UKH

SKILLS: Snowshoes in Scotland - more than just a novelty

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Mountaineering snowshoes in use on appropriate terrain

Requiring less skill than skiing, and making a big difference when progress on foot would be a nightmare, snowshoes have a clear niche in Scottish winter, reckons Alex Roddie. Having spent years insisting he could do without, Alex is now a firm believer. Here he explains the dark art of snowshoeing. Let's hope there's still snow on the hills when travel restrictions are eased!



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 top cat 31 Dec 2020
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

I'm a recent convert to snowshoes.  Damn me if I haven't shed tears on some walkins in the past due to post holing.  Accepted 'wisdom' was that snowshoes had no place in the Scottish mountains.  I so wish I hadn't listened to such garbage!

Get some tomorrow...

TC

1
In reply to top cat:

I got a small pair in Pyrenees in 1970s. Extremely light, T-section alloy perimeter with webbing woven across, simple tape binding. the long arm of the T-section would bite into slopes and they could even be kicked into steep soft snow. Some local guides sawed teeth in them.

Simple to use. Invaluable for wading through deep snow. Trouble is I never seem to pack them in UK even when they would be useful.

In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

I'm a full-on convert, although my snowshoeing is in the alps when visiting relatives in Bavaria. My take on it:-

Rocks are an ankle-twisting ballache when you can't fit your snowshoes in the gaps between them, as are 'latschen' (dwarf pine) roots/branches found in the Alps.  The latter often have deep snow between them so I normally keep my SS on as they're not damaged by the wood.

Articulated SS with built in crampons like the Ascents in the article will take you straight up or down slopes you'd struggle on in hiking boots if they were bare grass in summer - ski pistes are absolutely fair game in SS (obviously not when they're in use by skiers).  The confidence they give is phenomenal, the only way I can describe it is feeling like you have tank tracks on your feet. The crampons work brilliantly on the nasty verglas on ridges where the wind's stripped the snow off. With SS I often find I'm in them over terrain with patches of bare ground where I'd be in and out of crampons, or staying out of crampons and taking risks.

You do need to use walking poles with SS on anything but the flattest ground, they make life so much easier, especially if you use snow baskets instead of standard UK 'cups'.

I can't ski, but even if I could I'd often use SS instead if I knew the skiing would be limited or the climbing or terrain in general was technical - skis & poles are even more of a ballache to carry than SS, skiboots are big and heavy, and skiing only offers benefit if you have a decent amount of downhill you can use them on.

They've revolutionised my winter holidays because I can now go on what are summer walking paths quite happily. You do have to up your game though - there are a lot fewer people about (only x-country skiers), the huts are shut and the days are short - if you get yourself into trouble it's going to get bad much quicker than it does in summer.  I like areas below treeline which become a magical winter wonderland leading to a bare peak with great views for lunch. One problem is with path markings which are buried above the treeline, and paths completely buried below it. Blundering through a pine forest is no fun! Oh, don't forget about avalanche risk either - because SS remove a big barrier to winter walking that encourages summer walkers (like me) and you can go up and down ridiculous slopes easily you need to consider avalanche hazard. I'm not 'avalanche trained', hence my current choice of terrain.

Post edited at 14:51
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 wbo2 31 Dec 2020
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:  I've been cynical in the past as 'why wouldn't you use skis' but for moderate walk ins in Norway they are very useful.  I've been using a pair similar to the MSR lightnings on B3 boots and it works really , really well.  Definitely something to consider

In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

You can buy cheap Far Eastern copies of aluminium tubular designs (knock-off Tubbs basically) in the Nordic countries for not much at all, but I've seen three different pairs like that break on their first use. I wouldn't waste my money on anything that isn't a known brand where they can be returned if necessary.

Having said that, down in the cellar I have a pair of slightly broken (but enough to be unusable) MSRs lightening ascents. I might be able to get replacement parts from MSR, although living in Derbyshire now, I've never had a strong need to find out - but even the best designs can break eventually.

Don't expect miracles in deep powder or older untransformed cold snow, even with loads of flotation you still skin loads in such conditions, and getting a big snowshoe out of thigh deep powder is incredibly hard, but in less cold conditions when the snow has compacted they are great. Never used them in the UK but could see they would be helpful in some conditions especially if you don't want to ski for whatever reason. Vertically aligned frames + crampon on MSR lightening models do grip impressively well even on steep ground.

Roadrunner6 01 Jan 2021
In reply to TobyA:

We HAVE to use them by law in some areas (e,g. the Adirondacks if there is 8+ inches on the ground) of the US and are pressured to use them in most. If you are seen post holing (bare booting) with 6+ inches of snow on the ground you'll get shouted at.

TBH I can't think of that many days when I needed them in Scotland but they are certainly worth it when needed, but often just the final few hundred meters to the base of a climb. We get much fluffier dry powder though which will leave 2-3 feet of very fluffy powder. In the UK it's often that wet heavy snow which packs down faster.

I've also a light weight running pair which are awesome but do get battered. Being smaller they are less effective off trail.

The difference here is we have trees so you are confined to paths, so once 5-10 people have passed through on snowshoes you get a nice trail to follow and it's quick if you also have snowshoes.

In reply to Roadrunner6:

> We HAVE to use them by law in some areas (e,g. the Adirondacks if there is 8+ inches on the ground) of the US and are pressured to use them in most. If you are seen post holing (bare booting) with 6+ inches of snow on the ground you'll get shouted at.

That's weird. What are you doing wrong exactly?

I know XC skiers hate snowshoers messing up prepared tracks (maybe less of a problem on the flat skate style part of the track, but definitely a big no no on the... no idea what you call them in English... the narrow double track for classic skiing in... latu in Finnish although that's probably not very helpful! 

But if you want to go miserably stumbling about in the woods without snowshoes or skis, isn't that your lookout? Or do people think you'll need rescuing or something?

Roadrunner6 01 Jan 2021
In reply to TobyA:

https://visitadirondacks.com/area-adk/winter-hiking-preparedness#:~:text=In%20the%20Adirondack%20High%20Peaks,or%20more%20inches%20of%20snow.&text=Snowshoes%20will%20also%20have%20teeth,worn%20when%20icy%20conditions%20exist.

I think it's more protecting the ground beneath it. If we all use skis or snowshoes we create a monorail that will last for months.

Plus leaving ankle breaking holes if it thaws and refreezes. From now on any of the facebook hiking pages will be full of people complaining about people bare booting.

Off trail few do, and the snow is often a meter or two deep. One year we were snow shoeing in the white mountains and the snow was so high we were walking with our heads in the tree canopies.

We have a few groomed areas, out here it's more back country skiing/mountain trails or snowmobile trails (which are more numerous than public access routes in some states), so you using snowshoes on them is nothing compared to the snowmobiles. From my house in NH I could ski to the Canadian border on the snowmobile trails. It's an awesome trail system which private landowners somehow don't mind, yet they block access at all other times of the year. I think there's a tax incentive to allow a snowmobile trail through your land.

The nordic specific trail systems generally won't let anyone else use them. 

Post edited at 14:02
Roadrunner6 01 Jan 2021
In reply to TobyA:

Re the double tracks, we just call them 'tracks'. Some groomed systems get pretty strict about now classic skiing outside of the tracks only skate skiing allowed otherwise.

 Kevin Woods 01 Jan 2021
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

I experimented with a pair last winter. I felt they were invaluable where required, but not really worth it a lot of the time. It seemed to me as though they came into their own in specifics conditions of broad slopes and heavy snowfall - and, to be fair, some winters are just like that. But as soon as there are rocks, or a steepening - any variation away from a broad, flat surface it seemed better to take them off and stick to the rocks. In marginal scenarios, they seemed to make me slow and clunky, which got frustrating. I'm still unsure if that is more a technical/economy thing rather than anything inherent in the snowshoes.

I got them because I'm not much of a skier, so seemed a worthwhile insurance against deep conditions. I got a few hill days done that would just not have happened and they were amazing. (That mental snowfall at the end of February!). They were definitely useful in their own specific way. For vast majority of Scottish winter I wouldn't use them but see there are climates across the world they would come into their own.

I'm also convinced there is a walking technique that's good economy against postholing - which seems ridiculous to write, because it's so obviously inefficient. But it's the action of rising the leg slightly and pendulum the weight of the lower leg to kick a hole.

And I still want to learn to ski.

 OwenM 01 Jan 2021
In reply to TobyA:

> I know XC skiers hate snowshoers messing up prepared tracks (maybe less of a problem on the flat skate style part of the track, but definitely a big no no on the... no idea what you call them in English... the narrow double track for classic skiing in... latu in Finnish although that's probably not very helpful! 

Loupe 

In reply to OwenM:

> Loupe 

Hmmm. I get a jeweller's magnifying glass thing for that!

 Doug 01 Jan 2021
In reply to TobyA:

rails in French

personally I think any snowshoer walking on XC circuits ought be shot on sight, although that's maybe being a little lenient

edit - maybe he meant loipe ?

Post edited at 15:45
 OwenM 01 Jan 2021
In reply to Doug:

> edit - maybe he meant loipe ?

That's it, sorry my bad spelling. 

In reply to Doug:

> rails in French

> personally I think any snowshoer walking on XC circuits ought be shot on sight, although that's maybe being a little lenient

You're just so compassionate Doug!

> edit - maybe he meant loipe ?

Yes, that sounds familiar. I see it's løype in Norwegian so the Swedish must be very similar - and I've probably heard that.

In reply to wbo2:

If you don’t mind me asking, which SS do you use? Keen to find out what models work well for folk. Thanks

 George Ormerod 05 Jan 2021
In reply to Doug:

> rails in French

> personally I think any snowshoer walking on XC circuits ought be shot on sight, although that's maybe being a little lenient

Snow shoers on the XC track, eeeeh, luxury I dream of snow shoers, we have to contend with hikers and their post holing.  My wife suggest a much slower and lingering death for them than shooting.

 Doug 05 Jan 2021
In reply to George Ormerod:

Same here in the Champsaur unfortunately, but the subject was snowshoes.

I stopped a group of walkers today to ask if they could read - they were a couple of metres from a sign clearing saying the XC track was forbidden to non-skiers. "We didn't realise" was the best they could come up with. Later saw them pushing their car up the gentle slope to get out of a snowy car park, clearly no winter tyres or chains, oddly none of the skiers offered to help.

In reply to Doug:

>  edit - maybe he meant loipe ?

It's that in Germany too.

In reply to droites:

> If you don’t mind me asking, which SS do you use? Keen to find out what models work well for folk. Thanks

Old light grey MSR Denali Ascents with or without tails depending on conditions. I'm ~84kg in my pants and find the tails useful on anything fresh and deep (most of what I do - hiking on xmas snow which hasn't been tracked out yet with a daysack).  They're very tough, but the rubbery straps crack with age and break. MSR sell spare ones and I'll now carry a couple if I still have old ones on the shoes, although there are 4 on each so you can normally move them around to get around a breakage in an emergency. My wife has the Evo version which she's not got round to using yet, I can't remember if the tails are compatible.  I find that although the Denalis are quite long with the tails on, they're not a problem for me with my long legs.  A short person would hate them on techy ground (stuff in the woods steep enough to have steps if it were in civilisation).  I've also used Salewa 999s about 6 years ago which were lighter and more user-friendly, but almost certainly not as tough and can't take tails. They'd be fine for a lighter person, or on soft snow less than knee deep, or harder snow, but no good on the waist deep stuff I encounter.

HTH.

Post edited at 13:57

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