There are a number of reasons why Matt is feeling nervous as the winter months set in. For starters, his family is taking much longer to arrive than what his father had predicted, and Matt naturally worries about whether something might have happened to his family. However, Matt’s biggest worry is about the volume of snow that is falling.
Realizing that he does not have a shovel, he crafts a “sort of blade” from firewood to enable him and his dog to go outside. Having this blade is the first step towards setting Matt free from his worries. At this point, he finally gets to put his snowshoes to use. Upon strapping himself into them, he discovers that once he gets the knack of walking in them, he is able to carry on his business as usual. With the help of the snowshoes, he is agile enough while walking around outside that he even takes a walk to the pond “for the sheer pleasure of it.”
In a nutshell, it is the snowshoes that set Matt free. They help him to feel better because he realizes that winter will not hinder to his ability to survive here alone and wait for his family to arrive. The snowshoes give him confidence because they enable him to continue with his routine in spite of the inclement weather. Through this sense of achievement, he realizes that he can go on without Attean and his family.