Do what? But I’m at a ski area, why would I want to do anything different to skiing or boarding ALL DAY EVERY DAY?? Besides, what the heck is snowshoeing? Isn’t that what Artic explorers do?
These are the questions we asked ourselves that led up to making a huge error on our first motorhome ski trip. We didn’t take any snow shoes and we want to make sure you don’t make the same mistake.
We asked professional mountain guide and winter vanlife aficionado Viv Day to write an article to set you off in the right direction – here is a Beginners Guide to Snow Shoeing.
If you’ve ever tried to walk anywhere in snow without snowshoes, you will have either sunk into the snow – sometimes losing a whole leg (which can be quite tiring when trying to do a picturesque hike) or slid about like Bambi on some frozen hard icy snow. That’s where you need snowshoes – bits of plastic that you strap to your feet and float effortlessly on top of the snow…
A Beginner’s Guide to Snowshoeing
If you’re somewhere in Europe, particularly located near a ski resort, the best thing you can do to find some snowshoeing opportunities are:
– Check the local area website – typically search ‘XX Ski Area’
– Search Facebook pages (e.g. a search for ‘Morzine’ on Facebook will take you to Morzine-Avoriaz Official
– Visit the Tourist Office and see what local snowshoe (or racquettes) leaders are in the area
Don’t worry if your language skills don’t quite pass muster – there will usually be an English speaking guide around too. Lots of English mountain leaders have taken a huge amount of time and effort to get an International Mountain Leader qualifications and linked this with a change of life so that they can live and work outside of the UK.
Your ‘Accompagnateur de montagne’ (mountain leader) will have a UIMLA and or BAIML badge to show that they are qualified to look after your safety in the mountains.
Winterised: This is the professional standard you must look for in any British leader that’s going to take you off into the wilds! You’ve seen the movies right? Trekking off into the ass-end of nowhere with someone unqualified is bonkers.
A Snowshoeing Day – Mixed Abilities
Simone took a group of us up to a gorgeous area with amazing views, beautiful snow and wonderful blue skies. She taught the group how to put on and walk in snowshoes and how to make a new track in the snow as well as basic avalanche safety. We also had the time to take in the environment – looking at animal tracks; clouds; and the awesome Mont Blanc. We ran like crazy loons down a small slope with brand new untouched snow, we made snow angels and we laughed a lot!
Organised groups are great fun – you can get to know areas off the beaten track, often doing treks that might involve a pause at a mountain refuge or restaurant for coffee and a croque monsieur. Sometimes night hikes are organised, taking in beautiful moonlight evenings, followed by a meal of local cuisine in a restaurant only accessible by hiking.
Once you’ve been out with someone who can give you that confidence, you can hire snowshoes and walking poles for around 10 Euros a day and you’ll already know how to fit them snuggly to your feet and how to walk efficiently. You can then follow that leaflet you picked up in the tourist office and go on your own adventures!
“You don’t have to be a massive hill walker or a rufty mountaineer, you can just be whoever you are, whatever fitness level you are because you can go at your own pace and you don’t have to keep up with those superfast skiers in your group!”
Getting your own kit
If you absolutely love it then you can pick up a good pair of TSL branded snowshoes for around €150 (Amazon have these unisex ones which are fully adjustable). These will generally have 6 spikes on the bottom to grip the snow and a spikey crampon at the front to aid you to go up slopes.
You can pick up more technical and more expensive ones but for tootling about on marked routes, these are just the thing for what is classed as ‘rolling Nordic terrain’.
and Hannah and James are bit fans of the entry level offering from Decathlon (read about their experience with those here).
And lastly, if venturing out on your own, as a beginner or novice, please do stick to marked raquette routes and areas. Remember that, just like skiing and any other snow sport, avalanches are always a risk and your safety is important!
We met Viv and her partner Jason in less than favourable conditions – in the midst of Storm Eleanor – us with a habitation door that that was broken making us prisoners in our own home-on-wheels and Viv and Jason immobilised by a dead battery. Oh how we laughed. And drank wine, which meant a lifelong friendship was born in the face of adversity. All the best ones are.
If you want to follow Viv, Jason and their dog Leelu’s journey as Mountain Leaders, van dwellers and epic adventurers, follow their blog here or you can keep up to date through Facebook. You can also hire them as guides (they are both fully qualified and extremely experienced) through their website.
You can find more Winterised Tried and Tested kit and equipment for your motorhome ski and winter camping trips here: