Four snowshoe trips for beginners
For those who prefer to stay active in the winter months, options were once limited to skis.
But a more easily accessible winter activity has gained traction over the last few years.
Where backcountry skiing requires a huge investment in terms of skill and budget, snowshoeing requires little gear and even less experience. If you can walk, you can snowshoe.
Just grab your gaiters and poles, strap on two giant paddles, and walk a few paces. The first few tentative steps will reveal just how easy it is. It is not uncommon for beginners to be fooled into thinking that their snowshoes are not making any difference. But take them off, and you might find yourself sinking to your hips.
New Zealand offers a wide range of snowshoe-friendly terrain. In some areas, ski fields provide easy access to snow-covered slopes. No matter where you decide to go exploring, make sure to apply common sense, bring the right gear for a winter trip, and stay out of avalanche terrain.
Snowshoeing is a great way to make backcountry tramps more accessible in winter. The following four trips will get you leaping across deep powder in no time.
Bealey Spur Hut
This popular track in Arthur’s Pass National Park is a great launch-pad for a first foray with snowshoes. Walk in and out in a day, or pack a sleeping bag and overnight at the iconic Bealey Spur Hut.
Climb to the hut and then don your snowshoes and head higher – up Hut Spur. Within 30 minutes, postcard views of the Waimakariri River and the surrounding mountain ranges open up. Explore Hut Spur for as long as you feel good about the terrain and your stamina. The fireplace at Bealey Spur Hut will warm you up, while keas wait outside to play a trick or two.
Drive to one of the many ski fields in the Craigieburns to get a taste for snowshoeing on alpine terrain. At 2000m, a nice snowpack is almost guaranteed.
The Craigieburns are connected by a mostly tame, easily accessible ridgeline. My pick would be to park at Mt Cheeseman Ski Field, get the latest info on snow conditions and avalanche hazard from the ski patrol, and then strike out for the range crest where you can snowshoe the terrain between Mt Cockayne and Mt Cheeseman.
Two Thumb Range
The Two Thumb Range at Lake Tekapo is not only home to Stag Saddle, the highest pass on the Te Araroa Trail, but it is also New Zealand’s prime snowshoeing location.
Connect to the Te Araroa Trail from Coal River Easement car park and track. The Te Araroa, or one of the gently climbing ridges it is surrounded by, provides access to Bush Stream Track. There are several public and private huts in the area to make a trip of two or more days possible.
Tongariro National Park
Serviced by good access roads and two ski fields, Tongariro National Park is the perfect place to give snowshoeing a try. You could climb Ruapehu, explore the summit plateau and return in a day (using the chairlift). Or, why not walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, with a side trip up Mt Tongariro? From Tongariro, you could create your own variation of the track, and maximise snow time, by descending the northern face and making your way across a powdery white North Crater to rejoin the TAC Track above Ketetahi Shelter.
Televator Not all snowshoes have a televator, but they are worth their weight in gold. It lifts the heel during ascents, reducing fatigue. A televator is a must-have if you’re doing any extended uphill travel.
Traction The best snowshoes have teeth and traction rails (like crampons, though with more teeth and less pointy). These provide purchase on slopes, especially in icy conditions. They’re essential if your trips include any steep ascents or descents.
Floatation tails If you’re heading into serious powder, extendable flotation tails will keep you from sinking too deep into the snow. These are normally a post-purchase accessory.
Before you go
Always check the avalanche advisory (www.avalanche.net.nz) before setting out. Unless you’re experienced in snow conditions, only go when the avalanche risk is low.