"Can you hear it?"
That's snowshoe hiking.
Snowshoes aren't exactly a new invention. In fact, snowshoes have been used hundreds and thousands of years ago by indigenous people, such as the Indians in North America and by Caucasian people in pre-Christian times. Of course, these peoples did not use snowshoes as sports equipment for fun and entertainment or to keep fit; they developed snowshoes out of a need, namely the necessity of being able to move despite masses of snow. In Europe, woodcutters used giant snowshoes (up to 1m in length) to move around wintery forests. Snowshoes allowed people to move forward when snow impeded all other forms of locomotion. This proves an old proverb true: Necessity really is the mother of invention.
Traditional shepherd's huts and majestic summits
In the early 1990s, almost overnight, snowshoe hiking became the latest craze. The new sport's huge popularity is easily understood: Snowshoes were the perfect solution for all winter fans who could not ski but found simple hikes on overcrowded, cleared or prepared trails boring and unauthentic for a winter excursion and activity. Snowshoes finally made winter wonderlands accessible to non-skiers as well. In fact, snowshoes are even an alternative for ski tours - many summits can be reached by snowshoe. The descent won't be as much fun as gliding down on skis, but the experience will still be worth your while! Snowshoe hikes don't have to lead to high peaks, however. The most rewarding tours often lead to mountain shelters or shepherd's huts where a decent meal and a warm cup of tea or hot mulled wine await you.
On a snowshoe hike, leaving our traces on a white blanket of snow, there'll be other tracks, too. Wintery snowscapes reveal some of the rich wildlife our forests are home to. Can you tell the tracks apart? Which animal was here before you? The snowy landscape, clad in white, looks so very different in winter, the mountains look even more majestic. The way up will seem short for there is such a lot of beauty to take in. Once arrived, a short break including a snack and some hot tea, will recharge your batteries for the descent.
Getting it right
The Ahrntal valley and the Dolomites offer numerous options for great snowshoe hikes. Some tours lead up to summits, others to Alpine huts; some lead through silent, mystic forests, others, adventurously, across frozen lakes. Some hikes are truly solitary and quiet, allowing you to experience winter's peacefulness.
For snowshoe hiking, like for any other sport, some basic technique and knowledge is required. Inform yourself well about the tour you want to go on, inform yourself about the weather, and the snow conditions. For tours leading beyond the timberline, some knowledge about avalanches (and what to do in case of an emergency) is crucial.
Technically, snowshoe hiking is not overly demanding. In fact, a rolling gait is all it takes, leaving enough space for the snowshoes. Keeping one's balance on the descent can be slightly more difficult. No worries - falling back into the soft blanket of snow isn't painful. On the contrary, everybody will be laughing, you yourself included.