Winter Alpine activities for the non-skier !
Category: > | 10th Feb, 2012
Kate Scott who represents Alpine Angels in St Gervais and Megeve provides a guide on non-skiing activities in the mountains.
For many years, for us non-Continentals, the Alps has been the play ground reserved for die hard skiers and snowboarders and those of us who don't ski at all, have left it too late to learn or have given it a go but really not enjoyed it, have been left at home to wonder what all the fuss is about. Well, nowadays there are plenty of alternative activities which allow you to get out and enjoy the great outdoors without strapping two big planks to your feet and pointing them down a precipice.
Have you ever tried Snow-shoeing?
By strapping an 'oversized' sole onto the outside of your walking boots, you spread your weight over a larger surface area, and are then able to walk in the snow without sinking up to your ears. Originally these were made from wood and string, and were rather heavy and cumbersome to use, but thanks to plastic technology the modern snowshoe is shaped to make the walking easy, with minimum weight on your feet.
Once strapped into your Snowshoes you can go anywhere,
be it low level undulating forest walks, looking for animal tracks and traces, or catch the cable car up the mountain with your ski friends, whilst they go off for a ski, you can go for a lovely walk and enjoy the stunning distant views, and then join them for lunch on the mountain. One of the great beauties of snowshoeing is that you really can go anywhere and get away from the crowds.
Being the fastest growing winter sport in France, you can now hire snowshoes from many of the sports shops in the Alps, and most resorts will have guides (Accompagnateurs in French, or International Mountain Leaders) who will take you out safely and choose an appropriate route depending on your fitness, desires and the snow conditions.
What about cross country skiing?
Cross country skiing (known in French as 'ski de fond') is worlds apart from the down hill world of lifts and pistes. This is generally on flat or undulating terrain, and most resorts have a pre-cut and pisted cross country ski area. There are two types of cross country skiing, one being the 'classic' cross country where your skis slide along in pre cut tracks and one being 'skating' where the technique is more akin to ice skating.
If you've never tried either but fancy giving it a go, you will probably want to start with the 'classic' style. On these classic skis there is a 'fish scale area' on the underside of the skis below the feet, and the tip and tail of the skis are smooth. The idea being that as you walk when you un-weight your ski you slide along on the smooth bits, then when you put your foot down it grips on the fish scale area and you use this to grip and push yourself forward onto the next step.
The skating technique takes a bit of getting used to, but if you like a challenge, why not give it a go. The skis are thinner than Alpine skis and your boots softer with an ankle cuff. With each step you push off the side of one ski and glide onto the base of the other, rather like ice skating. This feels very wobbly the first time you try but its amazing how you can improve in a very short space of time.
The great thing about cross country skiing is that its do-able by all levels and abilities, be it high level competition, or a more leisurely walking pace, and as a general rule, most folk that you meet on the ski de fond piste are genuinely pleased to see you and help you if you need some pointers with your equipment or technique. Being largely on flat or undulating terrain, you can control your speed to suit your level, and don't have the intimidation of the big, steep mountains. Many resorts, such as Les Houches and Morzine, have 'ski de fond' tracks up high on the mountain, on flat areas, so you get to cross country ski with great views, and other resorts such as Chamonix and Les Contamines, have tracks in the valley floor where you are sheltered in the forest, away from the main ski areas.
Any areas where there is a 'ski de fond' track will have a 'foyer de fond', which is where you can buy your ticket, which is a fraction of the price of a normal lift ticket and covers the cost of the piste bashing and maintenance of the trails, and also you will be able to find an instructor to set you going.
So if you have friends or family who say they can't join your skiing holiday, because they can't ski, don't let them miss out on the beauty of the mountains in winter, just suggest they try an alternative activity.
Below are some links that you may find helpful
, Chamonix area
- Chamonix area
- Morzine, Les Gets & Samoens area
- St Gervais, Les Contamines, & Megeve.