Still going strong after 6,000 years
If I were to ask you what is 6,000 years old and still going strong, my guess is most would have no idea what that would be. Ironically, one style is named the Ojibwa with a total of six styles commonly accepted across North America and Canada. You will likely say, “I knew that,” when you’re told it’s the common snowshoe.
Before talking value of vintage snowshoes let’s first discuss the different styles. Our information comes from an informative article written by Linne’ Hansen for the Fur-Fish-Game magazine in November, 1980.
Likely the most easily identified style is the Bear Paw, for obvious reasons. Round in shape this design was best used in tight quarters, like heavy woods. The short length allowed the user to make easy turns, but was of little value for carrying heavy loads.
The Alaskan Trail model excelled where the Bear Paw fell short. This shoe is rather long with an upturned toe which kept the user for digging into the snow with each step and carried heavy loads well. Its’ design was not made for tight quarters, but shined when long trips were necessary.
The Michigan has a tear drop design with a more upturned tail than the Alaskan Trail shoe. Average size is 12” by 46.” This shoe worked best in soft snow. With a heavy crust, it broke through and became difficult to lift out.
The most universally recognized shoe is the Maine. In Canada, it is known as the Huron. The length varies quite a bit and has medium width with a long wooden tail. Once again, because of its’ design, it excels in long trips, but is a poor choice in heavy cover.
The most compelling shoe is the Ojibwa. To the untrained eye both ends look similar. This specific shoe was widely used in North America and Canada. The front edge was excellent is cutting through snow, keeping the user up high, which made walks easier. Its’ design makes this model difficult to sell to the average consumer. However, it is one of the most valuable when vintage.
Last, there is the Green Mountain Bear Paw. Many consider this style the most versatile shoe available. It looks like a large version of the regular Bear Paw. Has an upturned toe which eliminated the duck like walk used by most novices on snowshoes. A shortcoming was the tendency of this style to tilt in the snow, often causing many falls.
The best vintage snowshoes are made from white ash with caribou hide webbing and leather bindings. Remember that because it’s huge in assessing value. Caribou hide becomes tight when wet. It shined for this purpose and no other hide works as well. It should be no surprise contemporary wooden shoes use other materials and likely won’t last a lifetime. Shoes made of white ash and caribou hide, with proper care, will outlast their owner.
Today, the most widely accepted shoes are made with aluminum frames, synthetic webbing and bindings. If you snowshoe, put on a vintage wooden set and go for a walk in the woods like our ancestors did a hundred years ago.
It’s challenge for me to assess value because of the many vintage styles out there. My limited experience is the Bear Paw and Ojibwa will cost the most. A good set of either will run $60 to $115. Museums are a good place to find legitimate vintage snowshoes.
The information with such shoes is accurate and will serve you well if you’re considering buying or selling a pair. Look out your window right now. There is no better time to put on your snowshoes and go for a walk. Until next time, may all your searches be successful.
Article written by Mark Greenig, special to the Record