Bushwalking in the Snow  
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....  A Beginners Guide

Sounds straightforward, it is. Funny thing is that not many people do it - at least not in Australia. Snowshoeing is the better way of describing it.

Consider the advantages of snowshoeing in comparison to cross-country skiing. It is cheaper, requires minimal training, snowshoes are more maneuverable and you are less likely to fall on your face if carrying a heavy rucksack. Have you considered that snowshoeing can be faster than normal summer walking? For example, there is not the undulation of snow grass or the knee-high scrub to negotiate. OK, so you can't get the thrills from skiing and the trip to Mt Jagungal takes longer. But then, would it take any longer than when you where walking in summer? If you are willing to walk there in summer then it is possible to go there in winter.

Well then, perhaps snowshoeing is not that silly an idea.

In summer, have you ever been in the Ramshead Range, Snowy Mountains, and looked down on the ant trail, some call the Iron Track, that takes day-trippers from Thredbo to Mt Kosciuszko? Or in winter, been on a peak and looked down on the termite mound of skiers criss-crossing Perisher? A pair of snowshoes can take you away from this. Away to places that only snowshoers can go to. Let me tell you that watching a sunset or sunrise on a snow covered Main Range is one of life's special moments.

Are you now willing to give it a go?

First point to consider, we need to remember the Scout motto - be prepared.

For what? The weather. No point in being tent bound for three days and having to go outside every two hours to shovel the snow away from your tent, in a bitingly cold, gale force blizzard, or forgetting to and dieing as a result. Very unpleasant and boring.

If you are careful, you can avoid this and have a very enjoyable experience.

Start by observing the weather. You will see that there is a pattern of lousy weather then one to three days of good weather. During Aug-Sep, 2001 you were lucky to get two days in a row of good weather. There are a couple of very good websites that provide weather information and have live video cameras that show the condition of the snow at the major resorts.

The type of snowshoeing you do depends on your general bushwalking experience.

If you relatively new to bushwalking or the snow then I suggest some day trips near a ski resort as a starting point. Don't go far, pick a nice day and have fun. There are a few basic precautions you need to take and they are mostly commons sense. Ask questions and surf the net for tips. If the weather looks like turning bad, return to the vicinity of the ski resort, or better still, don't let the resort out of your vision.

If you are experienced with overnight walking in the high country in summer, or are a regular to the delights of Tasmania, then you will be used to the fickle nature of the weather in the Alps. You should have most of the gear needed for overnight snowshoeing. By that, I mean four season clothing and tent. A point to remember though is that the changes of weather in the alps in winter can be particularly quick, brutal and life threatening. (I've said this twice now; I hope I am getting the point across, (Joke))

Perhaps you should start by having a look at your maps. Pick a spot that is far enough away from the ski resorts to not be disturbed by a constant stream of day tripping cross-country skiers, yet is close enough for a quick retreat. Better yet, scout the area during a walk in the summer months. For those planning a trip in The Snowy Mountains, the NSW Ski Association produces 1:25,000 maps of Thredbo and Perisher. These maps, not generally available, are better value than the CMA 1:50000 maps and on the back of them there is valuable information on snow safety and snow camping.

Keep a close eye on the weather and be flexible with your trip dates. Don't lock into a date and go, come hell or high water.

A point to note is the type of stove you take. If it is a Metho burner, then you will find that melting snow to drink can consume about one litre in two nights. The shellite burners are much more efficient.

What sort of snowshoe should you use? If you are a surfer of the Net, you will find a confusing array of choices. For my choice, I picked a local manufacturer - Yowie, out of Melbourne. The latest design I found particularly user friendly and solves the potential problem of ice on the Velcro. A visit to their web site will explain in detail their unique design. I have to admit that I was surprised at how versatile they were.

What else do you need? One item of gear I was unable to locate in Australia, but found on the Net, in the USA, was the NEOS overshoe. I just put these insulated waterproof overshoes over my hiking boots. They are perfect. Easy to put on, you can slip them on if you have to go for a wander around the campsite with just your socks on. An issue, for example when there is call of nature and it is a good idea to go some distance from the campsite and bury it deep. At least for us males there is some respite, and that comes in the form of an empty wine bladder.

Adjustable ski poles, which double as my walking sticks away from the snow, are another requirement. Given the ridiculously heavy packs I carry, I should have been using them years ago.

Last, but not least, a snow shovel. Mine is the extendable Salewa type. It fits snugly to the side of my pack. A useful item and it could be a lifesaver if an emergency snow cave has to be dug.

What I have written here is just the beginning of the knowledge trail that needs to be followed to prepare for your trip. May I suggest a good next step would be to visit the web site of the Kosciuszko Cross Country Skiers Inc.

In summary, if you are an experienced bushwalker with the gear to go walking in the high country or the Tassy wilderness then the transition to overnight snowshoeing will not be too difficult. If you are new to bushwalking, join a club and take one step at a time …. oh what a lousy cliché.

If you do decide to have a go then let me assure you the rewards are well worth the effort. As I said before, the experience of watching the sunrise over a snow covered main range is one of life's special moments.

Web sites worth visiting.....

ski.com.au  Provides snow cams, weather reports and general info
Yowies  My Australian made snow shoes
N.E.O.S Overshoes My overshoes, had to import them from the USA
Kcros Great resource site for Cross Country Skiing, snow camping etc...

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Any text and images found on this web page are copyright © Geoff Wise, 1998 - 2009All rights reserved.

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