A BRIEF GUIDE TO SNOWSHOEING IN THE PYRENEES
Walking with snowshoes is easy and suitable for all the people with a normal fitness level. If you can walk, you can snowshoe! Snowshoeing is a good aerobic workout in the winter season and a fun way to go out into the mountains and explore snow covered landscapes in the Pyrenees without sinking. DreaMpeaks experts introduce this quick guide to answer many questions about snowshoeing.
A LITTLE HISTORY
Snowshoes have a long history and their use goes back to the Neolithic period about 3,600 years before Christ. From this date dates one of the primitive snowshoes that has recently been found in the Alpine area of the Dolomites.
The native cultures of Mongolia, Siberia, North America, Canada and Scandinavia were made by hand using woods and branches for the base as well as skin, leather and animal tendons for the bindings. They used them in the day to day to move and to float on packed fresh snow without sinking. In this way they could hunt, cut wood, tramp and move to trade. It was a matter of adaptation and survival to the terrain and to the extreme conditions of those northern latitudes.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, English and French settlers returning from North America and Canada introduced snowshoes in Europe. This form, the stereotypical snowshoe, resembles a tennis racquet, and indeed the French term is “raquette de neige”. In spanish it´s called “Raqueta de Nieve”.
Over the years snowshoes continued to be used for expeditions, exploration and ascents to the main massifs and mountains of the planet. Along with the skis and sleds, it also extended its use in the military field for the movement of troops in winter time.
As a sport, snowshoeing isn’t focused on the adrenaline thrills of backcountry skiing nor is it as rigid and nuanced as cross-country skiing. What snowshoeing offers is a moderate aerobic exercise as well as an easy way to access snow-covered winter landscapes and enjoy the unequaled sensation of literally floating on powder snow.
For the more adventurous hikers you can also undertake ascents by normal routes to high peaks and s¡summits, long distance traverses or enter the unique and fascinating experience of snowshoeing at night under the glow of the full moon.
TYPES OF SNOWSHOES
A snowshoe is footwear for walking over the snow. Snowshoes work by distributing the weight of the person over a larger area so that the person's foot does not sink completely into the snow, a quality called "flotation".
Traditional snowshoes have a hardwood frame with rawhide lacings. Some modern snowshoes are similar, but most are made of materials such as lightweight metal, plastic, and synthetic fabric. In addition to distributing the weight, snowshoes are generally raised at the toe for maneuverability. They must not accumulate snow, hence the latticework, and require bindings to attach them to the feet.
In North America, Scandinavian countries and North Asia temperatures are lower and snow remains fresh for long time. Therefore and taking in account the flat extensions in the territory they need and use a larger snowshoe to increase flotation.
In Europe, however, we use the models that comes from the Alps: a versatile recreation snowshoe, smaller and lighter, and designed to progress on steep terrain, steeper slopes and forests over powder snow or hard snow. These shoes have easy-to-use, flexible bindings, aggressive claws underfoot for hard ice, and the toughest incarnations of decking and framing materials.
Nowadays, most of the the snowshoes are adjustable to your feet size, although there are specific models of different sizes for children, women and men depending on their weight.
WHAT TO BRING WITH YOU: RECOMMENDED SNOWSHOEING CLOTHING AND EQUIPMENT LIST
You can wear the same clothes as for ski or winter mountaineering practice. Nevertheless here is a full list of personal equipment and gear:
-20-40 liters backpack.
-Waterproof hiking boots/plastic boots, mountaineering functional socks. Gaiters.
-Functional underwear base layers, waterproof jacket and pants (goretex type), windstopper/soft shell jacket and pants, fleece. Dawn jacket.
-Warm gloves, warm cap/beanie, headband/buff, sun hat.
-Sport/ski Sunglasses, sunscreen, lip balm, snacks, water and thermo flask (hot tea/coffee).
-Personal belongings and medication, mobile phone and camera in a plastic bag. Head lamp, swiss army knife/Leatherman multitools, first aid kit and whistle.
-Temperatures can easily be -5°C, but it's a dry cold. Temperatures rise dramatically when the sun comes out, and snowshoeing is quiet strenuous, so you need lightweight layers that you can add or take-off quickly. Cotton t-shirts will stay wet and cold on your body; thermal clothing is best (capilene, merino wool, etc.).
As important as it is not to underdress for the weather, it's also important not to overdress. Learn to listen to your body and anticipate your needs. Shed a layer BEFORE you start to overheat, and add a layer BEFORE you start to chill. And, always carry an extra layer of dry clothes and socks in your pack.
THE IDEAL TERRAIN FOR SNOWSHOEING IN THE PYRENEES
The ideal terrain for snowshoeing is the "Nordic" terrain that combines plains, forests and mountains with gentle slopes. However, snowshoes also perform well in ascents on normal routes to peaks and summits. These slopes must have a layer of fresh or slightly transformed snow and not more than 30 degrees of inclination angle.
This terrain can be found during the winter season (december to April) in our main mountain range and national parks in the Pyrenees: Ordesa Canyon, Valle de Tena, Benasque, Aigüestortes or Val de Arán are the best spots for a snowshoe hike or for a multi day snowshoeing tour.
5 SAFETY RECOMMENDATIONS
1. Always consult the weather forecast and avalanche risk level from official sources such as AEMET MONTAÑA.
2. Adapt the route to the level and age of the participants. It is recommended that children are over 6 years old to participate. Don´t forget that snowshoeing requires more energy and stamina than a summer hike.
3. Limit the volume of your voice, don´t leave any food rest or packaging, and respect the fauna and vegetation of the area, trying to leave no trace and minimizing your impact.
4. For your safety carry first aid kit, personal medication, mobile phone and navigation equipment such as a compass, GPS with extra batteries and maps of the area.
5. If you do not know the area or you do not have experience in winter hiking, hire the services of a certified Mountain guide. You will enjoy the activity safely, without stress and you´ll learn many things from the natural environment during the tour.
By Gabriel Blanco
International Certified Mountain Guide AEGM-UIMLA and Wilderness Guide WGA
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