Having Fun in a Winter Wonderland

When the temps drop, that’s no reason to stay indoors. The Finger Lakes are beautiful anytime of the year, with the right layering! Take a peek at the history of two popular outdoor options: snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.


History of Snowshoeing

The use of snowshoes dates back as much as 6,000 years, making them one of the oldest inventions of humankind! It is believed that snowshoes were invented in Central Asia. Originally, they were modified slabs of wood, known as the “shoeski.”

It was not too long before this evolved into the white ash frames snowshoes with the rawhide lacing that we associate with snowshoeing today. Snowshoes and skis made it possible for aboriginal peoples to expand over and occupy the northern hemisphere. Certainly areas such as Scandinavia, Siberia and the Americas could not have been easily explored in ancient times without a reliable means of transportation! While skis became the favored means of transportation in northern Asia and Europe, the snowshoe became a major part of the North American cultural heritage.

Snowshoe Styles

Until the 1970s, snowshoes were used primarily for employment and survival rather than recreation, and the materials utilized in the construction were wood and rawhide. The wooden snowshoes are categorized in three different styles.

The oval-shaped bear paw was designed for forested conditions where maneuverability was most important.

The 46+ inch-long Yukon snowshoe was developed for traversing deep powder-covered open areas common in the Northwest.

The beavertail took advantage of the best features of both the bear paw and the Yukon, and has been utilized in all types of snow

Local Gear Rental

Equipment can be rented at the following venues: Hanson Nature Center in Tinker Nature Park, Henrietta Wild Wings at Mendon Ponds Park
Helmer Nature Center’s Saturday Snowshoe, Irondequoit Cumming Nature Center, Naples
Genesee Country Village, Mumford
Montezuma Audubon Center, Savannah
Genesee County Park & Forest, Bethany
Bryncliff Resort, Varysburg
Reinstein Woods & Nature Preserve, Cheektowaga Medved Running and Walking Outfitters in Pittsford
REI in Rochester
RV&E in Canandaigua and Fairport

For other locations to snowshoe in the Finger Lakes region, visit NewYorkUpstate.com.
All trails on DEC lands are open to cross country skiing and snowshoeing.

History of Cross Country Skiing

Cross country skiing is the oldest type of skiing. Although we use it today primarily as a form of recreation and sport, it began out of necessity as an effective means for traveling cross-country over the snow. It is unclear if any particular region was first – petroglyphs, drawings and remnants of skis have been found in the Scandinavian region as well as Russia and China, dating back 5,000 years!

Cross Country Ski Folklore

In 1206 CE a civil war erupted between two Norwegian clans. When the peace-loving king Birkebeiner Haakon III passed away, the rival Bagler clan made plans to kill his infant son, who was next in line for the throne. The palace guards made a plan to escort the young king to
Trondheim to save his live. Although a fierce snowstorm interrupted their mission after only a few days of traveling, the heroic guards pushed on by strapping on their skis, and carried the young king for a difficult 55 km stretch from Lillehammer through the blizzard and snow to the safety of Rena in Trondheim! In memory of their heroics, the annual Birkebeiner races take place in Norway using the same path. The competitors carry backpacks weighing 3.5 kg (7.7 lbs), symbolic of the little king’s weight that the palace guards carried! And yes, Lillehammer was the site of the 1994 Winter Olympics!

Local Gear Rental

Equipment can be rented at the following ski venues:
Cumming Nature Center
Greek Peak Nordic Center in Cortland
Lime Hollow Center for Environment and Culture in Cortland
Bristol Mountain Ski Resort
Podunk XC Ski Shop in Interlaken
Gear rental is also available locally at the following locations:
The Ski Company in Rochester and Syracuse
REI in Rochester
Fullsend Ski and Outdoor in Canandaigua
EMS in Ithaca
Art Roscoe Cross Country Ski in Salamanca
For other locations to cross country ski in the Finger Lakes region, visit
GoFingerLakes.org or https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/353.html

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