Snow Shoe Virgin

by admin on March 30, 2010

I don’t ski.  I’ve never skied.  I’d like to ski.  I’d like to snowboard even more but I don’t want to learn.  I don’t want to spend time on nursery slopes falling over and looking stupid, or, even worse, wondering if I’m wearing the right salopetts, gloves, boot, bindings etc.  Even more worse I don’t want to turn into one of the ski crowd.  You know who you are and you know what I mean.

In an effort to get me to at least try something on the snow other than building snowmen, ace skier Audrey persuaded me to give snow shoeing a try.  She reasoned it was a good, safe winter sport, got you into the mountains and was easy to master.  Also there would be no learning in front of others – if you can walk you can snow shoe.  I had my doubts.  But, in the middle of March I found myself in the village of Chatel in the Portes du Soleil region hiring a pair of snow shoes and a pair of ski poles (for a very reasonable 4 euro) and zooming up the mountain in the cable car.

There was plenty of snow around and I was immediately intimidated by hordes of what looked like 4 year old children effortlesly swooshing down black runs.  The site of a single ski coming down the hill minus its owner was both funny and worrying at the same time.  The fact that it was a ski and not a snow shoe was very comforting though.

Now, I bet the non snow shoers among you have a mental image of a snow shoe – probably something like this I guess. That’s what I thought too so imagine my surprise to find they are actually basically bits of oblong plastic with straps  to bind to your feet.  Of course had I done any research before going to Chatel I would have known this but, in the best tradition of rubbish British Arctic expeditions I trusted to ignorance and the belief I would instinctively know what to do.

After eventually finding a trail we set off up a not too steep slope.  Within a 100 meters I was gasping like a wheezy obscene phone caller and starting to sweat profusely.  Who’d have thought that the air at 6,500 feet would be so thin?  After 200 meters I was ready to dump the poles – I just couldn’t co-ordinate walking and trying to use them at the same time.  Perhaps I should have started with one pole and worked my way up.  In another 100 meters I was feeling dehydrated and looking for some clean snow to quench my thirst.  This was turning into hard work.

In most stories of adventure and hardhsip, the author usually reaches a point where everything suddenly clicks and the whole enterprise instantly becomes easier.  Well, not for me it didn’t.  After a few minutes I gave up on the sticks and just carried them, and walking immediately became a little easier, I could at least get some kind of rythym  going. But the walking still wasn’t easy.  The shoes are so wide that you have to make a real effort to keep your legs apart as you step otherwise one shoe will land on the other and you’ll stumble.  I also had problems because my feet point outwards so I also had to try and keep them feet pointed straight ahead to stop the snow shoes from clashing.  It was no wonder I couldn’t co-ordinate the sticks as I walked – too bloody busy trying to organise my feet and legs.

On the main tracks the snow was pretty compacted and I don’t think this suited the snow shoes.  Stepping off the track onto deep snow the shoes came into their own.  I could push my stick about 2 feet into the snow but the shoes sank in only about an inch and walking was definitely easier – not easy, just easier.

After about 90 minutes I was drenched in sweat, my legs ached, my face was starting to burn in the sun, I was unbeliveably thirsty and felt knackered  – but, the views were spectacular and I was thousands of feet up in the Alps on a Monday lunchtime – way, way better than being at work.

The chances of me doing any more snow shoeing before next winter are pretty remote but I guess there might be an opportunity during my upcoming trip to New Zealand.  I’ll do it again but next time I’ll be ready for it – do some research, find what type of snow shoes I really need, wear better clothes, take plenty to drink and head for nice powder snow on one of the hundreds of Alpine snow show trails.

And once I’ve mastered the snow shoe, the snow board will be next.


Snowshoes and MC Hammer Pants

Snowshoes and MC Hammer Pants

Standing up was easily mastered
Alpine View

Alpine View

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mairi Lawrence April 11, 2010 at 7:31 pm

Really nice photos of the Alps! So…did you enjoy yourself or not??

paulyrob April 12, 2010 at 5:43 am

Yes it was good fun and I’ll have another shot next winter. Or maybe I’ll concentrate on taking pics instead.

Previous post:

Next post: