Each kit consists of a white ash frame sourced from Minnesota or Wisconsin, a lacing pack with instructions, and lace and bindings. “By far white ash is the best wood to use,” said Wilcox. “The strength to weight ratio and how it accepts a bend is very, very good. The Native Americans knew what they were doing. You start with the tail, toes and center, you lace it up, it begins to look finished, you varnish it, you add bindings, and you’re ready to go. The lacing that we use, this white nylon, we know of no breakage ever. It won’t break. It’s just way too strong.” Wilcox has a pair of snowshoes with a crack in the frame that he built 30 years ago that he started using just to see how they would hold up. He still uses them today. And if a customer’s snowshoe does somehow break, they’ll replace it for free.
The assembly process for all style of Country Ways snowshoes is the same. The company even offers aluminum frame snowshoes for those customers looking for a modern snowshoe. The aluminum models use the same lace and varnish as the wooden models, and Wilcox said the company had been talking about an aluminum version for years. While some customers may assume that the latest model is always the greatest model, Wilcox said the Ojibwa style is and always will be the one they recommend the most.
“The style we have preferred mostly is the Ojibwa style, which may not look as much like a traditional round toe snowshoe, but because it nests as you walk, you walk with a normal stride and you don’t get as tired. The pointed toe acts like a ski tip, so you drive it,” said Wilcox. He added the larger wooden snowshoes have a very simple advantage over the more compact modern style. “These have more surface area, so they simply float you better,” he said. “Marketing is great, but physics is probably greater. For all of the gadgets and colors and ratchets and sounds, these techniques were developed over centuries and they work pretty well.”
Wilcox doesn’t want to imply that modern snowshoes don’t have a purpose. He said modern snowshoes are great for trails or more densely packed snow. But the very concept of snowshoeing on trails is a very modern one. “It’s very much changed from where it was even ten years ago,” explained Wilcox. “People assume you must snowshoe on a trail, which wasn’t even a consideration before, you just go where you want. With ours you still can. So yeah, we do a lot with people who are out in the deep snow, not walking on a trail. And there’s nothing wrong with walking on a trail. It’s not our thing. We know of camps where they have our shoes and modern shoes. When they’re in the deep snow, our shoes lead; when they’re on crusty stuff, they turn it around. Both work in certain situations.”
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In addition to snowshoes, Country Ways offers a few additional products, such as folding dog sleds, snowshoe-themed lamps, and stained glass pieces. The company has also offered several furniture pieces in the past and will soon do so again. Their furniture offerings include folding and rocking chairs that use the same lacing for seats and backs. Like the snowshoes, the furniture is built to last. Some of Country Ways’ original furniture pieces from 30 years ago are still in use in homes, resorts, and cabins.
Not surprisingly, Country Ways does most of its business in the winter, and deep snow is good for sales. Last year, for obvious reasons, was very, very good. In the fall, many nature centers will offer snowshoe building workshops during which participants build Country Ways snowshoes and drink apple cider. “We have tried to have summer classes, but people don’t want to think about winter in the summer,” said Wilcox with a laugh.
Whether we want to think about it or not, winter inevitably comes to Minnesota. Getting outdoors on a pair of hand-made wooden snowshoes may make the season a little more bearable, maybe even enjoyable.
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