Traditional Snow Tools and Technologies

Although motorized snowplow trucks and snowmobiles are relatively recent technological developments, people have been inventing and improving tools to make living with snow easier for more than 100,000 years. Many types of snow tools that we still use today are basically the same as those that people have made and used for generations. Modern tools are most commonly made of commercially available materials such aluminum and plastic rather than natural materials such as wood, bone, and animal hide.

In different parts of Alaska, people made and used different versions of snow tools that work best in the snow conditions that are characteristic of their respective homelands. The design of tools from different regions also reflects the natural materials available in that area and the cultural and the aesthetic preferences and skills of the craftsperson who made them. Some Alaska Natives still make tools, including sleds and snowshoes, in the traditional way.

Learn about some traditional Alaska Native snow tools and technologies from different regions of the state by clicking on the photos below. Or select the credit line to connect to a detailed museum record for each item.

Snowshoes

Pair of long snowshoes made of birch and animal sinew, painted red
NPS Photo (Public Domain)

Shovels

shovel made of moose antler with wooden handle
Photo courtesy University of Alaska Museum of the North UAM:EH:0979-0001

Snow knives

metal snow knife with bone(?) handle
Photo by Daderot on Wikimedia Commons, item property of Royal Ontario Museum (CC-BY-SA-1.0)

Snow beaters

A straight, narrow piece of wood (or bone?) used to remove snow from clothing etc. in the Arctic
Photo courtesy University of Alaska Museum of the North UAM:EH:UA66-016-0006