Continuing the “biodiversity and sports” series today, snowshoes are thought to be one of the earliest and most important innovations in transportation technology, with evidence of a kind of primitive “ski shoe” being used in Asia around 6000 BCE. Composed of slabs of wood lashed onto the bottoms of feet, this early technology is also believed to have diverged with human dispersement. Peoples that settled in present-day Scandinavian countries developed the early design into the Nordic ski. Those peoples that moved eastward into North America created snowshoes resembling those seen today (link has photographs). It is believed that the crossing of the Bering Strait was made possible by the invention of the ski shoe.
Due to the manufacturing process and use, wood used in the fabrication of wooden snowshoes must be both tough and pliable. The wood of choice for First Nations in eastern North America was Fraxinus americana (or white ash), though birch, larch and willows are among the types of trees also sometimes used. Also commonly known as American ash, this large deciduous tree is found in mesophytic hardwood forests from Nova Scotia west to Minnesota and south to northern Florida. Unfortunately, the wood of white ash is susceptible to rot, so First Nations had to use the resin of several spruce species (red, white and black) mixed with animal fat to seal the wooden frame.
There are several traditional styles of snowshoes whose origin depended on locale and activity. Begining in the 1830s, the first recreational snowshoe clubs were established. In the 1970s, snowshoes began to make extensive use of synthetic materials and lightweight metals to replace natural materials (e.g., those developed by the Sherpa Snowshoe Company). This has led to a resurgence in the popularity of snowshoe recreation in the past couple decades.