Winter Fun, Native Style: Play Snowsnake at New York’s Finger Lakes

Winter travel in New York’s Finger Lakes region doesn't get any better than a trip to Seneca country and the traditional game of snowsnake.

If you like the cold, snowy weather, head out with your family to the Finger Lakes region, in the Rochester area of New York, and join the Seneca people for outdoor games, sports and fun best typified by a round of traditional snowsnake.

You can plan your weekend or weeklong vacation around the popular Native American Winter Games & Sports, February 25, 2017, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., to be held at the Victor Municipal Park in Victor, New York. The event is free, but there is a suggested donation of $5 per family.

And while you are there, take a breath of fresh country air and enjoy the walking and educational trails offered by the Ganondagan State Historic Site, two miles away from the park, or visit some historical and cultural exhibits within a 30-mile radius.

“We want to show that Native people from this area didn’t just stay in their Longhouses. They did not just hunker down during winter,” said Ronnie Reitter, (Seneca) interpreter and assistant to the site manager at the Ganondagan State Historic Site.

So, snow or no snow, mark your calendars. Your Native tribal host will test your throwing skill at the traditional game of snowsnake, a popular and competitive Seneca winter pastime. “Everybody can try the snowsnake,” said Reitter. “This competition is just good, old fun.” The object of the snowsnake game is to throw the snowsnake—made from wood—down a long, snow-packed track. The player who throws the farthest wins.


A site along the winter hiking trail in Ganondagan

Bundle up in your winter jackets and if you want to bring snowshoes, do so. You may want to trek the trails at the park or join the walking group that will identify medicinal and other Native plants. There will be snowshoes for rent too.

The Dog Sledding Demonstration is definitely a crowd pleaser. Watch a dog sled team race across the snow. “Everybody loves to be around the animals,” said Reitter.

Live demonstrations are planned for the day. These include woodcrafts and other traditional arts practiced by the Natives during winter. For your listening pleasure, storytellers, in 45-minute sessions, will entertain with traditional Haudenosaunee legends and stories. And food, of course, warm Native delights are available for purchase.

“As a parent, I look forward every February to attending with my kids. No matter what the weather, the folks at Ganondagan always welcome us with a wonderful experience of hands-on fun in the great outdoors,” said Debra Ross, parent and publisher of online resource KidsOutAndAbout.com.

“We not only get great exercise without realizing it, but my kids get a dose of Native culture and history while having a great time,” she said, adding that their most memorable activity was the snowsnake.

More Interesting Places to Visit:

Ganondagan State Historic Site, the trails are suitable for hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. The trails are open year round and offer opportunities for favorite pastimes, such as, finding animal tracks, spotting animals, winter botany, photography and bird watching. Check out their activities from spring to fall. Ganondagan, which means “Town of Peace,” was a vital 17th Century Seneca town. The site’s Visitor Center and Longhouse are open from May to October. Groups and guided tours are available.

Rochester Museum & Science Center, “At the Western Door,” a permanent exhibit that displays hundreds of objects showing the Seneca’s and Haudenosaunee’s creative response to new technologies and materials introduced following European contact.

Courtesy David Mitchell

Ganondagan winter games dogsled race

Ontario County Historical Museum houses one of the two original copies of the Canandaigua Treaty of 1794 and pertinent letters.

The Gage Home, Haudenosaunee Room. This is 80 miles away from Victor. The Room showcases works of Matilda Joslyn Gage, a historian, scholar and passionate campaigner for women’s rights who was adopted into the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk Nation in 1893.

This story was originally published February 19, 2014.