What a fantastic start to the season in the Alps - waist deep powder in the mountains and searing blue skies to dazzle even the most jaded eyes! It must be the best early season snow in ChamonixFrance for at least ten years, or certainly that seems to be what my memory is saying.
The Grand Montets and Les Houches ski areas are already open and the squeals and yells of delight can be heard all over the valley. The other ski areas are gearing up to open this coming weekend on the 22 December at Flegere, Balme and Brevent.
The Nordic ski tracks in Chamonix are in excellent condition right now and I had a fabulous time this week when I managed to get my first cross country 'skate' session done. A real joy to be cruising with light ski gear in a snowy wonderland and great to remember what a lovely way it is of travelling across the landscape. I am not suggesting you need to be an Olympic athelete to try it, but I have given a link HERE to a great film of atheltes 'skating'. We take a much more leisurely approach at Tracks and Trails.
The other style is of course 'classic' cross country which is more like the traditional running motion, but with skis on! This is also done on the same cross country ski area/track and literally runs along side the skate area.
We should also be set for an excellent snowshoe season as the forests and high meadows and tops are absolutely covered in a deep blanket of power snow.
Today I was checking out the Samoens area for our snowshoe week starting 13 January and it's looking good! Pines coated in crystals, the cliffs shining with ice, and the mountains sparkling as far as the eye could see. The full itinerary is HERE if you fancy joining us. We already have five people booked and it should be a good group.
We have more snow forecast over the next few days so I will be spending more time digging out the car!
Best wishes for Christmas
What to Wear Snowshoeing?
Believe me, what to wear on the mountain causes a lot of consternation. More than a few glasses of wine/beer have been consumed debating this all important question as our guests contemplate their ‘mountain fashion statement’ for the next day. In Chamonix, France we joke about the ‘mountain fashion police’ removing you forcibly from the mountain for not sporting the correct attire.
Of course, it’s not really about cutting a dash on the hill, it is about being comfortable and safe. Safe in the sense that you could literally freeze bits of yourself if incorrectly dressed in bad weather. We don’t want any digits snapping off as you attempt to adjust your snowshoes! The simple answer to the question of what to wear snowshoeing is to dress for winter walking, not for downhill skiing as believed by many otherwise you will be overheating very quickly. Salopettes are not designed for walking! So a quick run down of clothing for snowshoeing...
The Very Top Half
You know that most of our body heat is lost through the extremities, such as head and hands, so a warm hat is essential. Personally, I overheat easily so for me a headband/Buff is the way to go. In fact you can never have too many ‘Buffs’ in your sack! Handy for all sorts of things in my opinion. A neck warmer is also part of your standard kit, and of course sunglasses are vital. Not only so you look cool, but essential to protect your eyes from the glare of the sun bouncing off the snow on all those blue sky days when you are snowshoeing this winter. While on the subject of extremities (yes, I know they are not strictly the Very Top Half) but your hands need protection, and two pairs of gloves do the trick. Thin ones for general use and lounging around in the sun at lunchtime, and thick ones for bad weather and for when your thin ones get wet.
The Top Half
I generally wear a medium weight base layer of good wicking fabric, and to be honest the various pure wool options do a good job. These are however expensive and there are numerous other ‘mixed’ fabrics on offer with half wool/half synthetic providing a good alternative. Next, I have a waistcoat as I like to keep my ‘core’ warm, always a good idea anyway, and this will be windproof to stop the chill getting to me. On top of that I have a medium weight fleece and that, in reasonable weather, will be what I walk in. I usually find this is enough as snowshoeing is an ‘active’ sport. In my rucksack, however, I will have a waterproof and windproof jacket and a ‘down’ jacket which I keep for lunch stops and very cold weather. Under all of this you will be wearing an avalanche transceiver. This is a device which emits a signal (don’t worry you can’t hear it so you wont be irritated) and should you go missing then we can search for you. We don’t intend using this particular piece of equipment in earnest!
The Bottom Half
You will be walking when you snowshoe – just in case you are not clear that you will do some exercise when indulging in this wonderful activity, SO your legs need to be comfortable and have unrestricted movement. Wearing jeans is outlawed and I will in fact refuse to take you on the hill, as much from embarrassment as from practicality! You ideally need windproof warm trousers, and better still if these are also ‘shower proof’ as often there might be snow crystals floating around and this helps you avoid the damp. In my rucksack I will also have lightweight waterproof trousers. These act as another layer when it’s really cold, and also of course when it’s snowing heavily. Warm socks are the order of the day, and I like knee length ones to keep my legs warm. Ooops, forgot to mention that certainly bring thermal leggings on the trip as these come in handy when it’s really nippy.
The Very Bottom Half
Feet – easy answer, warm, waterproof footwear is required for snowshoeing. To be honest I often snowshoe wearing leather ‘summer’ walking boots which I find to be enough to keep me warm and dry. For snowshoeing you must have boots with ankle support for no other reason than the fact the ankle straps which attach your snowshoes need to be a snug fit and you will be sore if the snowshoe straps are against your legs rather than the boots. You do not need to have ‘stiff’ boots of the type that take a crampon. Your snowshoes provide a rigid platform for your boots and that is sufficient. Gaiters are also a good idea to stop the powder dropping into your boots. These do not need to be knee high and a simple short gaiter ‘cuff’ which sits just over the top of your boot does the job. Most of the time I do not wear gaiters, but do bring them with you unless you want to chance it!
The Very Very Bottom Half
Nearly forgot all about them! Snowshoes! NO they are not like ‘tennis racquets’, at least not any longer. Today snowshoes are high tech pieces of kit, and ideally adapted to walking in snow. They are to put it simply a device which you strap to your walking boots which allows you to walk in winter without sinking totally through the snow pack. We use TSL snowshoes which are made of composite plastic and come in a wonderful variety of colours and models. They have six studs on the underside which means the snowshoes ‘grip’ on any icy sections, and they also have a ‘front claw’ which again grips on hard snow. Otherwise they stop you sinking too far when enjoying fresh powder snow. And, of course, with the snowshoes come walking poles which are handy for balance while frolicking in all that wonderful white fluffy stuff :-)
The Back Half
On your back you need a ‘day’ sack of about 25 – 30 litres capacity. In this you will have all the above mentioned bits that you might not wear all day as you warm up. There will also be sunscreen, water, lip balm, lunch, and of course your safety gear such as shovel, and probe. A rucksack with the ability to attach your snowshoes is ideal. This is because on some occasions you may walk a little way with your snowshoes on your back till we reach the snowline. Most of the time we will, however, put the snowshoes on beside the car.
So there you have it. The perfectly dressed snowshoer, and I will expect you all to be suitably dressed and ready for action, just like Julie our ‘model’ who with no help from myself can turn herself out rather nicely, though she does, occasionally, require pulling out of a snowdrift which does mean she has to spent a bit of time ‘dusting off’ before she re-acquires her nonchalant mountain babe demeanour. Feel free to drop us a line with any questions!
An absolutely great trip with three lovely women! They had great spirit, and determination and there were a whole lot of laughs! We had a week based in Champex, in Switzerland adventuring out every day to climb Cols and peaks in the area. Have a look at the movie and you will see what I mean. Lindsay
A great day working with Oliver Ensor from Chalet Savoy in Les Houches. We had a bunch of fun guests to take snowshoeing up to Chalets de Chailloux above Coupeau which is a fantastic spot for a winter wonderland experience and views of Mont Blanc. Oliver's wife Elaine prepares the best cake ever! Lindsay
I am just back from doing our first crossing of the Chablais region on snowshoes! This winter we organised a private trip for three of our regular guests and what a fantastic trip it turned out to be. In six days we passed through a stunning winter landscape where we saw a grand total of only two ski mountaineers and two snowshoe groups. For our Traverse of the Chablais we began in Megevette in the St Jeoire Valley, about an hour from Geneva and we made our way across the mountains to Lake Geneva. It was extremely satisfying to make a true journey on snowshoes and to finish by dipping our feet in the Lake! We are now looking at offering this trip as a Scheduled Departure next winter 2011 and it should be on the website soon. Meantime, if you are interested please drop us an email and we will be sure to keep you a place. For this inaugural trip we carried all our kit, very little extra to be honest, and stayed in very comfortable hotels in the valleys every night. We are thinking about offering baggage transfers for the next trip which means your rucksack can be even lighter. I am now in Courmayeur in Italy in the Cafe des Guides just catching up on mail, and about to head to the fabulous Rifugio Bonatti in Val Ferret - more later!!
Last week I was joined by Leslie from the US, Arletta from Poland, Team SA (from South Africa) and Susie from the UK on our multi-activity winter week. There truely were an international feel to our week. Over the 6 days the group stayed in a luxury chalet and were able to enjoy getting to grips with both cross country skis styles - trying both the classic and skating - and experienced days out in the mountains in winter travelling on snowshoes. The holiday is based in France but as we are so close to Italy we are also able to nip across the border for a chance to sample a little Italian snow and of course not forgetting the cuisine too. Team SA were able to add on a few days and experience a little of what Switzerland has to offer and when they left us headed off to Zermatt to alpine ski under the eyes of the Matterhorn. I'm waiting to hear how they got on?
Who said that snowshoeing was all about hard work! I have just had a great time with Sheila and Peter on our Mont Blanc Snowshoe Week which is based in Argentiere. We had blue skies on all the days except one, and had wonderful fresh and light powder. Chamonix Valley was at its best with stunning views to the Mont Blanc Massif, and our two days up at the famous Grand St Bernard Monastery where fabulous with crisp clear days with very few people around. A special moment was on day two when we simply stood looking at the views over to Italy and enjoying perfect silence - something which is not that easy to come by these days! It makes me appreciate what a great job I have to be working with our guests in the mountains, and introducing them to the Alps in winter. At the end of each day there was a hot tub waiting at our accommodation at Yeti Lodge in Argentiere which was a real treat!!
It seems as though Christmas was only yesterday but we are already at the end of January! Which means that next week I leave for the Jura mountains, France and Switzerland’s answer to Norway. These rolling ‘hills’, reach no more that 1600m in altitude and make excellent farmland in the summer. This very rural & less frequented region has an entirely different feel to its’ neighbouring jaggy spires and peaks of the Alps.
So to get in the mood today Karoline, Vicci, with 6 months old Max, and I went over to Samoëns to the Nordic Festival! Max had all the attention, even from the media, as he was the only one travelling in a ‘Norwegian pulk’ – a ski sledge for babies – see picture! It was an excellent day with lots of ‘have a try’ activities free of charge….from snowshoeing, cross country skiing, dog sledding, ski-joëring, to biathlon and dog-joëring. The latter two of which I tried! I have always watched the biathlon events on TV with amazement as to how they are able to lower their heart rate with enough efficiency to shoot! We were given a short race to test our ‘ski to shoot ability’ - it was excellent fun...and then came the husky dog! Each skier had a dog to pull you around the cross country tracks whilst you ski along behind – what a way to travel - my new sport!
The Alps have seen a white Christmas Day. Today my family joined me for a very wintery walk on snowshoes! We now look forward our Christmas lunch and to clear skies and sunshine tomorrow.