If the word “snowshoes” conjures visions of intrepid 19th century explorers trudging bravely across an Arctic landscape with tennis racquets tied to their feet, think again! Snowshoeing, while yet to gain significant popularity among UK winter sports enthusiasts, is fast becoming a major sport in many countries and is a fantastic way to get out and about in the wintertime. It’s also much less effort than you might think! There is a saying among snowshoeing enthusiasts: “If you can walk, you can snowshoe!”
Photo: Annika and Torkel Ideström
Modern snowshoes are lightweight and extremely comfortable, and the technique is very easy to learn. Most people find than within a few minutes they are completely at home on their snowshoes. As your knowledge of and your familiarity with the equipment improves, you will find your technique becoming more and more efficient, and your movements more and more natural.
Snowshoeing offers the winter outdoor enthusiast the freedom of the summer hiker, and allows you a free rein to explore both on and off the beaten track. What’s more, snowshoeing is a very flexible activity – you do not need to go to a special area to go snowshoeing – snowshoeing is possible anywhere where there is enough snow! Trails which may be well-known and familiar in summer take on a new, other-worldly character in winter. The landscape takes on a new freshness, and the clear winter air allows sharper long distance views than may be possible in the summer heat haze. And if you get lost, as a last resort you should be able to follow your own tracks home!
The real joy of snowshoeing is that it allows you to explore the quiet and uninhabited spaces of winter without the technical knowledge of the skier and with much less cumbersome equipment. For many people, whose experience of the winter mountains has been limited to the crowded and noisy ski slopes, snowshoeing comes as something of a revelation – a chance to escape the crowds and experience the calm beauty of a winter world far from the madding crowd back on the pistes. As the author Florence Page Jaques says in Snowshoe Country, “I love the deep silence of the midwinter woods. It is a stillness you can rest your whole weight against…”
Snowshoeing is an extremely accessible sport and can be practised on many levels. You may choose to follow well-marked cross country ski trails through the quiet forests keeping largely to flat country, or take to the hills for a uniquely intimate encounter with the winter mountain world, its silence and its grandeur, its shy wildlife and secret paths. It is a magical feeling to be the first to place your prints on a deep unbroken blanket of freshly fallen snow, as well as an exhilarating one to run headlong down a steep slope covered in light powder!
Snowshoeing is good for you, and good for the environment! It is an excellent form of exercise, and the cushioning effect of the snow means that there is less wear and tear on knees and other joints. The snow also protects the ground from the erosion which may be caused by summer outdoor activities. What’s more, because snowshoeing requires no infrastructure, it is not dependent on the damaging lift systems and associated developments which scar many of the world’s mountain areas.
Snowshoes work by distributing your weight over a wide area so that you don’t sink completely down into the snow as you would if wearing hiking boots. This “flotation” allows you to move through the snowy landscape much more efficiently, and is one reason why one of Sweden’s most fascinating predators, the wolverine, is able to pursue prey successfully through deep snow. Its broad furred paws mean that it can much faster across the snow than its prey animals like the reindeer, which distribute their weight over a much smaller area.
Snowshoes usually have a raised section at the toe, which improves maneuverability and makes it much easy to climb uphill. They are normally secured with simple bindings, and the heel is left loose. Special snowshoe boots are often not necessary, and snowboard boots or winter hiking boots may be suitable, especially for shorter expeditions.
Photo: Annika and Torkel Ideström
Of course, safety is a vital consideration at all times when in the winter mountains, and as with any winter sport it is essential to be fully informed and, where necessary, to use knowledgeable guides when exploring away from marked trails and routes.
Nature Travels offers a unique wilderness snowshoeing experience in the land of the wolverine. With an experienced local guide to lead the way, you have the chance to spend an exhilarating 4-day snowshoe holiday in the majestic area of Jämtland, sleeping warm under canvas each night below a limitless expanse of stars and exploring the silent forests and breathtaking mountain landscape by day. No previous experience of snowshoeing is necessary – so let the adventure begin!