Steve Wright takes a trip to Gstaad, Switzerland to try out snowshoeing and splitboarding. He finds these activities will save you a heap on lift passes.
Snow shoeing is probably better known and certainly less technical than split boarding, but both activities use the same principle of getting up mountains under your own steam. It’s coming back down where they differ the most. With snowshoes, you just walk back but with the splitboard you ski – hopefully with no wipeouts!
If you’re sticking to paths you really don’t need snowshoes to hike up and around the mountains, just a decent pair of waterproof boots with good grip. Its harder work than hiking though as you have to lift your feet up that much more with every step.
Snowshoes however, come into their own when walking through deep off-piste snow. They allow you to stay on top of the snow rather than sink into it on every step. An extra bungie is a good idea if you think you might want to take the snowshoes off and strap them securely onto your backpack.
Telescopic poles are also a must as they will definitely make your walking easier, and they’ll provide you with a better workout. Snowshoes aren’t heavy – it’s entirely possible to run up hill in them if you really want to test your fitness.
I actually managed to beat a group of skiers by running up one slope when they took the ski lift, and they only had a small queue ahead of them.
However, I’ll admit that although I was trying to look cool and relaxed as the skiers got off the top of the lift I was actually sweating like a pig!
If you’ve a love of hiking through the mountains I’d definitely say that snowshoeing is something you really should consider. There’s so much more freedom and adventure to be had. We walked up to Europe’s only mountain peak connecting suspension bridge, and it was an incredible sight.
Just as we moved onto the next leg of our journey we saw a group of guys paragliding off the side of the mountain. Something to think about perhaps for my next trip?
If you’ve been snowboarding regularly then you’ll find splitboarding no problem at all, (assuming of course you also have enough basic fitness to walk up the mountain!).
If on the other hand, like me, your hair is all falling out, you’ve done a fair bit of skiing and the closest you’ve come to snowboarding is using a skateboard as a kid, you’re literally in for an interesting ride.
So, what’s a splitboard? It’s basically a snowboard that has been cut in half to turn it into skis. To get up the mountain you attach special skins to the splitboards that help grip the snow. You make your ascent by moving in a zig-zag fashion to reduce the steepness of the climb. Telescopic poles really help with balance and give extra power and they can be easily stowed for the return journey. We had a pretty easy walk up when I tried it out, as we were all beginners with limited experience.
Unsurprisingly, coming back down the mountain proved quite a challenge for me. The instructors were being more helpful with the girls in the group for some reason ….. meanwhile I could not even seem to stand up properly.
Eventually I got quite good at standing up … I had to, as I kept falling over. But by the end of the day I was quite pleased that I just about felt I’d learnt a new sport, while not perhaps looking like I was in full control. I seemed able to make turns and get up to a reasonable speed. And it was only for one brief moment during the day that I thought I was going to die!
While on our trip we also had a great experience of an evening meal up the mountain followed by a night toboggan back down. We also visited an igloo village where you stay in ice rooms, some with en-suite facilities. We tried our hands at carving from snow and ice and finished the trip off with a two-hour session in a piste-bashing machine.
I did ask my instructor… so far they’ve not had any accidents caused by novices driving into anything they shouldn’t!
I also found out about a couple of other things I would personally be quite interested in. The first is fat biking – there’s a winter fat bike festival held every January in Gstaad (snowbikefestival.com).
This comprises of a three-day stage race, eliminator night race and fun ride, plus snow bike party and the Fat Bike EXPO.
For the mountain runners, there’s also the Glacier 3000 run (glacier3000run.ch). This is a 26km race which takes place every August. It starts just above 1,000m and takes you to the peak at just below 3,000m. It’s been running for eight years now; last year’s winning man finished in 2:30.05 just six seconds ahead of the chap behind him.
Having run the Three Peaks in the UK this really appeals to me. Now I just need to save up my pennies so I can take my wife and four children out with me!
Flights were provided by SWISS (swiss.com), which offers up to 110 weekly flights from London Heathrow, London City, Birmingham and Manchester to Zurich. Fares start from £63* one-way (all inclusive fares).
Rail tickets were provided by Switzerland Travel System (swisstravelsystem.co.uk); a Swiss Transfer Ticket covering a round-trip between the airport/Swiss border and your destination costs from £104.
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