The Snow Shoe Shuffle
Jane Mann tries the Snow Shoe Shuffle and discovers that the “if you can walk you can snow shoe” quote bandied about by the snow-shoe-walking-fraternity is absolutely true.
One gloriously sunny day in Les Angles this week snow shoes were strapped onto my walking boots, a couple of walking/ski sticks were thrust into my hands and off I strode into the snow. Or rather on top of it. You really do not sink in. Far easier than one might imagine, no special skills required. Just a matter of getting used to your feet being a bit bigger than usual…
The manoeuvrability is magic. In sparkly snow the crystals crunch beneath your feet giving a walking on crisp packets effect. In powder snow all that is heard is a gentle squeak. No wonder that this has been how trackers and trappers have got around since time immemorial. A guide is much to be recommended and mine was Mike Rhodes of Pyrenean Trails. Following in his footsteps, the snow already flattened by his snow shoes, my first steps were a doddle. We were soon deep in the forest. No pollution, no carbon footprints, all you leave behind are easily recognised tracks as you follow those of deer, stags, and boar through the tall pines.
Mike carries a card showing the tracks of the different animals. Fascinating to see how many there were. I rather hoped we would not spot a bear or wolf. (We didn’t.)
The world was silent, pine scented and fresh. Bright sunlight filtered through to glint and glitter on snow in the clearings. We followed paths made by deer and boar, we spotted tiny tracks of some weasel like creature, others of a small hopping animal. Through the trees we could see distant ski slopes, sometimes Les Angles, sometimes Fourmigueres or Puyvalador. Our track joined a wider piste, opened out, and on a small knoll was a ruined chapel. Sticking out of the snow were rough granite walls, huge boulders. We had reached Vall Serra. Or all that was left of it since its population was wiped out by the Black Death at the beginning of the XIV century. A notice told us only two sisters had survived and had given the church and land to the commune of Les Angles. It also told us this story was not strictly true as it was the Abbey of St Michel de Cuxa who ceded Vallsera to Les Angles in 1701.
We snow shoed on. It had taken the French and the English till their colonial times in North America in the XVII century to fully appreciate the potential of the snow shoe. Particularly in the winter of 1690, when a French raiding party, clad in this useful local footwear, attacked a British encampment near New York. The British, already connoisseurs of what the French called “raquettes” leapt onto their snow shoes and pursued the attackers for almost 50 miles, eventually recovering all their people and goods. Their use continued to be mainly military apart from the trappers and trackers till Canadian Snowshoe clubs began to perfect them for recreational purposes. By modern standards they were still bulky and cumbersome. It wasn’t till the late XX century that the snowshoes used today came into being.
One of the joys of the sport is that it is so easy to get kitted out. All you need is walking boots, sticks and a pair of waterproof trousers (as well as normal cold weather clothing). The snow shoes can be hired for a few euros a day or bought from around 100euros.
Mike is happy to take groups of four to fourteen people out for a couple of hours, for a full day with barbecue lunch or on a longer trek of several days, over-nighting in high mountain refuges.