Guide to snowshoeing

Snowing.The metamorphosis of the world takes place in silence. Heinrich Wiesner

Recovering the relationship with a snow-covered Nature at the slow pace of one's own steps by experiencing this metamorphosis: that's what snowshoes make possible.

A bit of history

It seems that the history of the showshoe started in Central Asia some 4000 years before Christ. Probably primitive men drew inspiration from the observation of some animals characterized by large legs, which moved easily on the snowpack, whereas their feet plunged into it.

From the inner Asian regions, populations began to migrate east and west. If skis had their greatest evolution in Scandinavia, the idea of snowshoes crossed the Bering Strait and landed on the North American continent. The Indians, who settled in Quebec, Eastern Canada and North East Canada in the United States, used pine branches, united together to form a base, for whose design they took inspiration from the footsteps of the animals they captured.

In Europe, the racquets arrived only in 1700, brought by the British and French armies, who used them to travel the border regions with Quebec and New England during the War of Independence. Almost three centuries passed before, in the United States and Quebec, the progress of snowshoes became a new form of recreation, so much so that there was a proliferation of real clubs, which promoted the practice of this activity through competitions, obstacle courses, night excursions in nature. They soon became a good way for many people to socialize. Even in Europe, especially in the Alpine regions, times have changed and, today, snowshoes are used for fun, for unforgettable ski-free walks, just for the taste of walking in the fresh snow in the pristine corners of our mountains.

Snowshoes

There are different types of snowshoes and the choice has to be made according to the frequency of use, body weight ratio / racket size, routes and activity that you intend to tackle. In general, the rule is that in deep snow and mostly flat terrain, long racquets are used, while on the steepest terrain shorter and less cumbersome racquets are preferred.

In general, the rule is that in deep snow and mostly flat terrain, long snowshoes are used, while on the steepest terrain shorter and less cumbersome snowshoes should be preferred.

As far as materials are concerned, they can be made of plastic or aluminium and in this latter case the surface is made of neoprene or polyurethane.

Snowshoes are roughly divided into three broad categories.

Bean-like snowshoes. They are traditional racquets of old conception and now in disuse. The outer structure is in wood or aluminium and the supporting surface is made of braided lanyard, the shoe is fixed with webbing and lanyards. Now in disuse.

Canadian. They are the largest racquets (almost a metre) and are often equipped with tail. Despite being bulky, they are excellent for deep snow and have various fastening systems. They are not very suitable for steep and hard snow routes.

Modern. are of different shapes, but roughly have the intermediate shape between the two previous ones and are made of plastic or aluminium. They have very technical attacks, have different types of crampons at the bottom, depending on the diversity of needs. Due to their technical characteristics, they are also suitable for steep terrain.
Un paio di ciaspole moderne sulla neve

 

 The modern snowshoe is formed by a main body that allows the buoyancy on fresh snow. The larger the size, the greater the buoyancy, but at the same time the greater the weight to carry attached to the feet. On the plate is mounted a swivel joint on which the boot must be tied: this to minimize fatigue and make the walk more fluid.

In the most technically demanding sections (steep slopes, crossbars), where it is good to have excellent control of snowshoeing, the joint can be locked with a rear hook.

The boot attachment is length-adjustable so that it can be adapted to the different sizes of our feet. Normally it is composed of a front fastening, where the boot tip is inserted, and a rear one that passes over the ankle.

Underneath the snowshoe there are also some metallic crampons that allow a good grip on hard snow and steep slopes. When climbing uphill it is best to use the lift, which is a thickness that is placed under the heel and which allows less fatigue of the calves.

How to walk with snowshoes

We could mistakenly think that walking and snowshoeing are more or less the same thing. In fact, the correct use of snowshoes presupposes a whole series of measures. Snow is never the same, as it can be floury, icy, wet or a combination of different states, so you have to adapt your snowshoeing style to each step.
However, generally speaking, snowshoeing is a bit like Nordic walking: arms and legs move alternately, so when the right foot moves forward, you point the rod to the snow with your left hand, and vice versa.

Sticks are indispensable to maintain balance, improve walking rhythm and help stability uphill and downhill. By now they are almost all telescopic, i. e. they can be adjusted in height: the right adjustment is like that of trekking, so that by holding them correctly the elbow bends at 90° and the forearm is parallel to the ground.
The most common mistake of the first snowshoeing is to start with wide and long falcate, which are the best way to sink into the snow: it is better to find a good rhythm with short steps and legs just a little wider than normal (shoes are about 40/50 cm wide), following the track already open in the snow if we are not the snow groomer.
Coppia che ciaspola sulla neve

 

In flat terrain, the racquet must be unlocked (free heel) to allow for loose and natural movement. The legs should be kept slightly apart to avoid slaming and entanglement of the racquets. You don't have to lift the racquet a lot when you take your steps, but almost make it slide on the snow.
Climb uphill, the lift is used to make progression less tiring and to reduce the calf strain. The climb must always be done on the line of maximum slope to allow the front crampon to work. If the slope is steep to avoid slipping, you must aim the front rampart well before moving the next step. Steps can also be built repeatedly on the snow.
On very steep slopes and if the snow is particularly hard, both snowshoes are held in the direction of the slope by moving sideways, moving first the sticks and then the feet and keeping always three points of support during the movement.
On a downhill slope, the snowshoe must be kept unlocked as in the plain, if the slope is mild, you can go down quietly by aiming first at the heel and then the tip of the snowshoe, in case of steep slope you can resort to the telemark technique trying to move the barycentre down by bending your knees or the snowshoe is blocked and you get down with small steps.

Some tips for safe snowshoeing

Snowshoeing is an activity that can also be practiced with children, a sport suitable for everyone but it is always good to remember some simple rules when facing off-piste.

Choose the right routes. That is, they are suited to their technical and physical abilities and calculate the journey times on the basis of the slower hikers.

Use suitable clothing and equipment. We recommend layered dressing, avoiding over padded garments that would prevent movement. So let's equip ourselves with a t-shirt or base layer in synthetic technical fabric with long sleeves, a fleece, or second layer, always in breathable technical fabric and ideally windproof: it is needed to stay warm and evaporate sweat. A waterproof and windproof shell,this would be better if it came with some membrane like Gore-Tex or Polartec breathable, long walking pants, not padded, but also with a breathable membrane, windproof and that protects from water. Foot socks and trekking shoes and possibly gaiters can be worn to protect shoes and calves from snow. Finally, always wear a hat, gloves and glasses.

Always check the weather. We know that the weather changes quickly in the mountains, it is better to try to prevent it by consulting the weather and avalanche bulletin. In doubt when conditions are uncertain it is better to go back. It is useful to always have an alternative return journey.

Take possession of Artva. The Artva is a radio device, which transmits on a fixed mono-frequency (457 KHz) common to all these instruments.In the event of an avalanche, ARTVA can receive beeps from buried people, significantly reducing their recovery time.

Never alone. We recommend that you do not go snowshoeing alone, even if you know the mountain well. In any case, it is good to communicate to someone the itinerary you intend to follow.

Snowshoe running is a recognised sport even if it is not part of Olympic sports. There is an International Federation (WSSF) and a World Championship which will take place this year in northern Spain, in the region of Cantabria.

The workout

Walking with snowshoes is a very energy-consuming sport. Up to 1000 calories can be burnt in an hour. It is therefore advisable to be physically prepared to improve your aerobic endurance.

Use a cross trainer. The movement that takes place on the cross trainer recalls Nordic walking or cross-country skiing and is not unlike the gesture of walking on snowshoes. Using the appropriate resistance we can also recreate the effort we will make on the bumpy snowshoeing route.

Perform squats. Squats are excellent exercises for strengthening your legs. You can perform them with or without weights, even if the latter solution is more effective.

Side plank. In addition to legs, it is also important to train the abdominal section. The so-called side plank exercise is one of the most effective in this respect. How do you perform it? It starts out on the ground, on one side: they touch the ground on the outside of the leg and the side. The elbow is under the shoulder and perpendicular to it, and the forearm is also placed on the ground, in front of the body. Inhale, and the movement begins: by contracting the traverse muscle, the entire body is lifted up from the ground until only the lateral part of the foot, the elbow and the forearm remain as points of support to the ground. The exercise consists in maintaining this position. Once back in the resting position, the exercise will then be repeated on the other side of the body.

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