Attracting fans from the casual hiker through the trekking enthusiast to the serious competitor, snowshoeing is the winter sport currently making ripples across Europe. Said to be growing faster than snowboarding, this historic way to walk in winter is enjoying a resurgence but what is it exactly and why is it making such an impression?
WHAT IS SNOWSHOEING?
Snowshoeing has a rich history dating back to when humans hunted for their food where large, flat ‘shoes’ were worn to allow people to ‘float’ on top of the snow. Originally made from twigs and rawhide, snowshoes have become far more sophisticated with lightweight aluminium and nylon being the choice materials for modern styles. Nowadays, they are used for recreation as a great alternative to running or as a means of accessing areas that would otherwise be difficult to reach.
Part of the rise of the sport is down to the relative ease at which you can pick it up; the lack of technical requirements appeals to all. Unlike skiing, there is no need for lessons or tuition, if you can walk, you can snowshoe. The shoes are pivoted at the front, allowing your heel to rise as you take each step that can take some getting used to; but after the first few hundred yards of the hike, you’ll be a natural. The snow shoes act as crampons for the up and downhill sections of your hike. The metal spikes on the bottom gives you grip in the snow and the shoes lays flat to the surface of the snow whilst you dig your toes into the powder. The nature of the sport and the design of the shoes keeps the risk of injury very low, further adding to the appeal.
Snowshoeing is a great way of keeping fit and it provides you with the opportunity to work as hard or as little as you wish. Be it a weekend stroll with friends across even terrain, or a race over peaks against your fiercest rivals, snowshoes are equally rewarding. They give you the opportunity to stay fit and healthy, whilst being able to experience the beauty of the mountains.
Strapping on your snowshoes and heading off on an adventure requires minimal extra specialist equipment; a pair of poles, waterproof boots and warm waterproof clothing is all you need to get out and into the mountains. Having telescopic poles will allow you to keep your balance on uneven terrain and when you’re traversing a slope, you can extend or shorten the poles to suit the gradient.
Keeping your extremities warm is essential in the cold climate. It’s vitally important to have a waterproof pair of boots. A major appeal of snowshoeing is being able to wear your own normal walking boots, however ensuring they’re waterproof before you set off will have you thanking yourself by the end. Kitting yourself out in the right gear will ensure that you stay warm and dry throughout the day. The Odlo SYNERGY Ski Jacket for women and Odlo SYNERGY Ski Jacket for men were built with ski touring in mind. The highly waterproof and breathable 2-layer Logic material provides extra weather protection when it’s needed and the stretchy softshell fabric strikes the perfect balance of protection, breathability and movement.
The Odlo SYNERGY Ski Midlayer Hoody for women and Odlo SYNERGY Ski Midlayer Hoody for men have a seamless construction ensuring maximum comfort, as well as extra structures to provide additional protection and warmth against the wind when the speed picks up. The water repellent jacket makes for the perfect midlayer for a day in the snowshoes.
Having the right protection for your legs will go a long way to keeping you warm and on top of your game. The Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish on the Odlo INTENT Pants for women and Odlo INTENT Pants for men keeps you dry in the damp conditions, meanwhile pre-shaped knees provide great fit and freedom of movement.
Any extra pieces of equipment to take out on your day in the snowshoes are dependant on your planned route. Obviously, the mountains bring a substantial risk regardless of your chosen sport; the weather and the snow conditions can be unpredictable. If you’re planning to head out to potential avalanche hotspots, ensure you’re equipped with a transceiver and a snow shovel and never go alone. It may be wise to hire a guide or take up some avalanche training if you are planning on heading out into the backcountry for a real adventure.
THE BEST PLACES
Finding the best places to snowshoe will maximise your experience and make sure you’ll come back for more. The mountain ranges in Europe have some of the best areas in the world to explore on your snowshoes. Check out these locations from around the continent to head to for an amazing trip.
Catch the highest open-air railway in Europe to Gornergrat and experience unbelievable views of the Matterhorn to discover traditional Swiss hamlets. Zermatt is home to some of the best backcountry and ski-touring landscapes in the Alps, giving you the scope to discover different areas every day. Use your snowshoes to find new lines on your skis or stay at a more tranquil pace and hike your way between the trees and through the rocks. There are plenty of marked routes and guided tours for the beginner and hiring the equipment is easily done.
Highly regarded as the hottest place for backcountry and ski-touring in the Alps, the snowshoeing opportunities are endless in Chamonix. The lively town provides a buzzy atmosphere off the slopes and adventures on them to envy most other resorts. There are multiple companies offering guided tours and snowshoeing experiences with picnic stops planned into the itinerary as well as a FULL MOON trek accompanied by a late night stumble back to your chalet.
ST. ANTON, AUSTRIA
There are cleared and marked paths in abundance for a winter hike on your snowshoes in St. Anton. With over 70km of paths cleared, there won’t be any need for you to get bored, retracing your steps. Take in the fascinating landscape of Arlberg whilst touring from old traditional Austrian towns. There is plenty of backcountry to discover with your snowshoes that you can reach from the resorts that sits in the shadow of Valluga. Take your skis with you and have the best day of hiking and skiing possible. Snowshoes are easy to pick up in the lively resort if you can pull yourself away from the numerous eateries and bars.
Take a hike along the side of Lake Chiemsee and discover the local wildlife from bird watching hides high in the trees. The route around the lake is a flatter, more tranquil experience; however venture off into the valleys in the Chiemgau to trudge through deep powder in untouched valleys and forests from one alpine hut to the next. There is a bit of everything from cleared paths to untouched wilderness to witness some of the most beautiful landscapes in Germany.
AVIEMORE, UNITED KINGDOM
Not traditionally regarded as an alpine hotspot, the UK is home to Aviemore in Scotland, which has had some of the best snowfall in recent years, and although the altitude doesn’t rival the Alps, its snowfall has occasionally surpassed its continental competitors. Discover some of the best scenery the UK has to offer with a snowshoeing tour through the forests on often-unmarked routes. There are plenty of snowshoes and poles to hire from the Scottish town at competitive rates. It can be a much cheaper option than heading to the Alps without any sacrifice on experience.