Snowshoes have been around for thousands of years and allow you to walk through snowy alpine areas by spreading your weight over a larger area.
In recent years, as snowshoe technology has developed, snowshoeing has become a popular activity in ski resorts which offer numerous walks of varying difficulties. Snowshoeing offers non-skiers a great way to experience the mountains and doesn't require any specific skills. The more difficult trails can require a good level of fitness, so bear this in mind when picking your route.
Most larger resorts offer guided snowshoe tours, which adds another element as the guide explains local flora and fauna, or leads the tour to a little known mountain hut. In many resorts the trails are very well signposted, allowing you to explore the area without paying for a guide. Many ‘snowshoers’ use trekking poles to help them on long walks. Snowshoes will generally feature small crampons to offer traction and grip on the snow, which is particularly important on steeper sections. Apart from that, you don’t need any special accessories or equipment. Dress as you would for skiing - it's good to wear layers so you don't sweat too much during the hike.
If you want to find out if you can snowshoe at your destination resort, it’s usually best to look at the resort website. The larger resorts will often have trail maps, just like a piste map. Resorts offering a snowshoe trail network will usually have rental facilities, and you’ll generally find companies specialising in snowshoe tours, courses and equipment in the major ski resorts – for example the Snowshoe Company based in Les Gets.
Using snowshoes for off piste skiing and snowboarding
More advanced skiers and snowboarders looking to venture off the beaten track can benefit from the use of snowshoes, as they make it possible to access terrain away from the lifts. Although skiers are much more likely to opt for a touring set-up, snowshoes are a popular choice for backcountry snowboarders. Get snowshoes which aren’t too big and they can be easily packed away or strapped to your back for the descent.
As far as buying snowshoes in the UK goes, they’re not the easiest things to come by in the shops. Specialist retailers such as Craigdon Mountain Sports (15% discount for Ski Club members) are your best bet. Check online or call ahead to see if they have snow shoes in stock.