Snow hiking is for everyone and is an excellent, healthy way of discovering the mountains in winter. Whether you are young or old, using snowshoes or simply a suitable pair of boots, snow hiking opens the way to natural surroundings of exceptional beauty. Feel confident exploring the adventure playground of the mountains by discovering snow hiking, its rules and its benefits for your body and mind.
1. WHAT IS SNOW HIKING?
Hiking on snow is a sport that involves walking along a route in the mountains in winter.
A brief history
Man has always walked to travel greater or shorter distances. But it wasn't until the 19th century that hiking as we know it was born as a sporting and recreational activity. Hiking is also seen as a recreational activity associated with enjoying the countryside and nature, and stands out from walking as a way of getting about where the aim is to reach an arrival point, as opposed to completing the journey itself.
You said hiking?
In its broadest sense, hiking can be performed on any terrain, in forest, countryside, in a desert, the mountains… But it still implies a certain physical intensity, otherwise we talk instead about going for a stroll or walk.
Snow hiking can be practised anywhere in the mountains in winter, provided, of course, that you are not endangering yourself! Whether you are on a flat surface, climbing or going downhill, in a forest on signposted paths or off them, the very concept of hiking on snow is to make the most of the mountains and enjoy total freedom away from the crowded slopes, speeding skiers and noise of the ski lifts.
In order to add some variety, and depending on the locations where you will be hiking, you can walk in winter hiking boots or get a pair of snowshoes.
2. THE RULES OF HIKING ON SNOW
Although being able to walk is all that is required to hike in the snow, you do need to know the safety rules for walking in the mountains in order to make the most of the countryside in total freedom.
The golden rule: preparation.
In the mountains, you need to prepare the following before you leave: check the weather forecast, prepare your route and take a backpack containing water and a small snack so that you can enjoy a meal on the way, but also to give you the energy you need for the entire hike. And should the conditions take a turn for the worse, do not hesitate to postpone your outing – the mountain will wait!
Respect the rules of the mountains
Never head off alone and follow the marked trails are two simple basic rules in the mountains, guaranteeing that this preserved natural environment will become a magical playground during your hike.
Suitable equipment for a successful hike
Broken snowshoe bindings, poles without baskets, pants without gaiters letting snow get into your boots… A hike can quickly be ruined by defective or unsuitable equipment. The secret is to check your equipment the day before each outing and repair or replace any defective elements as soon as necessary.
The best guarantee of a successful outing in the mountains is to take a professional guide with you. Given their knowledge of the flora and fauna, they know how to transform a hike into an exploration of the natural environment. Fascinating!
3. HIKING ON SNOW - WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
A breath of fresh air, peace and quiet and sunshine: hiking on snow revitalises the body as well as the mind.
Contemplating nature is an infinite source of peace, quiet and well-being. And when this nature is covered in fresh, glittering snow, the effect is quite extraordinary. Unmatched wonderment that conveys a dreamy atmosphere and calms the turmoil of your daily thoughts. Hiking on snow is a bit like treating yourself to a meditation session in exceptional surroundings..
And to crown it all, snow hiking is a gentle yet intense low-impact sport for your joints and excellent for your heart.
4. HIKING ON SNOW: IS IT FOR YOU?
Hiking on snow is the perfect sport for everyone, whatever their age as soon as they know how to walk.
This easily accessible sport, which can be adapted to all physical conditions by choosing the right route, can provide a great sporting experience to be shared with family or friends – having fun or enjoying yourself as long as you don't try to go too fast or too far.
Once you have found your rhythm, you can hike forever, whatever your age!
5. THE EQUIPMENT YOU NEED FOR SNOW HIKING
Like any outdoor activity, in the countryside, and especially in winter, hiking on snow requires special equipment to ensure your safety as well as to enjoy the day without restriction.
They're a hiker's basic piece of equipment. Boots, yes, but not just any pair of boots. You need winter hiking footwear equipped with a sole adapted to the snow with special lugs. What's more, the ankle must be held firmly in position to minimise any risk of injury. Boots should be perfectly suited to hiking on packed snow or worn with snowshoes on powder snow.You can also get yourself a pair of high-leg boots. While often more comfortable than hiking boots, particularly in terms of warmth and protection from the cold, they are less effective in terms of support. High-leg boots are preferable in powder or transformed snow, when not wearing snowshoes.
Though they are not essential for hiking on snow, they are still very useful when it comes to walking in powder, and there's nothing like a good snowshoe descent in the powder, in "glide" mode, to arrive home exhausted but perfectly happy after a magical mountain trip out in winter.
With or without snowshoes, don't go out hiking without poles. Poles equipped with wide winter baskets that prevent the pole from sinking into the fresh snow are essential for balance, preventing falls, getting through challenging or steep sections more easily and exercising the upper body to get a perfect figure!
System combining 3 layers of clothing to provide heat, moisture evacuation and insulation / waterproofness. It is important to choose the right layers to feel comfortable, warm and dry. And, above all, the key with snow hiking is being able to add and remove layers according to the physical intensity of the walk, so that you do not get too hot or catch a chill.
Nothing is more annoying than getting snow in your boots. The best way of avoiding this problem: gaiters. Whether your trousers are equipped with gaiters or you have separate gaiters that you can wear over your trousers, you need to prevent snow from getting in and stay dry.
With this relatively light product, it is preferable to choose windproof materials, as well as, possibly, having a spare pair kept dry in your backpack. You can take them off if the conditions allow, but you should never leave without them.
Specially designed for the bright sunlight experienced in the mountains, they are essential even if the sun is not shining to protect you from glare.
You should take your survival equipment with you wherever you go without it hindering your progress: water bottle, snack, survival blanket and first aid kit, sun cream, etc. all properly arranged in your backpack! It can also be used to carry your poles and layers of clothing if you remove them.
AND FOR THE MOST EXPERT: SAFETY EQUIPMENT
For those of you who like getting off the beaten path, you will need some essential safety equipment in addition to good hiking gear: avalanche transceiver, backpack, shovel, probe.
a. AVALANCHE TRANSCEIVER
The avalanche transceiver is a device which has a reception mode and a transmission mode and is used for detecting avalanche victims. When you set off, you put the device in transmission mode, and if someone is caught up in an avalanche, you switch it to reception mode in order to find the person and dig them out. This device can be used to ensure your safety, as well as that of the other members of your group. Please note: training and practice is required in order to use this device properly. In the resorts, there are numerous "avalanche transceiver parks" where you can go to train! Contact the members of the ski patrol for any questions.
b.THE TRIO: BACKPACK, SHOVEL, PROBE
This is the minimum you need to take with you, whatever the situation. The backpack is used to carry your safety equipment as well as water, snack, first-aid kit, possibly a spare pair of gloves, etc. The shovel and probe could save the life of an avalanche victim by removing the snow that has buried them. Once again, we would urge you to train in the use of safety equipment with a specialised organisation.
For those who are experienced, don't forget the golden rule of mountain hiking is and always will be to ensure you're well prepared for your outing and, above all, know when to turn back if the conditions are not optimal..
Are you tempted by the idea of a snow hiking adventure in the mountains this winter? Go for it and get out into the countryside, follow the signposts and tell us about your experience!