June 02, 2017 3 min read 2 Comments

Vintage Winter: Snowshoe History, Shapes and Styles

In today’s blog we are talking about some of the most popular styles and shapes of vintage snowshoes. Before we get into all the cool styles, let’s talk about the history of snowshoes. 

About one hundred years ago most people made their own snowshoes. Snowshoes were created by using wooden snowshoe molds. Snowshoe forms and molds are quite rare and very difficult to acquire. These days they function as beautiful organic wall art. The below snowshoe molds are from our Vintage Winter collection and were in excellent condition and with a patina collectors and museums search for! In all our years of collecting snowshoes and related antique equipment, we have found 5 of these snowshoe molds! Think of the hundreds and thousands of antique snowshoes created from these historic mold!


(Antique Museum Quality Snowshoe Makers Mold, Form c. 1840’s – 1900, 19th century)

We believe that there are four main styles of snowshoes; plus the infinite number of handmade trappers, ceremonials, emergencies and just plain “uniques”. Native Indians such as the Montagnais, the Naskapi, Athabascans, Algonquin, Attikamek, Cree, Labrador, Iroquis and the Aagimug mastered snowshoe making. While snowshoe shapes tend to reflect primitive regional diversity their function for maneuverability in the variety of local terrain remains thee source for differing designs. In the beginning, snowshoe names were created by referencing their shape to native animals. 


The Bearpaw, Swallowtail and Beavertail are classic examples. The Bearpaw's frame forms a large wide shape seen in paw prints of forest dwelling bears.  The Swallowtail's shape is characteristic of many birds but we think the silhouette of a cliff swallow embodies this shape best.  Last but definitely not least the frame of a Beavertail snowshoe takes the distinctive shape of a Beavers tail.

Bear Paw (also called Modified Bearpaw, Green Mountain or Appalachian)

• oval for maneuverability in thick woods and mountainous terrain with firmer snow – no tail
• disadvantages: slower than other styles and not great for deep powder snow.



Huron (also called Michigan, Maine, Beavertail or Algonquin) – thee most popular design

• typical tear-drop shape with an upturned toe and a narrow tail
• usually wider and shorter than the Alaskan
• versatile for use on trails or open woods and rolling terrain
• disadvantages: clumsy in thick woods or very deep powder snow
• tails acts to provide forward 'kick' to propel the next step while lessening fatigue

Alaskan (also called Trail, Yukon, Cross Country or Pickerel)


• long and narrow, usually 4-5 feet long with an upturned toe, and narrow tail
• primarily for use in open areas with deep powder snow
• great on steep mountain descents
• very fast, and tracks well over long distances
• disadvantages: poor maneuverability in close quarters
• thee snowshoe of choice for 10th mountain division troops in WWII
• tails acts to provide forward 'kick' to propel the next step while lessening fatigue

Ojibwa (also called Aagimug, Chippewa, Cree or Ski-Snowshoe)

• designed in Canada by Native Indians to suit deep snows and wide open spaces
• classic and easily identifiable pointed tip's with an upturned toe
• frame consists of two separate pieces of wood joined at the tail and bow
• pointed tips cut through snow and brush surprisingly well and suits rolling terrain with brush
• tails acts to provide forward 'kick' to propel the next step while lessening fatigue


Here at Vintage Winter we have been so fortunate to see first-hand the history of snowshoes. Throughout the years, we have experienced all kinds of snowshoes which has allowed us the opportunity to document and share this history with our fans! Sometimes we are lucky enough to have a good size collection and the ability to share the history with snowshoe enthusiasts through our rental program. Currently we have an Indigenous Snowshoe Collection available for rent.  This museum exhibit includes many variations of native made snowshoes – each with its unique story. You can learn more about this exclusive collection HERE.

Many of the pictures displayed in this article are for purchase. Please click on any of images to get to the vintage snowshoes on our webpage.

We hope this article gives you a better understanding of the various vintage snowshoe styles and shapes and we will continue to document snowshoe history on our website!

2 Responses

Kerry Salatino
Kerry Salatino

December 28, 2018

Where can I send some pictures of some old snowshoes my mom received for Christmas so someone can help id them…. it was mentioned that they were from the 10th Mountain Division and pictures won’t attach here.

Kevin King
Kevin King

July 21, 2017

I have three pairs of snowshoes that originally came from French Canada circa 19th century. They came from my ex- grandfather in law that was a trapper in Canada in the early 20th century. They are in very good condition but not too much use to me here in North Carolina. Would you be interested in purchasing any or all of them?

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