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It’s hard to remember snow in the UK – it often falls and then just as quickly blows away, melts, or freezes into hard ice. But in continental mountain ranges, it can accumulate to metres deep. This gets to the point, in the Alps or Scandinavia for example, where walking about in boots is impossible – it’s not uncommon to end up with snow to your waist, in which case you can forget even a walk through the woods, let alone a mountain wander!
To solve this problem, traditional cultures around the world came up with the same solution: increasing the size of the surface area that touches the snow, leading to the wearer not sinking as much – and the snow-shoe was born. Originally used for hunting and travelling in mountain and Arctic regions, snow-shoeing is now a popular recreational activity – think of it as winter walking with big feet.
One of the benefits of snow-shoeing as opposed to skiing is that it’s easy to pick up and the snow-shoes themselves are a relatively cheap addition to your usual walking kit – they’re more like platforms than actual shoes, and attach to whatever boots you’re wearing. Most importantly, you don’t need technical boots; summer boots with thick socks will work fine. On a recent trip to the Alps, I used my Meindl boots – the Vakuum GTX in a pair of MSR snow shoes – they had the right amount of flex and insulation but without being too bulky. The next weekend I was using them walking in a forest in southern England, which shows the boots’ versatility.
The best place to start show-shoeing is in the Alps – not only do they have a good selection of snow-shoes to rent or buy, but there are signposted show-shoe routes at many of the ski resorts, and guidebooks to more adventurous trails. Or, if you really want to get away from it all and explore the mountains in winter, consider hiring an International Mountain Leader to take you out.
Winter shouldn’t be a time to stay indoors; the different light, snow-capped peaks and different assemblage of wildlife (mammal tracks are much easier to spot) make it a wonderful time of year to adventure. Learning to snow-shoe and heading out on some walks is a great way to add a new skill – one that’s easy to pick up and uses your current boots.