Oct 08 2014

Ode to Slowshoes


If you must, slowshoes are better than none for hiking in snow.

If you must, slowshoes are better than none for hiking in snow.

While at Dynafit’s 30-year anniversary party at the Outdoor Retailer show last January 2014 the conversation turned to snowshoes. One of folks I was talking to remarked how unbelievable it was that they ran into a bunch of snowshoers on a recent tour, miles from the trail head. They couldn’t believe that someone would work that hard to get to the top of a ridge, or peak, on snowshoes.

It wasn’t that they didn’t understand the willingness to hike around on the snow in the mountains to simply revel in the beauty there; that’s one of the benefits of ski touring, the hike and the views. Even in summer, I like hiking up the trail; but down? To those who can’t ski yet, please understand I purposely pervert the term snowshoe into slowshoes because, compared to skis, they are so clumsily slow. Maybe if I didn’t know how to ski I might consent to tromp around in them, but I do, so I don’t.

Of course, since everyone in the conversation was a skier we thought it was funny how silly the whole snowshoeing phenomenon was. Then I remembered that the reason we were all at this party together, celebrating 30 years of ski touring with Dynafit bindings was because the guy who invented climbing posts, and did his level best to grow the sport of alpine touring here in America, did so because he shared the same perspective on slowshoes.

The Ramer Classic in action.

The Ramer Classic in action.

Paul Ramer invented the first American AT binding, the Ramer Classic, which was the precursor to the Dynafit system. In fact, Fritz Barthel’s original prototype touring binding simply took the Ramer binding and literally turned it inside out. By inverting the position of the pin and socket, Fritz was able to eliminate the weight of the plate while keeping the functionality of the pins for frictionless touring and spring clamping force for releasability. It was genius, and he admits he was standing on the shoulders of Paul Ramer’s genius.

Here’s the crux part of it. Paul developed his binding because he was so disappointed in having to walk back down after going on his first, and last, snowshoe tour in the Colorado Rockies. He liked the hike and the view and the exercise. But the walk back down, especially to a skier, was sheer aggravation for him. There was no glide and little control; the fun of the run was turned to frustration.

So he decided he needed a way to be able to ski uphill so he could also ski back down and the Ramer Classic alpine touring binding was the result. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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