top of the line snow pants will end up on clearance at 75 percent, while this year's models (Oh! We changed the pocket closure from Velcro to zip!) hover around $200 USD. Companies push new technologies or gimmicks or styles, and we buy it – after all, we'd like to be warmer, drier, better ventilated, or just better looking.
Hood River is a place you might have heard of if you've traveled in Oregon. It's famous for windsurfing, kiteboarding, and the concerts at the Gorge Amphitheater. It's about half way between Washington's Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood. But "The Forgotten Mountain" - Mount Adams - is just to the north of the river. The area between the Columbia River and the mountain is a recreation lover's paradise. There's white water rafting, camping, fishing, mountain biking and, of course, snowshoeing.
This is dedication. Becky Harman and Aaron Robertson have flown halfway across the world to run 6.8 kilometers on snowshoes. They arrive on Friday afternoon. They spend Saturday dealing with things like jetlag, altitude adjustment, and figuring out exactly where they are. On Sunday, they run the race, and then shuttle across Austria again in order to catch a Monday morning flight. They're accompanied by the United States Snowshoe Association coach, Mark Elmore, who has made all this - oh, let's just call it what it is - craziness happen.
It's about nine in the morning. We're standing in front of the Stella di Alpi, a friendly little pension in Ronzone, Italy. There are maybe 15 of us including Mark Elmore (the USSSA coach), several top rated US snowshoe racers, and their families. We're talking gear and nonsense and waiting for the bus to shuttle us to the start line, up the road in Romeno.
A Dream Come True
Close your eyes and imagine Austria in winter. Picture the flawless snowy meadows stretched out underneath a Kodakchrome blue sky. Imagine the old wooden barns, fringed by sparkling icicles; a village settled down at a bend in the river, smoke coming from the chimneys. All around you are granite peaks where the breeze lifts snow in wispy feathers along the ridgeline. The only sound is the crunching under your snowshoes, as wisps of powder rising behind your steps. Imagine yourself later that evening, a golden glass of Pilsner next to a steaming plate of homemade goulash and for dessert, well, strudel, of course. Then, it's off to bed under a fluffy down comforter in your cozy pine paneled room, the snow falling silently outside your window.
I bought a big wooly sweater at an outdoor market on the Portuguese coast; it must be 15 years ago now. It's my favorite sweater. It's starting to unravel a little, but it still keeps me warm and dry. Thing is...it's a bulky piece of clothing...fine for going to the store, but for a snowshoe hike, it's ridiculous.
The coast has always been my home. I've never lived far from water and as such, spent most of my outdoors time in temperate zones. I was, from a young age, devoted to my bicycle and until my day job got to be too far away from my home, was a committed bicycle commuter. My heart has turned towards the Pacific Ocean for as long as I can remember. The rallying call, "To the beach!" never fell on deaf ears when shouted my way. The embarrassment of swimsuits aside, sand and sea were my preference. Oh, I knew of snow, but it was not my destination.
We received some e-mails about the article featuring American snowshoes. And, we received a few calls from folks that I didn't get a chance to talk with while doing my interviews. A few companies didn't return my calls, but that's not the only reason a company may not have made it in during my first round. It just wasn't possible for me to connect with everyone in time to make the deadline.
(To read "American Made: Does It Matter?" Part I, visit https://www.snowshoemag.com/view_content.cfm?content_id=143.)
While I'm sitting here typing this article, three containers of Tubbs' snowshoe manufacturing gear are making their way across the water to the K2 plant in China. This year, all of Atlas' snowshoes were built in China, and next year, this will be true for Tubbs as well.
FONDO, Italy: Fondo is a little village towards the top of the Valle di Non in Trentino, a northern Italian province on the edge of the Dolomite Alps. The Valle di Non is a farming region, apples and grapes primary, with a little dairy here and there. There are cow barns in the town of Fondo, proper. There are 15th century frescoes, lovingly restored, on the corners of a few of the houses. There are archways and cobblestone streets. There's a narrow canyon that runs seemingly right through - and below - the center of town. To call this area picturesque is insufficient, but you get the idea. Imagine a little alpine village.
All righty boys and girls! The snow has fallen, you're busting with enthusiasm, and it's time to get out there on the snow. You've been down in the basement to dust off the gear.
Lance Young is a walking trail encyclopedia. "Where would you send beginning snowshoers?" I asked him, and he immediately mentioned four excellent local hikes. Not only does he know how to get there, but also, where to park, the altitude gain on the trail, the distance, what the terrain is like...it's all in his head. Once he'd given me the low down on his first four, he threw in two others for good measure. This is a guy who knows the landscape. And luckily for me - and the participants in Lance's One World Outing Club - he's more than happy to share that information.
Gil Gilpatrick is a man who knows his way around a snowshoe.
He taught himself how to build snowshoes more than 30 years ago when couldn't find anyone to teach him. He built a steamer and a frame and kept bending wood until he got it right. When he'd finally mastered that part of the process, he got an old snowshoe and spent many hours sitting in front of the wood stove lacing and relacing the webbing on the shoe. He took copious notes while he worked, and that collection of notes became his first "Building Snowshoes" book.
Winterkids makes snow and fitness fun.
“We have so many letters from grateful parents!” says Carla Marcus, the director of Winterkids. “Kids bring their enthusiasm for snow sports home to their families and they get active too. The program isn't just for the kids, it's for kids, their siblings, and their parents… the whole family benefits.”