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As we enjoy the beautiful autumn colours and experience the first frosts the mountains across the northern hemisphere are starting to get their winter coat. Winter enthusiasts and the mountain resorts are preparing for the coming season.

  • Have you ever wanted to experience the mountains in winter but get off the beaten track?
  • Maybe you are unfamiliar with snow or would like to try something new?

Then we'd like to introduce you to 'snowshoeing'.

Snowshoeing is quite simply walking in winter wearing a pair of snowshoes. If you enjoy walking, then snowshoeing is the perfect winter activity for you and making it enjoyable for all ages and fitness levels. Although it's vital to know where you can safely snowshoe it's not designed to be extreme so an ice axe and crampons are not essential.

Walking with snowshoes means that you can venture into nature often where skiers and climbers can't reach. Exploring valleys & forests covered in a blanket of snow, reaching peaks or mountain villages 'shut off' by winter.

While snowshoeing began thousands of years ago as a means of travel and a way to hunt it has in recent years become a popular winter pastime for fitness and recreation. Every winter more and more summer walkers are turning to snowshoeing as their winter activity.

Snowshoes are very cheap to rent and with just a little guidance is easy to pick up. In no time a trip snowshoeing has given you not only a new activity but access to the winter back country!

Gear Tips

One of the great attractions of snowshoeing is its simplicity making it very accessible and affordable. If you already have summer walking kit and clothing then you can use more or less the same items. As snowshoeing has grown in popularity (it’s currently France’s fastest growing outdoor winter sport), the number of manufacturers catering for this flourishing market has expanded too. This development has been great both for innovation and competition: consumer demand has driven fantastic transformations in the design of snowshoes (making them lighter, easier to fit and adjust, and more efficient to walk in) whilst at the same time also driving down the prices of the kit you’ll need. Whilst there are many different styles of snowshoe, the best all-round models will allow you to comfortably and efficiently walk on rolling hills and maintain control in icier conditions. They’ll also allow easy walking on flat terrain and compacted trails. At Tracks and Trails we use the popular TSL snowshoes that have proven reliable, easy to fit and facilitate comfortable hiking on the longest of days — watch our short video so see how they’re worn.

Also of importance is footwear. Suitable boots for snowshoeing feature adequate insulation for the colder temperatures and waterproofing to keep feet dry and warm. A good pair of winter boots will incorporate a thick insulating sole and have rubber or leather uppers that provide the necessary ankle support. Whilst specific models are available for purchase, many types of leather hiking boots also work well for this activity, especially if they include a waterproof fabric liner such as Gore-Tex, or similar. Gaiters are frequently worn when snowshoeing to ensure snow is kept out of boots. Consider purchasing a waterproof and breathable pair of gaiters that are mid shin height: in amongst the pine trees of the Alps it’s surprising just how deep the snow gets!

Telescopic poles or adjustable poles are very popular amongst walkers and trail runners providing them with improved balance, even weight distribution, rhythm and protecting the knees from the impact of descending. They work well for snowshoeing for exactly the same reasons! If you’ve already a pair for hiking you may just need to equip yourself with slightly bigger snow baskets to ensure they have enough surface area so as not to sink too deeply when you place the pole in softer snow!

As with summer hiking you will need to carry a backpack to stow spare layers, food, water, flask and if necessary your snowshoes for any non-snowy sections. So we recommend a pack with adjustable side straps to be able to do this of a minimum of 28-35 litres in size.

Finally, we always provide you with three pieces of essential winter safety equipment; an avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe. Although we don't intend to use them in anger by law we must carry them so training and instruction will be given on how to use them.

Layer Up!

Snowshoeing is a low impact form of exercise that provides the whole body with a good workout. It’s an excellent means too of training for balance and proprioception. As you get moving in the snow you’ll be surprised just how quickly you warm up - layers are definitely the answer, then, to regulating and maintaining a comfortable body temperature. As a general rule you can layer clothing such that you may feel a slight chill for the first 5 or 10 minutes of the activity: enjoying the freedom of movement and limbering up as you stride through the snow, in very little time the activity will have you nice and warm. It’s also important to keep your head and hands covered up to minimise heat loss. We suggest you bring two two pairs of gloves, one thick & one thin. On warmer spring snowshoe trips you’ll also need these along with a high factor sunscreen to protect yourself from the glare of the sun and UV damage that would otherwise be caused to exposed skin. All importantly, you mustn’t forget your feet! Quality socks made of wool or synthetic fibres promote wicking of moisture and assure warm, dry and happy feet!

Getting Started

At Tracks and Trails we’ve over a decade of experience providing snowshoeing excursions in the Alps and further afield. This winter you can join us snowshoeing for Introductory or Intermediate level trips in the world-renowned winter resort of Chamonix, or try one of our explorer trips in the Italian Dolomites, the southern French Queyras region, Samoens or go 'point-to-point' in the Chablais. We’re also able to offer tailor-made trips for weekends or week-long adventures: do get in touch if you’d like to discuss the possibility of us creating a specific itinerary to fit your calendar, either on an individual basis or as a group.

Find out more about all the Tracks and Trails snowshoeing trips on our dedicated webpage. If you’ve any questions then do contact us for assistance — we’re always happy to help!

While out enjoying nature we often wish to capture 'the moment' so that we can later relive our experiences, or share our excitement with others online and through social media. In fact it almost seems that, nowadays, decent photos are a prerequisite from any trip to prove a few bragging rights! There’s almost nothing more frustrating though, then, in returning from a great hike, ski or a day snowshoeing and find that those snaps you took while out on the trail weren’t quite as sharp as you’d first thought… so how did it happen?

Well, in the excitement of the moment we often overlook the fact that a photo can look quite acceptable on the small LCD screen of a compact camera or smartphone, only for us to discover later that when viewed by friends and family on their PCs and iPads it’s a little blurry — and doesn’t quite excite everyone’s interest as we had initially hoped for! The good news is that acquiring a little knowledge on how to take sharper pictures is actually not that difficult: this blog shares a few simple tips to improve your photography and produce sharper images from your camera (or, indeed, smartphone) when enjoying the outdoors.

Improving your technique - first steps
Getting the sharpest possible photos when shooting outdoors is all about technique. Almost nothing will spoil an image more than the blur that camera shake produces. As such, it’s vital to try to reduce the movement of the camera when taking shots. As you’re outdoors, this can prove a little tricky! However, first, think about what’s causing the movement of the camera while you compose and focus your picture: is it the wind? If ‘yes’, then it could help to seek a little shelter or otherwise reduce your exposure to the buffeting effect the wind has on your ability to steady the camera and prevent shake. If the wind’s gusty and you’re not in a rush, be patient and wait for a lull and shoot the frame when it’s calmest — you’ll observe a big difference in the resulting image.

Waiting for a calm moment is also a good exercise in observing changes in illumination — air currents and swirling winds interact with the clouds, resulting in shifts in ambient light: experiment and see just how different a scene can look as nature casts different tones and shades across the landscape.

Tripods - and their (weighty) limitations
Without exception, any respectable guidebook or blog on photography will advise first of the necessity of using a tripod to get sharp images from your camera. A decent tripod is considered a critical part of sharpness technique, and yet you’ll rarely see anyone even on a day hike (let alone a multi-day trekking trip) carrying one. Why? Well, even the newer carbon versions are still relatively heavy and a nuisance to fix to a backpack.

Accepting that few people will wish to lug a tripod around, it’s better that we therefore focus on how best to get around this. Firstly, you might wish to consider making use of either the Leki adapter or Hama trekking pole that can be adapted to work as a monopod to mount your camera to: these provide a useful base to steady your camera and achieve a less blurry image.

Absent the conversion of a trekking pole into a monopod to stabilise your camera, you’ll need to adapt your technique to minimise shake when holding the camera. Holding the camera correctly is crucial to achieving maximum sharpness. When holding your camera, be sure not to tense up or grip it too tightly — try to clasp it gently and not squeeze the apparatus too hard: this will just make your hands more sweaty and likely lead to greater movement when you press the shutter. Either hold your camera to your eye (if you’ve a viewfinder) or in front of you at a distance where you can view the LCD back screen comfortably, then drawn your elbows close to your chest: this creates a stable platform for the camera and allows you to take sharper pictures.

Image Stabilisation
A key point when shooting a handheld is to choose a fast enough shutter speed (if your camera allows manual adjustments such as this). A shutter speed of at least than 1/60 second for wide angles, 1⁄125 second for standard focal lengths or 1⁄500 second for telephoto focal lengths is a good rule by which to work. If your camera or smartphone allows the option of digital zooming, well, you’re much better off avoiding using it — it simply crops the existing photo by zooming in on the image sensor, resulting in a more pixellated photo!

Instead, make use of image stabilisation if your camera has this functionality. Image stabilization (IS), also referred to as ’SteadyShot’ or vibration reduction, is a relatively new technology that enable photographers to take shots in conditions outdoors that would have previously resulted in much blurrier images. Depending on the make and model of your camera, image stabilization works by sensing your camera’s movement whilst you steady it, then adjusting the lens or image sensor to offset the shifts and vibration in real time — it does this using some very sensitive sensors and complex algorithms (which we needn’t go into!). IS has developed in leaps and bounds in the last decade and is definitely worth making use of. Switch on your IS system and see the results — and don’t see it as cheating!

Shooting on Continuous Mode
Sooner or later while taking photo outdoors you’ll find yourself in a situation where holding your camera steady is really tricky — perhaps the wind’s up and you really can’t wait for a lull as you need to keep moving (and your fingers are beginning to feel like they’re icicles!). A great way to maximise your chances of getting a sharp shoot is to set your camera to continuous shooting mode.

Whilst this setting is usually used for action shots, it’s actually also very handy for when you are shooting handheld at relatively slower shutter speeds and trying to get a sharp shot. Hold the shutter down for a burst of four or five shots: you’ll find that those in the middle of the batch are usually sharpest (pressing the shutter button causes movement in the camera, which settles once you have the button depressed fully). Discard the less sharp images and just keep the best one! That’s the beauty of digital photography: endless scope to experiment, explore and make changes. Indeed, we’re blessed with amazing technologies that create far more flexibility in how we choose to capture that perfect moment in the outdoors than just a generation ago. Go explore, have adventures — and bring back some unforgettable memories!

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