Snow Shoeing

Snow shoes or in French, raquettes, are an ancient method of getting around in the snow, to see examples of the old wood, string and wicker versions see the ski museum at the bottom of the Gargouille or look around the decorative items in many restaurants and bars. Ancient it may be but it is still a popular means of getting around in the snow. Soft snow even 10cm of the stuff makes walking hard work, when it gets deeper as most off piste skiers or snowboarders will tell you it can be almost impossible to get through making ‘swimming’ the only option! Most fit with straps to your boot, either use a walking boot or solid après ski boots, our children frequently use their snow boarding boots. You then need either a water proof ski pant with a built in gaiter or a gaiter to stop snow getting inside the boot. Then go for your walk, initially you need to remember to walk with your feet a little further apart than usual. Snow shoes are available for hire in all ski shops; remember to take the boots you will be using to check that the straps fit.

Nice accommodation, ideal for water sports is available in Argentiere, Vallouise and Briancon.

There are several routes marked from most of the local ski stations, but it is more enjoyable to explore areas away from the crowds. Below are a number of suggestions, but do bear in mind that you will be walking in the mountains in winter, so take sensible precautions, check weather and snow conditions, take heed of avalanche warnings, carry a arva, probe and shovel and know how to use them if you venture into areas of risk. Also particularly with children make sure that they are well equipped against the cold and the sun, carry water and snacks and spare clothes. We find that a sledge (the small ‘pelle’ type fit in a pack) makes a good addition to a walk. It is also advisable to start on a small walk to check that you and your young charges are comfortable. The trip to the cascade in the Onde is a good start perhaps if you are renting in Vallouise.

The local tourist offices have lists of trips run by Accompagnateurs, which will give you company and often insight into the local fauna and topography at the same time.

Possible trips

Visit Cascade de la Pissette this is a short but beautiful walk to a frozen waterfall up the Onde valley start from the Pont De Gerodine on the plain of Vallouise and walk up river left on the marked track, please avoid walking on the cross country ski tracks. The snow formations and ice flowers are often particularly beautiful, and you can see the water running inside the ice of the waterfall. Please be careful at the plunge pool the ice is not always that thick, our dog fell in and was very cold by the time she got back to the car!

Walk up the Fournel Valley either from the end of the road or take advantage of the navettes, free minibuses, on offer during the ice climbing festival. You can follow the road and sledge in the fields at the side, or for a longer trip take either the road up to the Col de Pousterle or continue up the valley to admire the frozen waterfalls.

Walk up to Dormillouse at the end of the Fressiniere valley, this is a beautiful walk with many frozen waterfalls to admire, there is a gite in Dormillouse village which may be open; check at the tourist office on your drive up the valley , they will also advise on how far up you can go by car. Dormillouse is about an hour’s snow shoeing from the end of the valley.

The Co l de Pousterle and Tete D’Oreac from Puy Saint Vincent, you can normally drive up the road as far as Près D’Aval and then either walk up the snow covered road/cross country track or cut the obvious corners follow the pietons, raquettes signs, to the Col where there are splendid views of the Pelvoux massif and the Glacier Blanc. From here you can choose to go back down via the Gite de Tournoux for a vin chaud and crepe, or to continue up to the Tete D’Oreac. To do the later take the path that leads over the col until you come to a signposted track that leads you up in gentle zigzags towards the ski field. The route takes you on to the plateau of Oreac where you turn to the west up the final slopes. From here there is a fine panorama across the Durance valley to the Queyras, Italy , the Ecrins massif and Glacier Blanc and the ski station of Puy Saint Vincent. To return head back down to the Col and either take the Tournoux direction though the ‘valley of death’ , or go down the way you came up, this is the better route if you took a sledge but do take your snowshoes of first!

The Alpe du Lauzet from Pont Alpe on the Lauteret Road above Monetier (see walks) .This tour often gives fine views of Ibex. From the Alpe du Lauzet you can continue around the back of the Cretes de Bruyere to the Grande Lac or continue up to the Col du Chardonnet and even over into the Clarée valley to Nevache via the refuge de Chardonnet .This obviously requires some fore thought and planning.

There are too many other routes, in the Queyras , the Cervieres area or Hautes Clarée valley to describe here, we would recommend the guide ‘Raquette à Neige- alpes du sud ‘ by K and JF Dao in the Didier Richard series which is available in most local bookshops and even some supermarkets.

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