So, snowshoes – those weird looking things which make it look like you’re walking on tennis rackets. Snowshoe hiking can require a bit more thought than normal hiking, and we know a lot of people will never have tried snowshoes – even if they’ve been hiking already for years. So, to help you get started we’ve included some information here!
What gear will I need?
Well, the most obvious thing is snowshoes! You can easily rent or buy snowshoes in Switzerland – you’re typically looking at CHF 10 to CHF 20 for renting snowshoes for the day, or between CHF 50 and CHF 300 to buy them. You can rent or buy snowshoes in sports shops in the cities in Switzerland (Migros Sport or Transa for example), and ski areas normally also rent snowshoes. We’ve even seen low cost snowshoes for sale in Aldi in Switzerland as well.
A lot of people, especially for the first time, will also like to have poles to help support themselves, which you can get with the snowshoes. Poles aren’t essential, but you might like them for extra balance. Generally, you’ll find people with strong opinions on this, the same as for whether to use poles for hiking in summer 🙂 We leave it down to your personal preference!
Something else you’ll want is gaiters to stop the snow getting up your trousers and most importantly down into your boots. Some winter trousers, especially ski trousers, have gaiters built in. Snowshoe hiking in ski trousers can be a bit warm though…
In terms of clothing more generally, we prefer dressing fully in waterproof gear, so it doesn’t matter if you fall over. Plus, then making snow angels is more comfortable 😉 Jeans and tights (I tried this in the beginning) are possible but not advisable. And don’t forget things like waterproof gloves, a beanie and a scarf! We often carry multiple pairs of gloves since we tend to end up messing around in the snow, which can quickly get them pretty wet! Generally, when picking your clothing to start with, if you assume you’re going skiing and dress accordingly you’ll probably be fine.
How to choose a route
Walking uphill on snowshoes is loads of work, especially in fresh snow. This is why you’ll often see snowshoe hikes in ski resorts described going downhill from top to bottom. And they’re right in a way – going downhill in snowshoes is loads of fun!
Personally we’re happy hiking uphill in snowshoes as well as downhill, but it’s good to choose a much smaller route than you normally would in summer conditions. Even just walking a couple of hundred metres up is a lot of work on snowshoes (especially at higher altitudes). You’ll see on our best snowshoe hikes from Zurich post, for example, that we mostly suggest hikes that only go up a few hundred meters.
If you want to take it cautiously at the beginning, try using snowshoes in a ski resort that has winter walking paths. This way, you can typically use the winter walking path some of the time if you want and also try walking next to the path on the softer snow – you don’t have to commit to a snowshoe route for the whole hike! Trubsee in Engelberg would be a good option for this as they have both a snowshoe and winter walking trail that partly follow the same route – see here.
Last but not least, as we build this site and explore Switzerland we’ll be blogging about the different snowshoe hikes we’ve done over the years. So, keep coming back and see what you find!
What about avalanches?
Well, there are a couple of things to think about when you’re hiking with snowshoes that aren’t normally so relevant in the summer, and avalanches are probably the scariest of these. If you’re hiking on marked snowshoe paths in ski resorts, they seem to monitor avalanche risk and close paths if necessary, so these paths seem to be fairly safe. Outside ski resorts, though, you’ll need to be more careful and monitor the avalanche situation yourself. You’ll find more information here from the SLF, including avalanche danger ‘forecasts’. If you’re new to Switzerland and winter hiking, we generally advise to only go in fair weather after you’ve checked the avalanche situation.
Also, fairly obviously, it will be cold (otherwise no snow!), but Switzerland doesn’t really get bitterly cold like some countries in winter, so you’ll mostly find temperatures are between 0 and -10 degrees Celsius.
And finally: this is probably really obvious unless you grew up near the equator, but it gets dark really early in Switzerland in the winter – sunset is around 4.30pm for much of December. The ski resorts normally also close their lifts and cable cars quite early too, often 4 or 4.30pm. So our advice is to plan your hike plus some spare time to finish before dusk ☺.
Finding your way – maps and signs
The online Swiss map offering for snowshoe hikes isn’t quite as easily accessible as the summer options.
The same map that we mainly use in summer also shows winter options, including snowshoe hikes – see here. A lot of these routes are in ski resorts – the ski resorts are a great option to start out and offer lots of infrastructure to get you to some really spectacular places, so they’re a great option for many people. The selection on this map doesn’t seem to be very complete though, so it can be worth checking the websites for individual ski areas for more options.
If you want more choice, there is also a wider network of options for snowshoe hiking in Switzerland – see here for a map. The rather camouflaged green lines show snowshoe routes. There are lots of small areas across the whole of Switzerland where you’re not supposed to walk in winter, to give the wildlife some peace – these are normally well marked in ski areas, but not so much elsewhere. The wildlife areas are shown as yellow and red areas on the map.
Once you’re on the ground, be prepared to actually use the map – apart from in the ski areas, the signposting for winter walking and snowshoe walks is not as extensive as the summer hiking signage in Switzerland. Both snowshoe and winter walking signs are similar pink/purple colours, and often have drawing of a snowshoe or a hiker on them. You’ll find a bit of variety in the style of signs, especially since some of the signs are put up by the ski resorts themselves. Oh, and in ski resorts in particular you may find poles sticking out of the snow with a purple stripe at the top marking the path as well.
Frequently Asked Questions
Finally, a couple of quickfire questions and answers for the first-time snowshoer 🙂
So what’s it like having these huge plates strapped on your shoes?
Well, it’s a bit clumsy at first, but you should get the hang of it pretty quickly – it’s way easier than learning to ski. There seems to be no special technique really – just walk!
What happens if I fall over?
You get covered in snow 🙂 But other than that, we’ve found that falling over is mostly harmless – the snow is normally a lot softer than the ground would be if you fell over while hiking in the summer, and you’re also normally wearing a lot more padding in winter.
I come from a country where we don’t have avalanches and don’t have the foggiest of ideas of what to expect?
If you’re not familiar with assessing avalanche risk, we would recommend sticking to ski resorts at the beginning. There’s some information here to get you started if you want to learn more about avalanches.
Do I need to pay to go snowshoe hiking like I do for skiing?
No – we’ve never seen any requirement to pay for snowshoe trails or winter walking trails in Switzerland. You might need to pay for a cable car or ski lift to get to the trail, but other than that they’re free!