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Deep Portage holds traditional snowshoe weaving classes

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The temperatures were icy and many people used that as a reason to stay inside, but it proved the perfect ambiance for a recent class weaving snowshoes in front of an open fire at Deep Portage Conservation Reserve.

Deep Portage offers a snowshoe weaving class biannually. For a fee, participants are given a kit from a company called Country Ways that contains frames of bent white ash, a bundle of nylon webbing and instructions for weaving it all into a pair of Ojibwe style snowshoes.

Participants in the class were guided by Deep Portage instructors Brian Minor and Anna Swarts. Swarts instructed similar classes at Bemidji State University with the Outdoor Program Center. Minor said this type of snowshoe is popular for long treks in snow of a medium depth.

“The long and narrow profile nests more easily, so they are seen as more of a trekking or long distance snowshoe as opposed to a sport snowshoe, which would be smaller,” Minor said.

The process of making snowshoes takes hours, as evidenced by the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Deep Portage class. It includes marking the shoes for proper webbing placement, weaving a complex web of nylon, and then adding layers of shellac to protect the final product. The shellac is not included in the kits, but it can be found in any hardware store.

“I think it’s great. It’s a great way to get people from the community to come in and see our facilities and experience something a little different from our usual programming. People that want to learn traditional skills can come out here and learn them,” Minor said.

“I think you get a lot more satisfaction out of using them. If you varnish and shellac them the right way then they are going to last forever. I think the people get a lot of enjoyment even through all the frustration of weaving, which can be myriad. Being able to say once it’s finished that you did it as opposed to somebody else is really satisfying,” Minor said.

“I thought it would be something fun to do,” said Bobby Tufts, father of the 4-year-old Dorset mayor of the same name. “I have my own metal ones I have had a couple of years and thought it would be kind of cool to make snowshoes out of wood and weave them myself.”

The satisfaction of making your own snowshoes comes from hours of weaving a single snowshoe. It takes a lot of work. One participant admitted to already owning a pair of half finished snowshoes from a similar class.

Linda McNamara of Hackensack is an experienced crafter who is used to following complex sewing and knitting patterns and instructions, but even for her, weaving snowshoes was difficult, though for her the reward would be worth it.

“I have wanted to make my own snowshoes ever since I remember first seeing it in the paper that Deep Portage did this,” McNamara said. “Every year I put it off. This year I’m retired, so I said, ‘I’m doing it. I don’t care what else is going on that day. I’m doing it.’ So I am very excited to use these.”

Like Tufts, McNamara owns a pair of commercially produced snowshoes, but to her there is something different between metal snowshoes and wooden ones made by hand.

“They work, of course, but these are real snowshoes, so I’m very excited about it,” McNamara said.