Reach for the skis!
Walking in the snow can be a trudge so Anna Maria Espsäter swaps her boots for skis and snowshoes and discovers Ramblers Worldwide Holidays tours with a difference…
Winter can prove a tricky time to stay fit and active outdoors if rambling is your cup of tea. But even during the snowy, frozen time of year it’s possible to plan in some healthy exercise: there’s downhill or cross-country skiing, or why not strap on some snowshoes if you still really fancy a hike?
It had been a little while since I stood on skis among the gentle hills of my home country, Sweden, where I’d learnt to ski as a child. But they somewhat paled into insignificance compared to the towering chain of the Alps looming large before me. Luckily, the wonderful thing about skiing is that once you know how, you know how – it immediately comes back to you, even if it’s been years since you last took to the slopes. Once kitted out in all my gear, lift-card neatly placed in zipped-up pocket for those amazing hi-tech machines to read, there was nothing to stop me from testing my ski legs. My group included all sorts of ages and a pretty wide range of abilities, from ski-every-year enthusiasts to the slightly rusty rider like myself. After a moderate, short-ish day on the slopes, we were soon in the swing of things. Spending time in what is perhaps the best downhill skiing area in the world, France’s Three Valleys, offers such an endless variety of pistes, you could quite merrily ski every day for weeks without hitting the same slopes twice. Best of all – for me at least – there are plenty of green and blue runs, as well as the more difficult red and black for the advanced skier. A week didn’t seem long enough. Just as I was getting used to bending, swinging and not landing on my bottom, not to mention enjoying gorgeous French food and wines in the evenings, it was time to head home, all bones thankfully intact.
Cross-country skiing has always seemed to me to be such a gentle, understated sport – how could one possibly work up a sweat and get fit this way? As soon as you’re equipped with skis and poles, though, you come to realise that this isn’t quite as quiet and unassuming a sport as it appears. First of all, chances are you’ll be using a different set of muscles – which, from a fitness point of view, is no bad thing. However, there will be no lovely lifts taking you up those hills – it’ll all have to happen under your own steam, but once you reach the top it feels really rewarding. Usually one for jumping the gun, this time I restrained myself and opted for starting out on the flat so I wouldn’t use up all my puff on the first day. Compared to downhill skis and equipment, I was feeling positively feather-light. The boots and skis seem to weigh only a fraction of their Alpine equivalent, and the technique couldn’t be more different. For downhill skiing you need good legs, particularly knees and thigh muscles; cross-country on the other hand is much more about upper body strength, and is especially true on the flat, where it’s your arms propelling you forward with the poles, not just your skis gliding along the track. I found a good Thermos and yummy picnic really came in handy when I was ready for a pit stop. And contrary to my initial assumptions, I definitely felt I’d earned both.
The snowshoe is a rather odd-looking contraption at first sight. In the olden days they were made of natural materials such as wood or hide and used by snowbound communities to get around without sinking into drifts. Materials and uses have since moved on in different directions, but the basic principle is still the same – snowshoes are, not surprisingly, excellent for taking walks on snow. I confess I felt a bit like Bigfoot strapping mine on. They’re not exactly attractive, despite coming in all the colours of the rainbow, and in no way could they be described as dainty. But they do the trick and allow you to get to some beautiful, virgin-snow covered places, making you the first person to discover them. All shoed up, I set off across the wintry landscape prettily blanketed in the white, fluffy stuff and soon I was walking with the minimum of sink-factor. I was amazed at how invigorated I felt from just ambling serenely across the snow – in fact, it was proving far better exercise than I’d envisaged. Best of all, though, you can get really close to nature this way and there’s no experience required whatsoever. Shoes on and off you go!
For your chance to win a voucher for a winter sports holiday to the value of £1,000, courtesy of Ramblers Worldwide Holidays (✆ 01707 331133, www.ramblersholidays.co.uk), simply name one of the Three Valleys. Complete the entry form at www.walkmag.co.uk/competitions by 30 November 2010 or send your name, address and contact number to: Winter sports holiday, Ramblers Worldwide Holidays, Lemsford Mill, Lemsford Village, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire AL8 7TR. The first correct entry picked at random after the closing date will win a voucher to spend on a winter sports holiday to the value of £1,000. Terms and conditions are available at www.walkmag.co.uk/competitions.
8 days’ downhill skiing in the Three Valleys, France, from £1,189; 8 days’ cross-country skiing in Achenkirch, Austria, from £744; and 8 days’ snowshoeing in St Zyprian in the Dolomites,
Italy, from £946 – with Ramblers Worldwide Holidays (✆ 01707 331133, www.ramblersholidays.co.uk)