As we enjoy the beautiful autumn colours and experience the first frosts the mountains across the northern hemisphere are starting to get their winter coat. Winter enthusiasts and the mountain resorts are preparing for the coming season.
Have you ever wanted to experience the mountains in winter but get off the beaten track?
Maybe you are unfamiliar with snow or would like to try something new?
Then we'd like to introduce you to 'snowshoeing'.
Snowshoeing is quite simply walking in winter wearing a pair of snowshoes. If you enjoy walking, then snowshoeing is the perfect winter activity for you and making it enjoyable for all ages and fitness levels. Although it's vital to know where you can safely snowshoe it's not designed to be extreme so an ice axe and crampons are not essential.
Walking with snowshoes means that you can venture into nature often where skiers and climbers can't reach. Exploring valleys & forests covered in a blanket of snow, reaching peaks or mountain villages 'shut off' by winter.
While snowshoeing began thousands of years ago as a means of travel and a way to hunt it has in recent years become a popular winter pastime for fitness and recreation. Every winter more and more summer walkers are turning to snowshoeing as their winter activity.
Snowshoes are very cheap to rent and with just a little guidance is easy to pick up. In no time a trip snowshoeing has given you not only a new activity but access to the winter back country!
One of the great attractions of snowshoeing is its simplicity making it very accessible and affordable. If you already have summer walking kit and clothing then you can use more or less the same items. As snowshoeing has grown in popularity (it’s currently France’s fastest growing outdoor winter sport), the number of manufacturers catering for this flourishing market has expanded too. This development has been great both for innovation and competition: consumer demand has driven fantastic transformations in the design of snowshoes (making them lighter, easier to fit and adjust, and more efficient to walk in) whilst at the same time also driving down the prices of the kit you’ll need. Whilst there are many different styles of snowshoe, the best all-round models will allow you to comfortably and efficiently walk on rolling hills and maintain control in icier conditions. They’ll also allow easy walking on flat terrain and compacted trails. At Tracks and Trails we use the popular TSL snowshoes that have proven reliable, easy to fit and facilitate comfortable hiking on the longest of days — watch our short video so see how they’re worn.
Also of importance is footwear. Suitable boots for snowshoeing feature adequate insulation for the colder temperatures and waterproofing to keep feet dry and warm. A good pair of winter boots will incorporate a thick insulating sole and have rubber or leather uppers that provide the necessary ankle support. Whilst specific models are available for purchase, many types of leather hiking boots also work well for this activity, especially if they include a waterproof fabric liner such as Gore-Tex, or similar. Gaiters are frequently worn when snowshoeing to ensure snow is kept out of boots. Consider purchasing a waterproof and breathable pair of gaiters that are mid shin height: in amongst the pine trees of the Alps it’s surprising just how deep the snow gets!
Telescopic poles or adjustable poles are very popular amongst walkers and trail runners providing them with improved balance, even weight distribution, rhythm and protecting the knees from the impact of descending. They work well for snowshoeing for exactly the same reasons! If you’ve already a pair for hiking you may just need to equip yourself with slightly bigger snow baskets to ensure they have enough surface area so as not to sink too deeply when you place the pole in softer snow!
As with summer hiking you will need to carry a backpack to stow spare layers, food, water, flask and if necessary your snowshoes for any non-snowy sections. So we recommend a pack with adjustable side straps to be able to do this of a minimum of 28-35 litres in size.
Finally, we always provide you with three pieces of essential winter safety equipment; an avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe. Although we don't intend to use them in anger by law we must carry them so training and instruction will be given on how to use them.
Snowshoeing is a low impact form of exercise that provides the whole body with a good workout. It’s an excellent means too of training for balance and proprioception. As you get moving in the snow you’ll be surprised just how quickly you warm up - layers are definitely the answer, then, to regulating and maintaining a comfortable body temperature. As a general rule you can layer clothing such that you may feel a slight chill for the first 5 or 10 minutes of the activity: enjoying the freedom of movement and limbering up as you stride through the snow, in very little time the activity will have you nice and warm. It’s also important to keep your head and hands covered up to minimise heat loss. We suggest you bring two two pairs of gloves, one thick & one thin. On warmer spring snowshoe trips you’ll also need these along with a high factor sunscreen to protect yourself from the glare of the sun and UV damage that would otherwise be caused to exposed skin. All importantly, you mustn’t forget your feet! Quality socks made of wool or synthetic fibres promote wicking of moisture and assure warm, dry and happy feet!
At Tracks and Trails we’ve over a decade of experience providing snowshoeing excursions in the Alps and further afield. This winter you can join us snowshoeing for Introductory or Intermediate level trips in the world-renowned winter resort of Chamonix, or try one of our explorer trips in the Italian Dolomites, the southern French Queyras region, Samoens or go 'point-to-point' in the Chablais. We’re also able to offer tailor-made trips for weekends or week-long adventures: do get in touch if you’d like to discuss the possibility of us creating a specific itinerary to fit your calendar, either on an individual basis or as a group.
Find out more about all the Tracks and Trails snowshoeing trips on our dedicated webpage. If you’ve any questions then do contact us for assistance — we’re always happy to help!