Wait, I thought this was Canoelover, not Snowshoelover. Well, can’t a guy be both?
I love making snowshoes. It’s a relaxing pass time, and you will often find me sitting in front of the fireplace, lacing shoes while my wife knits. It’s relaxing.
The problem is that a guy can only own so many pair of snowshoes. I have a fair amount of cost in materials so giving them away wasn’t an option after a while (a few people got lucky before I did the math–yikes!). So I started selling them to friends at a reasonable price, and found I couldn’t keep up.
So here’s how Toad Snowshoes evolved.
In the winter of 1987, Stephanie was pregnant, we were sick of being housebound. So we poked around a little and saw a class on snowshoe building at a nature center up in northern Wisconsin. A perfect weekend getaway! So we drove up to New London in our little red car and had a great weekend together. I had no idea what would happen.
We came home with two pairs of snowshoes, and a love of the activity was born in our family. We took many a walk together with kids strapped to our backs and pulled behind us in sleds or pulks.
We went dormant for a while, but about ten years later I wanted to make another pair, but the shoes I wanted to make were no longer available. I found a snowshoe kit from another maker and built another pair. Then a few more. Then I taught classes on building to dozens of people, then again, stopped. I just didn’t have the time.
Fast forward another six or seven years. I wanted to do some more lacing, but I wanted to branch out a little, build my own shoes from my own ideas of shapes and lacing patterns. I found a frame-maker and bought some smaller lace to get a tighter weave, and started experimenting. What happened was an acceptable starting point.
I wasn’t crazy about the black color, and the way the nylon didn’t soak up as much spar varnish as I would like. I found the company who wove lacing, and they custom-made some white 3/16″ nylon tubular webbing that had a slightly looser weave that allowed it to soak up varnish beautifully. I use a tea stain I formulated in which I soak the lacing overnight so that it approximates the color of rawhide after being varnished.
I found a frame-maker who makes high-quality steam-bent ash frames. They’re made to my specifications and I am very happy with them. That allowed me to lace while I build jigs to steam my own frames.
The first jig I built was for youth shoes, since no one makes appropriate youth shoes because “you can’t make money on them.” Since this is a labor of love, I don’t care too much about making money on these. Putting a 60-pound kid in a pair of adult shoes, no matter how small, is like getting a pair of hiking boats three sizes too large so they’ll grow into them. Silly.
Other custom-shaped adult shoes are in the works, including a true bear paw, something that is not commercially available.
I currently build the Ojibway or Cree style shoes, which feature points at both ends. They are the original style frames from northern Wisconsin and Michigan and southern Ontario. They work great for making time on big, open expanses and you can pull a toboggan easily. The front of the shoe parts grasses if you are walking through a prairie.
I make snowshoes in four sizes.
The smallest shoes are youth shoes. They are approximately 8×26 inches, good for 40-90 pounds, more in consolidated show conditions. They cost $175 with a lamp-wick binding that can be tied to almost any sized boot. They are made to order only.
Small shoes fit 100-160 pounds, more or less, depending on snow conditions. The more consolidated the snow conditions the more weight they’ll hold.
Medium shoes are the most common I make, probably 2/3rd of my shoes are mediums. They hold 120-200 pounds easily. Same applies as with small shoes; the fluffier the snow the less flotation.
Large shoes hold 160-240 pounds, more or less. Same caveats.
If you are interested in a pair please contact me via the contact me bar at the top of the blog. Pricing is $300 per pair, irrespective of size. The smalls take a little less time and larges a bit more, but they’re not that different and I don’t want people buying a shoe that’s too small because it’s less expensive.
Bindings can be added for $75.00 and are installed by me. Shipping is $20.00 to the lower 48. If you are overseas and want a pair, you can pay freight collect from an overseas carrier of your choice (DHL, Fedex, etc.). I will wrap them as shown, then you send a call tag.
The shoes are wrapped in several layers of bubble wrap and cardboard and are well-padded for shipping. Each pair is signed and numbered by me in an unobtrusive location on the shoe.
I sometimes have a small stock in the summer, as I build more when I can varnish in a warm environment. In general, I build to order. Since this is my hobby I don’t rush things, I build the best quality shoes I can and most folks understand this and are willing to wait for them. Each pair of snowshoes takes several days to shape, sand, lace, and varnish, and I am meticulous about it. I have customers all over the United States and Canada and I have never had a complaint.
I started an Etsy store and shut it down two weeks later. I do not advertise my shoes other than an occasional post on Facebook if I have a pair I built that were not spoken for, and they’re gone within a day, sometimes a few hours.
The shoes are warrantied against any defect for their lifetime (or mine). Take care of these shoes and they will last forever.
I started doing repairs because people asked. It seems no one does repairs on old rawhide shoes. I took the first few cases out of pity…but then I grew to enjoy restoring or repairing shoes for people who had their grandfather’s snowshoes that were made 70 or 80 years ago.
The toe cord is the spine of a snowshoe, so I had to replace the entire footbed section. This involves soaking rawhide to make it pliable. It dries as it shrinks, making the whole shoe stronger.
Rates for repair are $60.00 an hour plus materials.
Why Toad Snowshoes?
Anyone who has read Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows knows that there’s nothing quite so wonderful as messing around in boats. That quote has been thrown about for decades. What you may not remember is Mr. Toad’s manias. He jumped from one mania to another. I certainly am not a toad, and I didn’t nearly bankrupt my estate buying carriages and trading Toad Hall for a motorcar, but I have many interests.Over the years I’ve been a blacksmith, woodworker, made didgeridoos, carved wooden spoons, been a writer for outdoor magazines and of course, snowshoe maker. My wife calls me her creative toad, and it stuck.
Feel free to contact me about anything snowshoe-related. It’s my passion and I am happy to share information with anyone who shares my affection for snow walking. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.