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PAUL SMITH: Snow racquets for Christmas

You can go really fast with these Faber S-line shoes. — Paul Smith photo
You can go really fast with these Faber S-line shoes. — Paul Smith photo

As I sit to write at my computer on this sunny and frosty mid-morning in November, Christmas gift opening time is exactly one month away. I love this cool crisp weather and as soon as I finish this week’s column I’m heading outside.

No trekking on snowshoes yet, at least not here on the Avalon Peninsula. I might take a run in the woods on my Grizzle and have a look around with my .22 calibre levergun. I’m fancying a grouse or rabbit cooked to perfection on Christmas Eve. And remember, I have my Christmas Goose.

Nowadays folks are busy browsing and choosing Christmas gifts. Kids of all ages are excited. My son-in-law Andy discovered an outdoor gift for me that I don’t already have. That wasn’t easy. We have all had a really tough year. The woods and waters have really kept a lot of us sane and balanced though this Covid-19 crisis. And although there is great news on vaccines coming early in 2021, there remains a ways to go with masks and social distancing.

My snowshoes will certainly help with that, and my guns and fishing rods, canoes and kayaks. Maybe we should all try and treat ourselves, family, and friends this Christmas, if possible something to help with the impending long winter months. There may still be challenges ahead.

Fresh air and exercise will certainly help, both mentally and physically.

These are the MSR Revo Ascent shoes and they dig in  great on icy slopes, also super lightweight. — Paul Smith photo - Paul Smith
These are the MSR Revo Ascent shoes and they dig in great on icy slopes, also super lightweight. — Paul Smith photo 

 

I get plenty of emails about Christmas gifts.

The most common are about snowshoes. Years ago the answers were simple. Not anymore, there are so many options available. And mostly it depends on your philosophy of use. But if you just want to dabble in snowshoeing for the first time and you want to stay under or around a $100-purchase, than go to Canadian Tire, Walmart, or Costco and pick up their basic metal frame and synthetic fabric snowshoe.

And by the way, some of the big box stores sell Faber Snowshoes and they are Canadian made. Their overall quality is great, and their entry-level racquets are best kind to get a feel for walking on the snow. They also manufacture shoes for any specialized quest, including wood frame traditionals.

There might be a pair of those under my tree, something very different, so stay tuned. There exists a snowshoe that I’ve always wanted and don’t have.

So what about philosophy of use? You might be a rabbit hunter. Snowshoe hare live in thick woods and hunting them on skis would be most difficult. I think you are seeing my point. Some snowshoes are long and skinny, almost like backcountry skis. Before modern metal frame snowshoes I used wood and moose hide bear paw style shoes for hunting and snaring rabbits. Faber still makes them in two compact sizes, 14-by-30, and 16-by-30 inch.

There is nothing plastic and metal near as quiet and stealthy as leather harnesses, hardwood frames, and hide strip webbing. It is special and still worthy of serious use and consideration. Wooden hand-hewn racquets feel fantastic on fresh fluffy powder.

Good therapy for the heart and soul.

Do you like to move fast and climb hills or mountains? There is definitely something just for you. I’ve been dabbling in this class of shoes for quite a few years now, so I suppose I’m qualified to have my say. Those new lightweight shoes with the heel elevators and the serrated edges are absolutely wicked.

OK, what is this fancy stuff all about? Hills get icy and you need serious traction. Google MSR Revo Ascent. I bought a pair of these for myself last Christmas and trekked at least a hundred miles on them. That grippy edge in addition to the crampon under the ball of your foot keeps you headed in the upward direction, and not sliding helplessly on your rump.

By the way, that can be very dangerous, especially if one of your shoes catches an edge. Learn how to slide on your belly with your feet bent skywards, and how to brake a descent safely.

Now to the televators, or heel elevation gismos. You can flick them up under your heels with a ski pole and it works wonders for your leg endurance on long uphill treks. Fantastic.

And yes, I climbed icy hills in the days before niche mountain snowshoes. It wasn’t much fun and I took some mighty clever tosses. I was younger and less brittle back then. Even so it was a very dangerous pursuit. I’d stamp my feet down for the best possible grip. Ski poles were essential. Sometimes I’d use my axe to get up over a steep nip in the icy path. I like modern mountain shoes.

But on the other hand, high-tech racquets with serrated edges can be treacherous in the thicker woods and trails. There are boughs and sticks for sure, and you can seriously trip when those edges catch solid. I have been buried headfirst in the cold fluffy stuff plenty of times.

Wooden shoes don’t snag near as easily. So it depends on what you are going at, or philosophy of use.

Now for something completely different — what about skiing snowshoes?

Faber is manufacturing an innovative product that they call S-line or Sliding Step Snowshoes. They are marketing them towards the backcountry deep snow crowd. That’s me and I have a pair.

I had planned to use them on a winter hot tent trip last winter but the Covid-19 messed that up. But I did try them out solo on the trail and had an absolute ball, although I had a few wild dramatic spills. Nobody saw me.

Good thing I do yoga.

You can really get a good look at the heel elevators in this shot. These are also narrow profile fast moving shoes. — Paul Smith photo - Erin Sulley
You can really get a good look at the heel elevators in this shot. These are also narrow profile fast moving shoes. — Paul Smith photo - Erin Sulley

 

Anyway, S-line shoes utilize synthetic skins and wings for traction, and it’s adjustable, depending on terrain, snow conditions, need for speed, and how much yoga you do.

You can go pretty damn fast with the quickest slickest skins. These racquets are a hybrid between cross country skis and snowshoes. I like the concept and I’m seriously trying it out. I’m hoping for lots of snow this winter. Check these out on the Faber website if you are interested. They have a video that explains the design concept and shows you how to use them. It’s more like skiing. They are definitely not for rabbit hunting.

I’ll end on this year’s gift to myself. I’ve always wanted a pair of Ojibwa style wooden snowshoes. They are five feet long and for deep snow. You can go really fast in powder with a skiing style stride. Hey, isn’t that what S-Line is all about?

The best of both worlds, the Ojibwa had that figured out before we white folks even set foot on this side of the Atlantic. Imagine that.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity.

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