Snowshoeing in Germany’s Little Siberia
Can’t ski, won’t ski? Snowshoeing: accessible, astonishingly high on adrenaline and able to offer a real taste of the wilderness.
I regain my breath as the exertion of the climb eases. It feels like we have been going for hours, but my watch shows a touch over 20 minutes. Urging my heart rate to return to a more reassuring pace, it dawns on me just how underestimated snowshoeing is, being brusquely lumped alongside more leisurely activities such as knitting, book clubs and ice fishing.
In anticipation of February’s world championships, taking place just down the road from our base in Northern Italy, we decided to acquaint ourselves with the sport of snowshoeing. And where could be better than Germany’s Bavarian Siberia? Remarkably easy to reach from Bregenz, we drive due east and cross the border from Austria into Germany, almost immediately reaching the picturesque village of Balderschwang. Flanked by substantial yet not intimidating mountains, the village with just 250 residents is clearly a hit for those looking to keep fit. Cross-country ski tracks linked with the Austrian town of Hittisau line the road, and the pavements are awash with kids heading out of the quaint town and towards the big, white snow-covered landscape.
Gazing around me from the top of the ski slope that we have just ascended – largely thanks to the poles that I clung on to – I am struck by the vastness of the landscape. We had set off from the somewhat shady village on the valley floor, crossing the flat plains of the cross-country ski tracks before a little wooden bridge over the now frozen stream took us to the bottom of the ski piste (a ski trail with compacted snow). As a non-skier, pistes have always terrified me, but as we criss-cross the gradient in the wake of our guide, the piste is surprisingly mellow.
Unlike many locations across Europe, Balderschwang has little to worry about in terms of snowfall. Annually, the village receives the highest snowfall in all of Germany, earning it the loving nickname of Bavarian Siberia. At 1,000 metres, the resort is encircled by summits of around 1,600 to 1,800 metres, meaning it is more than family friendly – in fact, it is practically a masterclass in offering something for every generation, with guided snowshoe hikes for all abilities, as well as cross-country and Alpine skiing.
As we strapped our feet into the snowshoes for the first time under the watchful eye of our guide, I had expected to trudge through snow as if on tennis rackets. But, as the guide comments, snowshoeing has come along way since its conception and today’s high-tech devices allow you to walk with ease and confidence across even the deepest snow, opening up the joys of snowy backcountry to non-skiers. He points to a hut on the horizon, which we reach half an hour later, welcomed with strudel and hot chocolate. Smug in the knowledge of having avoiding the cable car queues, the cake tastes even better.
As we set off again, our guide explains that more and more ambitious snowboarders are using snowshoes as a means of accessing new routes and fresh powder. With this ringing in my ears, I take on the downhill route with a new vigour and discover that it is actually pretty fun to run with these lightweight, state-of-the-art snowshoes. The snow ahead of us is wholly untouched powder and there is real glee in our shouts as we power through it.
We make it down to the village in just a fraction of the time it took us to get up there, and by the time we reconvene outside one of the many bars and cafés, I am visibly glowing. With more and more resorts offering specially made snowshoe routes, courses and guides, it is clear that this sport is here to stay – with very little sign of age or ability discrimination.
No longer as a non-skier are you limited in your wintertime activities, with snowshoeing being as physically demanding as cross-country skiing, as adrenaline filled as snowboarding and as rewarding with the panoramas as ski touring. It is a sport that surely has to be added to everyone’s winter holiday to-do list. And the perfect reward for such exertion in the fresh air has to take the form of a great German beer and a relax in the spa or in front of the cosy fire. Whatever you choose, there are plenty more adventures to be had the following day.
Useful info: balderschwang.de has an extensive guide to snowshoeing on its website along with info on the guided tours and GPX files on potential routes.
When to go: December to April
Getting there: By car, train, bus or airplane (Munich, Stuttgart or Zurich).
Staying there: There’s a host of accommodation options for all budgets.
Equipment: Wrap up but expect to get warm if you’re going uphill. Local rental shops will offer great advice on weather, snow conditions and the perfect equipment.
TEXT: EMMIE COLLINGE | PHOTOS: GAESTE-INFO BALDERSCHWANG
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