Before heading out on the Pacific Crest Trail and facing the Sierra Nevada, I wanted to test my snow skills and learn a bit more about that fascinating white stuff from above. For that reason I booked Snowshoeing in the Alps with the Alpine School in Oberstdorf. I already did the Alpine Crossing in 2015 with them and they really offer a great experience! A friend of mine – Heidi – joined me for the three-days tour in the Austrian Alps.
A snowshoeing tour in the famous Kleinwalsertal
We met our guide Julian and the rest of our group around lunch time at the Alpine School in Oberstdorf. The group was mixed through all age groups and we all had an adventurous spirit. We got a quick briefing about what to expect and were handed our additional gear: snowshoes, extra strong poles and avalanche safety equipment. The first challenge was a short walk through Oberstdorf to the busstop. The bus would take us from there up the mountains to our start point – a skilift close to the Auenhut in the famous Kleinwalsertal. Due to the fact that it was main season the bus was crowded and so I was relieved when I could exit the bus and finally breathe again.
After another quick briefing and our first steps with snowshoes we started to slowly walk through a majestic winter landscape towards our home for the next days: the Schwarzwasserhut.
On the way to the hut we could make our first experiences with snowshoes. We had great fun watching each other running down our first hill. It’s not as easy as it looks! You have to put your full weight on the leg that is going down and kind of fall on it. It works best with fresh snow. If the snow is older and more wet and heavy you have to be careful.
After a few hours out in the cold we were all happy when we finally reached our home for the next three nights. The Schwarzwasserhut 1651m high.
Practicing for avalanche rescue
It is typical for the huts in the European Alps that the whole group sleeps together in one room. Ten people! There was little space to move or stretch and we all got to know each other very quickly. It was a nice snoring-concert… 😉
After a very nice breakfast in the hut we all got dressed and started with our first challenge of the day: an avalanche rescue exercise. Time is essential when someone is buried under an avalanche. Our guide Julian told us a lot and part of the exercise was to hide our beacons in the snow. This was done to resemble a buried person. Then we had to find the beacon. I used my own beacon to localize it and narrowed it down with the avalanche probe. It was great fun! But I also learned that it is nearly impossible to rescue someone without the right gear.
In the afternoon we kept on exploring the area around the hut, had a nice tea-break in the snow and had even more fun on other downhill sections!
Snowshoeing up a mountain – Steinmandl 1985m
For our second day at the Schwarzwasserhut we had a big goal: climbing the nearby Steinmandl at an elevation of 1985m. It involved a total of 300 meters of climbing which sounds easy but it is quite a lot of work if you are not used to snowshoeing. Imagine you use totally different muscles than normal. Yes, it hurts!
The climb itself was very adventurous. We all lined up in a row and followed our guide Julian up the hill until he stopped. He told us to climb behind each other with a distance of at least 15 meters between us. Just in case someone triggers an avalanche and slides down with the snow. By keeping a distance not all of us would be affected. A few group members were a little bit scared but we got things sorted and made our way up the mountain. I love hiking in snowy lanscapes and I also enjoyed snowshoeing a lot. Going up that mountain I found out that I can get a special grip with my snowshoes and I wasn’t scared at all by the steep drop-offs.
The last little bit before the summit was a bit challenging and so we helped each other to make sure everyone could reach the top.
Lost in a white-out
After the hard work we derserved some fun again and went down another slope with the best powdery snow. Snowshoeing made us very hungry and so we made our way towards the Neuhornbachalpe – another mountain hut in the middle of nowhere.
After lunch we wanted to make our way back to the hut. But snowshoeing in the alps isn’t that easy. When we left the hut we could hardly see anything but we had to get back somehow and so we started to walk. We walked right into the middle of a big whiteout and without our guide Julian we would have been lost. I find it surprising how fast the weather can change in the mountains. It was very cold and the snow came down nearly horizontal. I was packed in every little bit of clothes with my scalf wrapped around my face.
Finally the hut appeared in front of our eyes. Thanks to Julian! That night we deserved a big dinner, don’t you think?
Impressions from the hut dinner
After a great dinner (the food in Austria’s mountain huts is probably the best you can get) we were all tired after a big day and went to bed. I still remember my nightly bathroom break when I was standing in the middle of the drying room. I heard a loud noise. It sounded like thunder. Having heard a lot about avalanches it was clear to me: An avalanche just came down!
After breakfast the next morning our guide Julian took us to the place where the avalanche went down. It was just a small one but he wanted to show us how heavy the snow is and what it takes to dig someone out of it. With the plastic shovel it was nearly impossible and I was out of breath in two minutes!
With these thoughts in our head we made our way down to the snowlift again. A really great adventure was over way too quick!
I can really recommend a snowshoeing tour in the Alps. And why not book an operated one with the Alpine School Oberstdorf to have all the comforts of a guided tour and don’t miss out on all the local specials?! I will definitely do it again!