Snowshoeing is easy for everyone to enjoy © Pixabay

Put some spring into your step
Make the most of spring. Get out on the powder and see the best of Switzerland!
1 Mar 2024

Winter weather in Switzerland can be difficult to predict. As things warm up in March, it seems that spring has sprung. However, a sudden snowfall can then push powdery conditions through till April, when the ski season winds down and the pistes close. This opens up the question: what to do with all the snow still out there? Snowshoeing is the answer.

As the saying goes, golf is a ‘good walk spoiled.’ Perhaps, then, Twain might have believed that snowshoeing is a ‘winter walk made possible’?

What is it?

The concept is simple, you strap wide frames under your shoes to distribute your body weight over a larger area, meaning you can skim across the tops of snowfields instead of falling in.

Walking on snow isn’t a new concept. In 2003, a snowshoe made of an oval frame of birch wood, bound with twine, was discovered around 3,000m upon the Gurgler Eisjoch Glacier in the Dolomites (close to where Ötzi the Iceman’s mummified body was found in 1991). Radiocarbon dating puts the shoe at more than 5,500 years old, and in most respects the Neolithic design hasn’t really changed since, save for Indigenous North American snowshoe technology, which improved on the design. Some shoes have narrow, long shapes for fast, open landscape crossing, and others shorter for lateral movement.

Modern snowshoes are, however, somewhat evolved from the cartoon-inspired notion of strapping on a couple of tennis rackets to your boots. Like ski and snowboard gear, they are now made from robust, lightweight performance materials, and are designed to seamlessly clamp around your regular hiking boots or shoes to become an extension of your feet and your walking motion. There are different shapes for different snow. Compact, harder snow only needs a smaller frame, while soft, untouched powder snow needs a wider frame for increased stability, or ‘floatation’.

As well as being an enduring form of personal mobility, snowshoeing is also a wonderful winter or spring form of exercise, taken either solo or in a group, and for all ages. It provides a cold weather cardio workout, helping lose some of that excess holiday weight while strengthening the heart. More importantly, it gets you outdoors and rallying against Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), when our lack of access to natural light indoors during winter months can be a significant factor in the development of depression.

Discover your own path © Pixabay

What gear do you need?

Well, the shoes for a start. Rent or buy. Consider flat terrain snowshoes to start with, good for beginners on level to rolling drifts. The frames are designed to fit over most types of footwear, so the best suggestion would be to fit them over your trusty, well-worn waterproof hiking boots that you use in other seasons for regular walking. Opt for warm socks, gaiters to protect you in deep snow conditions, well layered clothing, and accessories according to the weather, as you would with a regular hike.

Once you’re suitably shod, the other essential kit is a set of poles. These are necessary for overall balance, as well as navigating uphill and downhill slopes more effectively. If you’ve ever used the Nordic Track at the gym, or if you’re a seasoned hiker who likes to push through strenuous walks, you’ll have a sense of the movement you’re looking to emulate with poles. The shoes have traction spikes so you lean in on uphills to grip, then ‘walk’ up, just as you would walk up stairs. The walking motion will come with practice, the main challenge is to remember you now have ‘wider’ feet, so your gait will adjust accordingly. Keep moving forwards, snowshoes are not made for reversing!

Where to go?

Once you feel comfortable for extended periods of up to thirty minutes on local snow, and you’ve made sure everything fits well and doesn’t bruise, it’s time to expand your range. Now, here’s the fun part: Switzerland was made for snowshoeing. The simplest approach is to take any of cross-country ski paths that crisscross most of your favorite ski resorts, as these are well laid-out routes with signposting, areas of scenic interest, and of course established route times so you can plan your trips effectively.

Ski areas also have guides, tips, and can provide updated daily advice on where to go, safety considerations, and avalanche conditions. 

Check in with the local tourism office for tips.

Keep to the trails. Here are three recommended beginner snowshoe hikes:

The Hungerberg Trail – starting in Oberwald, this is a 4km, two-hour hike to the Obergoms sun terraces. 

Raten Gottschalkenberg Hike – from Oberägeri, a 5km, 90 minute pleasant trek through forests and fields, ending at Gottschalkenberg Restaurant for the Schweinsschnitzel an Pilzrahmsauce.

Toggenburg Sellamatt Trail – from Alt St. Johann, a 5km, two-hour meditative run with slight inclines, accessed first via the chair lift.

Spring forth!

Snowshoeing lets you ‘double up’ on the marvelous Swiss summer beauty of hiking, but with even quieter moments of breathtaking solitude coupled with the pleasure of a progressive workout. Also, if conditions don’t permit skiing or boarding, shoeing lets you make use of whatever snow there is.

What are you waiting for? 

* Richard Turner is a UN Today Contributor.
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