Forget skiing, snowshoeing is an epic winter holiday alternative

I was sceptical at first, but here’s what happened when I gave snowshoeing a try (Picture: Sian Elvin / Alice Lucy Bradley Photography)

I’m approaching 30 and it’s finally time to make a confession: skiing is just not the sport for me.

After going for the first time with my university’s ski club, my most vivid memories of the experience were spending far too much time at the après-ski in the evenings. Then in the morning, being dragged down the mountain (incredibly hungover) by my instructor.

Around a decade later, I find myself giving it another go at the Axamer Lizum resort near Innsbruck, Austria, and it turns out I’m not much better at it – in fact, I’m probably worse – albeit without a hangover this time.

Although I’ve never broken a bone, my 20s have seen me somewhat plagued by injury through exercise. I’ve pulled both hamstrings, hurt my hip during a half-marathon and have an unhappy nerve in my foot.

It’s a shame because it was a sunny, beautiful day and the resort was relaxed and spacious – but unfortunately this day on the slopes reminded me, yet again, how delicate my body can be after I fell awkwardly on my leg and twisted my knee 30 seconds from the bottom of the mountain. Great.

So with skiing out of the picture for the rest of my trip to the Alps, I pursued another winter adventure which involved much less snowploughing. Let me introduce a sport I’d never considered before: snowshoeing.

Just a 30-minute drive from the city of Innsbruck, up high in the mountains of the Kühtai resort, a group of us strapped on tennis racket-like shoes to our feet with spikes on the bottom and prepared to hike into the alpine forest.

If you’ve never seen a pair of snowshoes before, here’s what they look like (Picture: Jane Shepherd)
Our surroundings looked absolutely stunning (Picture: Sian Elvin)
Sunglasses were needed as it was so sunny in the Alps. The bright pink outfit, however, was not required (Picture: Jane Shepherd)

At first I was a little sceptical of snowshoeing – I thought it would just be a fancy kind of walking – but there is more of a knack to it than I had imagined. You need a wider stance than normal walking to make sure your huge shoes don’t overlap, which is quite heavy on the legs and hips.

There are also several techniques needed to achieve ‘floatation’, where you can stand on the top of snow without sinking. You use your toes to climb uphill and plant your heels first to descend downhill, ensuring the metal crampons (spikes) are locked into the snow so you won’t sink.

You shouldn’t rush or overswing your legs or you risk losing your balance. Snowshoeing also burns twice the number of calories as walking at the same speed, according to studies, if you need any more convincing.

The shoes took some getting used to but made walking through the snow easier (Picture: Sian Elvin)
Snowshoeing allows you more time to take in the views than skiing does (Picture: Sian Elvin)

With the help of our guide Gregory, we tested out our new equipment across a flat snow-covered bridge to begin with. Although the shoes were heavy, they felt surprisingly secure thanks to the grippy crampons, and we were given a pair of poles to aid with balance.

I wouldn’t say the shoes helped me walk any faster than I would normally through snow, but they did make it easier.

After we got used to the shoes we started to descend a hill to enter the forest, and in a perfectly timed moment snow began to lightly fall. That’s when the real challenge started.

The mountain we were tackling was easily covered in a foot and a half of snow, and obviously mountains are not smooth. Not being able to see beneath the surface meant the depth of snow varied, and at times several people in the group lost their balance and ended up falling to the ground.

The uneven slopes offered a bit of a challenge at times (Picture: Jane Shepherd)
You have to make sure the spikes on your shoes lock into the snow (Picture: Alice Lucy Bradley Photography)
The breath-taking views are totally worth the hike into the mountains (Picture: Sian Elvin)

It’s incredibly important that your spikes lock into the snow to prevent this, and to wear effective waterproof clothing – like you would when skiing.

No one was hurt though – the falls were almost comical and there was a lot of chaos and laughter – and everyone seemed to get better at snowshoeing as we got towards the end of our two-hour trek.

At one point we had to shuffle along an extremely narrow walkway which had a steep drop next to it, which certainly wasn’t for the faint-hearted. I’m not usually scared of heights but even I was nervous; Gregory provided reassurance by telling us to ensure our outside feet were securely planted in the snow before moving along.

When we reached the end of this tough section, I stopped to look around at the stunning scenery I was surrounded with, and it was truly breathtaking.

We truly felt as if we were in the middle of nowhere (Picture: Sian Elvin)
Apparently snowshoeing burns twice the number of calories than walking at the same speed (Picture: Sian Elvin)

The picturesque alpine trees look like a postcard, particularly with the snow falling and sun shining, and if you pause for a moment and absorb the silence of the mountains, you really feel as if you’re in the middle of nowhere.

We slowly descended through the mountains towards the end of our excursion, after a quick stop-off to fill our water bottles from the ice-cold river, where the guide reminded us that the water was clean enough to drink.

We had all gone on a beginners’ trek to start with, as none of us had tried snowshoeing before, but we left keen to try tougher courses.

Gregory said the water flowing in this part of the mountains was even fresh enough to drink (Picture: Sian Elvin)
I was very happy with my fresh bottle of water after all that exercise (Picture: Alice Lucy Bradley Photography)

Taking off my snowshoes, I felt as if I had finally found the winter sport for me. Hiking still offers a great calorie-burner, sense of accomplishment and adrenaline of being high in the mountains – with less of a fear of injury and more chance to soak in the beautiful landscape.

I’m happy to leave the skis behind and embrace giant tennis rackets on my feet as I enter my 30s, and I’m totally okay with it.

Getting there:

Sian stayed at Stage 12 Hotel ( where rooms start at £125 per night. Flights from London Gatwick to Innsbruck are direct with easyJet, and start at £32.99 over the ski season ( For more information, visit

Kühtai is Austria’s highest ski village at 2,020 metres above sea level and its season runs from early December until mid-April.

The resort is just 45 minutes from Innsbruck Airport and offers a variety of runs for alpine skiing, as well as opportunities for cross-country skiing, hiking, snowshoeing and a ‘magic carpet’ baby lift. Check out the snow igloo ‘Iglu-Dorf’ afterwards for excellent après-ski.

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