Ian Parlin, right, and John Rodrigue run in their race snowshoes at Oak Nuts Park trail in Portland on Jan. 30. Both were training for a snowshoe race at Bradbury Mountain State Park slated for Sunday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Portland trail runner Ian Parlin has a pair of racing snowshoes that he doesn’t use very often. But when he does, they make trail running in winter on snow a whole lot more fun. He hopes to use them Sunday in a snowshoe race at Bradbury Mountain State Park.

“Running snowshoes are a weird thing. Honestly they don’t have a practical purpose outside of a snowshoe race, because they’re so small,” said Parlin. “I was training for a 100-mile race in Vermont and I knew I’d run all winter long. I wanted to do it on the trails. So I got them. But even if you’re not training for a race – it’s an incredible workout.”

Snowshoes have come a long way in the past 20 years. The traditional wooden designs that date back centuries have been overtaken by the aluminum and steel recreational snowshoes. And if you’re looking for a hearty workout – those can be trumped by the newer, smaller racing models.

Technology has made snowshoes lighter, easier to maneuver in and – best of all – easy to get on, snap on, and keep on your feet.

One thing is clear: If you bought a pair of snowshoes 20 years ago, you may want to buy another, or at least try a more updated model. Nordic centers across Maine are a good place to rent and try updated models.


“I had a pair of snowshoes years ago where the strap system frequently moved around,” said Chris Hayward, Gould Academy’s director of experiential learning. “Binding systems across the board have come a long way. It’s nice to see technology advance.”

The traditional wooden snowshoes made and used by Indigenous people for centuries generally run between 30 and 60 inches long. They feature intricately woven patterns, some ornamental.

Wooden snowshoes still are made commercially in northern regions like Minnesota, Canada and northern New England. And many still mimic the designs created by Indigenous people. These can run anywhere between $500 to $1,500.

What is more commonly seen on groomed snowshoe trails at Nordic centers are aluminum and steel snowshoes, which started being produced 50 years ago.

Recreational snowshoes can be rented for $5 at Bradbury Mountain State Park for the snowshoe trails. Courtesy of Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands

Like many outdoor sports, snowshoeing has taken off during the pandemic.

At Dion Snowshoes in Vermont, the factory hasn’t been able to keep up with demand for the lightweight, 20-inch racing snowshoes the past two years.


“Our shelves are pretty empty. If we could keep up with the demand, we could be five times as busy,” said owner and founder Bob Dion.

The Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands operates a traveling winter trailer full of cross country skis and snowshoes. The trailer has become a “crazy busy” draw during the pandemic, said Bradbury Mountain State Park Manager Chris Silsbee.

The trailer offers park visitors the chance to try snowshoes and Nordic skis for free. It is currently located at Range Pond State Park in Poland.

The aluminum and steel snowshoes rented out at Bradbury State Park – and the ones loaned out for free in the state’s traveling trailer – are far different than the ones Silsbee used 20 years ago. The old straps have been replaced with a binding that the boot slips into. A belt buckle can be tightened around the boot and released easily by pressing a button. 

“It literally takes seconds to take on and off snowshoes today,” Silsbee said. 

These range in size from 20 to 30 inches long, and bigger hikers generally want the larger shoes.


An advantage to the more modern recreational snowshoes is that they’re useful even if there is little snowpack but a ton of ice. With cleats on the bottom, modern snowshoes make it easier to traverse slick trails. But they still work great in deep snowpack, too.

Gould Academy has required a winter camping outing for students for 39 years – and snowshoes are a key part of the adventure. Students hike through a White Mountain National Forest trail carrying 50-pound packs with higher-end, aluminum and steel snowshoes. 

The school uses smaller recreational snowshoes around 22 inches for most teenagers. But the 30-inch snowshoes are used by taller, bigger students, Hayward said. The smaller shoes run around $150 to $250. The larger snowshoes carry hikers who weigh 220 to 280 pounds can run upward of $350.

Paige Mull laughs after falling over in the snow as Maddie Lindquist offers to help her up during their winter camping trip with Gould Academy in March 2021. The students hike miles in snowshoes to remote camping sites as part of the school’s annual winter camping adventure. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“It really is about flotation and the amount of weight you’re carrying. It’s about the ease of moving through the snow,” Hayward said. “If you weigh more, you need a bigger surface area.”

Still, even snowshoes well suited to a person’s physique can take a while to master. Nordic centers often rent hiking poles to help.

“The first day kids really struggle with how to coordinate on them – to put them on with a big pack on, and bending down to strap them on, and getting the right tension. It ends up being a lot of teamwork,” Hayward said.


The latest evolution of snowshoes is the racing snowshoe. These run smaller, around 21 to 25 inches in length, and are narrower. They cost around $250. The racing style is easier to walk in, but do better on packed snow, as opposed to fresh, deep powder.

Dion first started making his racing snowshoes more than 20 years ago when he grew tired of trying to trail run in winter in 30-inch snowshoes. 

“You have bloodied ankles, banged-up ankles, it’s pretty painful,” Dion said. 

John Rodrigue shows off his racing snowshoe.  Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

On Dion Snowshoes, the binding is attached from beneath, not bolted on top, and they’re narrow throughout, not just at the end. Even recreational snowshoe hikers want the more maneuverable design once they discover them.

“A lot of times what happens in the White Mountains or Adirondacks is someone in racing snowshoes will walk by someone in recreational snowshoes. And our neon orange frames stand out. Then they ask about them. Our business has been all word of mouth,” Dion said.

Dion believes the next iteration of modern snowshoes will be one he’s eager to get to work designing: kids’ racing snowshoes.

“Kids’ snowshoes are horrible,” Dion said. “They’re big and plastic and weigh more than the kids. We want to make racing snowshoes for kids more affordable. I think we can get it down around $100.”

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