Last Updated on 30th January 2018 by Sophie Nadeau
“I literally can’t do this,” I thought to myself as I attempted to balance, move, and walk simultaneously. It was my first time snowshoeing in the French Alps, a type of winter sport that is quite environmentally friendly, and an experience I surely won’t forget anytime soon! After all, it seems like just yesterday, rather than a couple of weeks ago, that I had my first walk on deep snow.
The real, powdery light stuff that I’m told makes for perfect snowsports conditions. The kind you have to wear sunglasses to protect your eyes against, and the kind that makes for picture-perfect postcard moments. It was during our time in the Alps, that I was lucky enough to try my first French fondue, and go skiing for the first time (my legs still ache two weeks later, ha!). But for me, the snowshoeing experience was the one that really stood out. It puts you in touch with nature in a way that a trip down a man-made slope or chalet cannot…
Snowshoeing: How to easily walk across the snow
For as long as humans have had to face snow, we’ve searched for ways to cross it as easily as possible. After all, if you’ve ever tried wading through thigh-deep snow, you’ll know how hard it can be! The idea of using snowshoes is that you use a large surface area to spread your weight as evenly as possible across the shoe, and therefore the snow. This means that you won’t sink as much when walking, leading to an easier route across the white stuff!
It’s thought that the history of snowshoes dates back as far as 6000 years, perhaps even earlier. One historian even believes that a wooden frame found with ice mummy Ötzi (Europe’s oldest known natural mummy) was originally part of a snowshoe. Once used by hunters, trappers, farmers, timber spotters, and soldiers, today, snowshoeing is becoming the fastest growing winter pursuit, due to its ease, low cost, and fun factor.
Four types of snowshoes: Bear Paw or Beaver Tail?
You may not know this, but there are traditionally four types of snowshoes, and a few of these are named after the shape of animals’ feet found in nature. While traditional snowshoes were made of rawhide and had to be regularly waterproofed, for the most part, nowadays shoes are now made of lightweight materials like plastics and aluminium. This makes them easy to use, even for your first time snowshoeing.
Snowshoeing in the French Alps: Snow Shoe Walking in the Mountains
For those who have never been on snow before, snowshoeing is an inexpensive and fairly easy way to get started with snowsports. Fun and relatively safe (apart from on steep mountainside and icy conditions) in comparison with sports such as skiing and snowboarding, a hike in snowshoes is the perfect introduction to the French Alps.
Also, in comparison with skiing or snowboarding, snowshoeing is an awful lot kinder to the environment. After all, it’s the kind of activity that ‘leaves only footprints’ and does not require any manipulation of the natural landscape, nor does it necessarily require getting on a ski lift or chair.
We rented our snowshoes at Bernex ski station for around €5 a day (a Ski resort that is not far from Evian Les Bains or Geneva), walked up onto the paths leading up the mountain, and off we went! At first, it was fairly hard to get the hang of but I suspect only because I have a very bad central balance due to severe scoliosis! However, as soon as I’d controlled my technique a little, I found that it was fairly easy to walk. Plus, using the snowshoes made it that much easier to stop sinking into the snow and appreciate the mountain views…