The Changing Landscape of the Snowshoe Industry: A Conversation with Mel Janaes

by Ryan Alford – Snowshoe Magazine

Snowshoeing is becoming more of a mainstream sport by the minute. But, this monster of an industry will not mirror what snowboarding has done over the years for winter sports enthusiasts – it’s charting new territory. Mel Janaes, clinic guide and sales associate with Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS), understands this and justly relates to the oncoming droves of people that are expressing interest.

An important factor in the growth of today’s snowshoe industry is that there is plenty of room for new innovations, more competitions, better snowshoe designs and certainly more snowshoers hiking the outdoors for the need rather than the want. Whether you’re the owner of a snowshoe manufacturing company or you’re just somebody who saw some goofball walking on a pair of racket-like shoes, it funnels to the same system: Snowshoeing, in every aspect, is for everybody.

As an industry enthusiast, I see the industry for what it is tomorrow. I see my son’s generation taking snowshoeing to a level nobody has pondered yet. I imagine the industry’s Olympic future providing a whole new spectrum of international snowshoers budding from the TVs that joyously reflect medallist winners. I envision that snowshoeing will more widely be understood as the fastest growing winter sport in the nation – snowboarding is great but not as prominent as many are led to believe.

My conversations with Mel support my theories. For a man that’s constructed a pair of snowshoes from scratch, led clinics of eager snowshoeing beginners and sold snowshoe products firsthand, it’s apparent my questions will be answered with ease and the spirit of support.

“Snowshoes are great and I don’t see them going out of style,” Mel says. “It’s a very simple, easy activity to pick up and learn. A lot of people think it’s difficult, but many haven’t been on snowshoes. So, I encourage people to get out and snowshoe.”

The most intriguing aspect of the snowshoe industry is how customized it can be to its devotees. The prime example of this type of sustenance, which is almost unmatched by any other seasonal sports industry, is how well adapted it has become to cater to the needs of women. Plagued by unisex products and those that taunted the solemnity of sport-enthused females worldwide (I hate to use politically incorrect, but that’s all I got), women have been consistently snubbed.

Nowadays, thankfully, that has changed. “Gender, weight, versatility are now factors in how snowshoes are made,” Mel noted. Although all manufacturers have gender-specific models, some can be limelighted to support my thought-process.

Redfeather Snowshoes has two new models for women: The “Pace” and the “Stride.” The new Pace model is a sport V-tail snowshoe combined with a cross-country binding that is light and easy to handle. Redfeather’s redesigned Stride shoe is a V-tail model as well but geared more for a women’s walking and running strides. The Stride’s binding is made for convenience: Quick release buckles, easy-to-use strap system – designed to form to a woman’s foot.

The manufacturer that gets the “A” grade for the year is Tubbs. The company plans to offer three women’s snowshoes that feature new binding and crampon systems. The series includes a new larger shape, designed for plus-size women who weigh 160 plus pounds (including their equipment). Tubbs continuously runs the good race with its “Romp to Stomp Out Breast Cancer Winter Walk Series,” which attracted almost 1,000 women and raised $40,000 for breast cancer research during winter 2003. So, it is appropriate to bow to Tubbs for its continued involvement in the good cause: Helping women feel comfortable in a winter sport.

“Women who walk together all summer are turning to snowshoeing with their friends,” says Kathy Murphy of Tubbs. “The off-shoot of that is the median age has dropped from 38 to 34.”

Atlas Snow-Shoe Co. has joined the efforts to support women as well. Holding seminars like the “Explore Winter Women’s Workshops” at participating retail outlets across the country, helps empower women in outdoor settings. “In out workshops,” says Karen Righthand of Atlas, “we talk about fitness and responsible snowshoeing.”

However, the “cool” factor about snowshoeing from my point of view is its ubiquity and encompassment of all age groups. “I really don’t think (snowshoeing) is there when it comes to that ‘new’ generation,” Mel notes. “They just don’t think it’s very cool because they see a bunch of ‘uncool’ people snowshoeing. But, get that group in front of a competition and their minds will change.”

Not only are the race competitions an exciting part of the snowshoeing trade, the manufacturers have done an excellent job with designing better snowshoes. A combination of a frame, crampons, bindings, plastic plates and tough material…the sophistication of the snowshoe has evolved tremendously from the early wood frame models.

“I think what needs to be improved is good quality children snowshoes. A child acts a lot different than an adult, as far as stride and walk is concerned,” Mel says. “In my opinion, what’s available today is not great for kids…the bindings aren’t great and should be made differently.”

There are dilemmas. But, the perks that exist to help invite more people to snowshoeing are numberless. With so much room to grow and the trends that are beginning to turn the corner, the manufacturers, the competitors, the destinations, the non-profit organizations, all can benefit if work can be done in unison.

“At retail, snowshoes aren’t cheap,” Mel adds. “However, those that are priced high are meant for a snowshoer that will use and abuse that pair of snowshoes to its full potential. There a lot of different price points depending on who you are and what category you are in.”

It’s simple…the industry needs to influence those that haven’t been on snowshoes more. The obvious reasons are for growth potential, but there are reasons to help our nation become more outdoor-minded. According to research gathered by Snowsports Industries America (SIA), 61 percent of adults are overweight. With the promotion of a healthy diet and some strenuous snowshoeing, that percentage could be reduced.

The SIA research also suggests that there are three times as many overweight adolescents in the United States as there were 30 years ago. And, this supports my point, we need more members of the younger generations to get involved in snowshoeing.

It falls on the issue of advocacy. The snowshoe industry is at the foot of what could possibly be life-changing decisions for many people worldwide.
As the manufacturers work to make a better snowshoe, customized to whomever straps on a pair, awareness of the sport will increase. As more competitions are organized in every state for every month during the winter season, the sport’s “coolness” factor will amplify. As the destinations begin to market snowshoeing as the reason to travel and seek a certain outdoor area, the more people will begin making purchases. And, as the non-profit organizations that support a multitude of programs that further support the preciousness of life, snowshoeing can be the healthy supplement for anybody looking to get involved.