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Snowshoe Hiking

Snowshoe hiking is becoming increasingly popular in Switzerland. In the past, snowshoes were a common means of transport in snowy areas. Snowshoes distribute the weight over a larger area, making it easier for the snowshoe wearer to walk through deep snow.

In recent decades, snowshoeing has developed into an alternative sport to ski touring. Since 2006, even world championships in snowshoeing have been held. The carrier is the World Snowshoe Federation WSSF.

Who are snowshoe tours suitable for and what kind of fitness do you need?

While snowshoeing you will experience a peace and tranquility that will let you enjoy nature in a special way. But also for a simple snowshoe tour you need a basic condition. As the terrain and the level of difficulty increase, so does the level of fitness you need. You should not underestimate this. The Swiss Alpine Club SAC has published a snowshoe tour scale that shows different levels of difficulty. Snowshoe tours thus cover the whole range between popular leisure and competitive sports. Nordic walkers often use this sport as a winter supplement.

How do you prepare for a snowshoe tour?

On a snowshoe tour you have to overcome very different terrain. In order to make good progress and save energy, different walking techniques are recommended. On flat terrain you can stay in a normal pace. Your steps are just a little wider than normal. It is important that you walk as upright as possible and that your center of gravity is centered over the snowshoe.

With increasing gradient you best activate the climbing aid. If the incline is only minimal (less than 25 degrees), you can choose the frontal step in the fall line. This way you stay in the normal step sequence, similar to walking uphill. If the incline becomes steeper, it is best to use the so-called duck step, also called V-step. The snowshoes form a V that gets wider as the slope gets steeper. If you find this difficult, you can also leave one step normally in the fall line and form the V only with the other snowshoe. The way you can do it better. If the ground is icy and hard, you ram the snowshoes firmly into the ice or hard snow with your claw every step. The best way to take very steep places is to use the stair technique by placing the snowshoes at right angles to the slope. If the steep slope is too long for this technique, it is best to approach it in hairpin bends, like serpentines. This makes the path longer, but you save a lot of energy.

If the terrain then falls away again, the technique is again dependent on the subsoil. In soft snow, you can glide down the slope with slightly bent knees and a slight backward movement. In hard and icy snow, you walk with your claw in short steps and keep your weight centrally above the shoe.

If you also pay attention to the following points, you will be well prepared for your first snowshoe hike. The first snowshoe hike can also be done in a guided tour or even in special courses. There you will also learn how to be best prepared for avalanches.

Why should you never go on a snowshoe tour alone?

Not only should you never go on your first snowshoe hike alone, but at least in pairs. That way, in case of emergency, there is someone there who can get help or give first aid. In deep snow, you can also save additional energy by taking turns in tracking.

What clothes and equipment do you need?

For clothing, the tried and tested onion technique is important first. This way you can take off or put on clothes again if necessary. Breathable functional clothing is the best choice, you should not shy away from this investment.

Apart from weatherproof clothing, which includes waterproof mountain boots or winter hiking boots, a jacket and overtrousers for weather protection, a cap and 2 gloves as well as spare underwear or gaiters, you will need the following equipment:

  • Snowshoes (you can also rent them)
  • Ski/telescopic poles with adjustable winter plates
  • Backpack 20-30 liters
  • Sun protection (sunglasses and, if necessary, ski goggles, headgear, cream, lipstick)
  • Flashlight, preferably as a headlamp
  • Compass, altimeter, GPS incl. spare battery if necessary
  • first aid kit, if necessary including own important medication)
  • Map, Guide
  • Avalanche transceiver equipment (avalanche transceiver incl. spare batteries, avalanche probe, shovel)
  • Cell phone with stored emergency number (112)
  • Bivouac sack (for two people each)
  • With planned overnight stay on one of the huts: hut sleeping bag, small towel, washing things)
  • Repair kit for snowshoes and poles
  • Catering
  • Unbreakable drinking/thermos bottle (filled)
  • pocket knife

How do you find the right snowshoes for you?

For your first tours it is definitely worthwhile to rent snowshoes first. For example you can get very good snowshoes from Intersport Graf.

If you want to stay with this sport, you should carefully choose the right snowshoes for you. Snowshoes are available in plastic and aluminum. Important for alpine snowshoeing are

  • Tines on the bottom of the frame
  • Gripping claws at the bottom of the binding (at the height of the football)
  • Climbing aid for steep terrain with hardened snow

Which size of snowshoe is right for you?

The snowshoe size has absolutely nothing to do with your normal shoe size. The binding is flexibly adjustable. The right size of snowshoe depends on your weight (including equipment). As a rough rule of thumb: size 22 for a maximum of 70 kilograms, size 25 for more than 70 and less than 100 kilograms and size 30 for more than 100 kilograms. In the meantime there are also special models for men and women.

Which weather conditions are favorable/unfavorable?

Weather conditions are important for several reasons. For a snowshoe hike you should be prepared for possible changes in the weather. Strong winds and heavy snowfalls can hinder you and make a snowshoe tour very tiring. You can find the current weather around Grindelwald here.

The avalanche risk is particularly important. As soon as you move away from secured routes, you have to assess and observe the avalanche situation. One of the most important bases for this is the current avalanche situation report for the area you are hiking in. The avalanche situation report of the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF also advises you by phone at 0041-81-417-0111 and by email at lwp@slf.ch (Avalanche Warning Service).

The avalanche situation report has a similar structure throughout the entire Alpine region, so that even experienced snowshoe hikers from other Alpine regions can quickly become familiar with it. The EAWS (European Avalanche Warnings Services) is an umbrella organization for all Alpine regions and ensures common standards for the danger scale and avalanche problems. You can read a detailed explanation of the structure of an avalanche report here.

As a snowshoe hiker it may be life-saving to be able to handle the avalanche transceiver equipment correctly in an emergency. In a special avalanche course you will be taught the appropriate knowledge by an expert. These courses usually last three days and contain theoretical, but mainly practical contents. You will learn on site in the mountains how to interpret an avalanche situation report and recognize danger signs in nature. Snowpack build-up, terrain assessment, meteorology, route selection and tour planning, creating a track, risk assessment and the right tactics for ascent and descent are important basics. Especially important are the also included trainings in handling shovel, avalanche probe and the avalanche transceiver.