Winter hiking and snowshoeing are a great alternative to skiing, whether you don’t know how to ski or whether you’d like to take a day off to enjoy the beautiful scenery at a more laid-back pace. The Alps offer plenty of trails that take you far from the crowds and give you the chance to unplug and unwind in a lovely winter wonderland. Forget lift queues, hectic pistes and busy mountain restaurants: this is nature at its purest.
Naturally, some destinations are better than others for winter hiking and snowshoeing. The best destinations prepare their trails so you don’t have to worry so much about getting lost, being caught in an avalanche or stumbling into an underground stream. It’s also possible to go hill walking or snowshoeing with a guide who can show you the best trails. On this page you’ll find all the information you need to get started planning your winter hike in the Alps.
- Winter hiking in Austria
- Winter hiking in Germany
- Winter hiking in Italy
- Winter hiking in Switzerland
- Winter hiking in France
- Clothing and gear
- Planning your winter hiking trip
- Winter hiking to mountain huts
- Snowshoeing technique
- Snowshoeing top 10
Many ski resorts in Austria also offer a variety of winter hiking trails: long trails, short trails, trails that snake along the valley and trails that lead high up into the mountains. These are usually well-marked with clear signs along the way, so you don’t get lost. Certain ski resorts also have trails that are accessible by ski lift. Following are five of our favourite ski resorts for winter hiking, plus five of our favourite winter hiking routes.
2: Piburger See
3: From Angerberg Embach to Breitenbach
4: Vorderer Gosausee - Gosaulacke - Hinterer Gosausee
5: Hiking around the Achensee
Winter hiking in Germany is perfectly adaptable to both long trips and short trips alike. The relatively large ski resort of Winterberg offers plenty of opportunities. The Black Forest and Bavaria in the south of Germany also have some lovely winter hiking spots.
2: The top of the Brocken - Drei Annen Hohne
4: Hiking to the Freibergsee
Ah, Italy. The land of pasta, pizza and, of course, the Dolomites! Italy offers spectacular holidays all year long, and winter is no exception. The natural beauty of the Dolomites just begs to be explored on foot, and accordingly there is no shortage of winter hiking trails in Italy. Here are some of our favourites!
1: Hiking at the foot of the Rosengarten
2: Mountain hut circuit through the Parco Naturale Fanes Sennes
3: Hiking to the Malga Tuff Alm (Seiser Alm region)
4: Hiking through the Altfasstal
5: Hiking to the Flaner Jöchl (Sterzing region)
The Swiss Alps are one of the most spectacular places in the world for winter hiking. Hike with views of the imposing Eiger, Jungfrau and Mönch, or explore the pretty landscape around Davos-Klosters. After a hard morning of walking you’ll have earned lunch in one of the cosy mountain huts, where you can enjoy typical Swiss specialties (fondue, anyone?).
1: From Habkern to Waldegg
2: From Adelboden to the viewpoint at Hörnli
3: Felskinn top station - Britannia Hütte
4: Panoramic hike around the Engelstock
5: Melchsee-Frutt plateau
The French Alps are known primarily for their massive ski resorts, but these mountains also harbour a good amount of winter hiking possibilities. Practically every ski resort has trails for winter hiking and snowshoeing, some of which start from the village and some of which require you to take a lift first. Here are some of the best routes from among the wide selection.
1: Hiking around the Mont Cally
2: From Les Chevannes to Morzine
3: Parc naturel régional du Vercors
4: Hiking around the Mont Chery
5: Super Chatel top station to the Chalet Neuf
As you may have surmised, winter hiking is a wintertime activity, and since you’ll be out in the elements, it’s very important to equip yourself properly. This means putting a little more effort in than jeans and a pair of sneakers.
Layers, layers, layers. They’re essential in the Alps. Start out with a moisture-wicking base layer that won’t trap sweat against your body (no cotton!). On top of this goes your mid-layer, which should trap heat – we recommend fleece, for example. Finally, you should have a windproof jacket, and preferably one that’s water-resistant or waterproof as well. As for trousers, your ski pants or warm hiking pants will do fine – just remember you’ll likely be sweating after climbing uphill, so don’t wear anything too warm! The beauty of wearing layers is that you can adjust your clothing according to the weather – maybe an extra layer in cold weather, and maybe lose the midlayer in warm weather.
Having proper shoes is also essential. You’ll need good winter hiking boots, ideally with ankle protection. If your boots aren’t waterproof, gaiters can also do the trick. It’s also a good idea to get hiking boots that are sturdy enough to attach snowshoes, in case you ever want to go snowshoeing in future. Below we’ve compiled a list of gear that you should bring on your winter hiking trip, including some optional suggestions.
The old saying applies here as well: to be prepared is half the victory. By taking a few simple steps, you can equip yourself to deal with many of the situations that might arise. It’s important to anticipate the things that might go wrong during your hike. Are you hiking in cold weather? Will you be far from any mountain huts or sources of shelter and food? Is there a risk you might be back after dark? Does anyone know where you are and what to do in case of an emergency? Are you hiking in avalanche country? If so, you should take an avalanche safety course and equip yourself with the proper avalanche emergency equipment (transceiver, probe and shovel) before heading out on your trip, and get a guide if you don’t know the area.
It’s important to plan your route with a good hiking map before setting out. If there is heavy snow cover the landscape might look different and the trail might not be easily recognisable, but you can minimise the risk of losing the trail if you do your homework. Here are some other tips to keep in mind:
For some of us, the only way to get out the door in the morning is with the promise of earning lunch in a nice mountain refuge. Waking up on a crisp winter’s morning, hiking a few kilometres and then rewarding yourself with a delicious hot meal: is there any better feeling in the world? The following mountain huts welcome not only winter hikers but also skiers and snowboarders, perfect if you’re travelling with a group.
|Starting point||Mountain hut||Time|
|Hinterglemm|| Ellmaualm (1600m) ||2 ½ - 3 hours|
|Wengen (Männlachen top station)|| Restaurant Eigernordwand (2061m) ||2 ½ hours|
|Adelboden|| Sillerenhühel (1974m ) ||3 hours|
|Riezlern|| Berghaus Schönblick ||2 hours|
|Achensee|| Riederbergstüberl ||1 ½ hours|
|Garmisch-Partenkirchen|| Berggasthof Eckbauer ||2 hours|
|Pichl - Preunegg|| Jagastüberl ||2 ½ hours|
Snowshoes were invented thousands of years ago as a way of making it easier to travel over the snow. Originally made from wood and rawhide, snowshoes have evolved into sophisticated contraptions made of plastic, metal or synthetics. They’re about the same size as tennis rackets and engineered to help prevent you from sinking so deeply into fresh snow. Snowshoes are available to rent in many alpine villages and they’re handy to have if you plan on walking in powder snow or outside of the prepared hiking trails.
Snowshoes generally consist of a decking, bindings and heel straps to which you can attach your normal shoes. They come in three main versions: recreational, mountaineering and running snowshoes. Running snowshoes are extremely lightweight, while mountaineering snowshoes are made for steeper slopes, and are therefore stronger, with larger teeth.
Snowshoeing is a breeze if you already have experience with walking in the snow. The basic snowshoeing technique is quite easy to learn, but there are a few tricky situations, the first being when traversing a slope. In these cases one side of your snowshoe will be higher than the other side, which can be disconcerting on steeper slopes and requires some balance. Another action that takes some practice is walking up a hill, which you can do in three ways: sidestepping, walking straight up (not for steep slopes), or using the “herringbone” technique with your toes splayed outwards. If you really want to be a snowshoeing expert, you’ll have to hire a guide.
The best part about snowshoeing is the chance to play in fresh powder snow! Unlike with skiing, you’re not restricted to prepared trails – although we always recommend putting safety first and hiring a guide if you don’t know the area. The following destinations are some of our favourite regions for snowshoeing.