How to hike safely on snow and ice
Whether you’re amongst the magnificent peaks of La Plagne in the French Alps, or up in the Rockies, hiking in snowy conditions is both a great challenge and a spectacular experience. In this guide we’ll be giving you a ‘step-by-step’ guide to hiking in the great white wilderness, from Les Arcs in France to the Jasper National Park.
Although we won’t be talking about specific terrains here, there are some very good general pointers to be made about how to hike out in the white stuff.
The right equipment
Hiking on snow and ice is a very different experience to hiking in ‘dry’ conditions and it is a very good idea to stock up on the right equipment before setting off. Crampons, ski poles and an ice axe are important bits of kit which can help you out if you get into trouble out in the winter weather or want to tackle more challenging terrain.
Meanwhile the correct weather-proof clothing is essential. Hiking in snow and ice can be dangerous, so it is vital that you have the right clothing and provisions to ensure your safety should anything go awry. The requisite first aid kits, along with all the fluids and emergency back-up gear are absolutely essential.
In terms of clothing, it is important to layer up and wear fabrics which keep you warm and dry from the outside, but remove dampness and perspiration away from your skin from the inside. This combination will work to keep you warm and dry whether you’re exerting yourself or at rest. Starting with a good basic under-layer is the most important part of dressing for winter hiking. Long underwear and sock liners are the building blocks of an effective winter hiking get-up.
Hiking techniques on snow
Once you’ve assembled all this kit and dressed appropriately, you’ll probably find that you’re a little weighed down. This is common for hikers, but in snowy or icy conditions it can make things particularly difficult. That’s why we’ve assembled some top tips to help you get from A to B no matter how slippery the surface.
In snowy or icy conditions, descents can be particularly perilous, yet there are some tried and tested methods that can help you if you do need to navigate a downward slope in snowy situations…
- Boot skiing
The trick with boot skiing is to keep your knees soft and, if possible, to follow in somebody else’s tracks. This technique is best for short descents as it takes an awful lot out of your leg muscles over long periods. The technique is an amalgamation of shuffling, ‘skiing’ and sliding, which makes using your ski poles to keep your balance essential.
- The plunge step
Take it easy when using this technique – it can be tempting to build up speed using this move but that can be treacherous as a high level of momentum could do your leading leg some serious damage if it becomes stuck. Essentially the plunge step is a long, slow stride. Using your leading leg, lean back a little with your leg straight out and firmly step onto the heel. Allow yourself to slide before taking the next step – this will eventually build into a good rhythm – but remember to take it easy!
- Sitting glissade
This is a fancy name for sliding about on your bottom! For those with tired knees, or for particularly sharp descents, this can be the safest option. If you have crampons fitted, use them to slow your descent, if not, your ski poles or ice axe can be used to keep you at a safe speed.
No matter where in the world you are, hiking in the snow and ice is an incredible experience, full of sights and challenges you would never have confronted on dry hikes. Mountain country is one of the key areas for winter hiking and in uncharted areas you are unfamiliar with, it is important to have expert guidance. Never attempt winter hiking without taking full precautions first.