Snowshoe in the French Pyrenees Image ©O. Guix

Snow shoeing with a guide in the Pyrenees

The Pyrenees are neither as high nor as glamorous as the Alps, the ski stations are smaller and the nightlife is generally harder to find, but as a summer or a winter holiday destination they really do still have so much charm and authenticity. We take a look at how snowshoeing with a guide in the Pyrenees can give you the freedom to explore these magnificent peaks alongside a small group of people who share your sense of adventure.

…if you want a break from grey skies this winter but you don’t fancy downhill skiing, why not give snowshoeing in the Pyrenees a try?

Snow shoe walking, Cauterets, French Pyrenees. Image © OT Cauterets/M.Pinaud

Simple way of walking, even in deep snow. Image © OT Cauterets/M.Pinaud

Image ©F Breitenbach

Explore off the beaten track. Image ©F Breitenbach

Immerse yourself in local culture

The atmosphere in the Pyrenees is relaxed and low key, so as soon as you touch down you’ll feel as if you’re ‘abroad’ and refreshingly away from it all. Every day, whether you’re in France or Spain, tourists still rub shoulders with locals. In the villages or the mountains you’re much more likely to hear the local language than English or Russian, and it’s very easy to find locally produced cheese, meats, honey and other tasty delights. In fact, local life in its calm and understated fashion is still thriving – in summer you’ll never have to go far before you come across a shepherd with his trusty Pyrenean Mountain dog.

The simple pleasure of walking in snow

If you’re considering the Pyrenees for a winter break then the ski slopes certainly aren’t the only option. Snow-shoeing is a wonderful way to discover the full, snowy magnificence of the area. Trappers first used this mode of movement across the snow as they hunted in the winter, and it remains a simple but incredibly enjoyable and uncomplicated way of walking in winter.

Guided snowshoe walking in the French Pyrenees

The Benasque in Spain. Image ©Frank Deleplace

Leave the waymarked tracks behind and explore

The Pyrenees have hundreds of kilometres of way-marked snow-shoeing tracks. In the Hautes-Pyrenees there are possibilities in the Payolle, Cauterets and Gavarnie, to name but a few, while in the Pyrenees-Atlantiques you can find tracks at Somport and in the valley d’Aspe. There are also free-to-access ‘pistes’ in the Haute-Garonne, the Pyrenees-Orientales and in the Spanish High Pyrenees, but why not make your trip more interesting and try snow-shoeing off the way-marked tracks?

Guided snowshoe walkiers in the French Pyrenees Image © David Serano

The UNESCO site of the Cirque de Gavarnie. Image © David Serano

Relaxing after a day snowshoeing in the Pyrenees Image ©La Balaguère

The pleasure of meeting new people. Image ©La Balaguère

Walking with a guide is a rewarding experience

If you want to snowshoe ‘off-piste’ then by far the safest and most enjoyable option is to join a guided group. Although snow-shoeing is very simple – basically just walking – there are still some great tips that an experienced guide can give you to make the experience less tiring and even more fun. Other plus-points are, of course, benefiting from the guide’s local knowledge, staying safe, and the rewarding experience of walking with, and getting to know, a new group of people who more often than not have the same sense of adventure and enjoyment as you. Generally a snow-shoeing group will have from 5 to 15 people.

Carefree holidays give you more freedom

Another benefit of a guided group holiday is that generally you are looked after from the moment you arrive, which makes the whole experience very relaxing and stress-free. Airport transfers, equipment hire, accommodation and meals are all taken care of, so all you have to think about is soaking up your surroundings and taking lots of wonderful photos.

Group on a guided snowshoe walk, French Pyrenees. Image © O.Guix

Feel the virgin snow beneath your feet. Image © O. Guix

Get those muscles working!

Once you’ve booked a snowshoeing holiday a little physical preparation can go a long way. If you’re not a regular hill walker it’s well worth adding some extra activity to your routine during the weeks before your trip. Make the effort to either walk up hills or to always take the stairs.
Cycling is great exercise to increase your leg strength, although there’s no need to go mad!

Equip yourself

In terms of equipment, the most important item is a pair of walking boots which protect the ankle and are in good condition. Skiwear is not suitable for snowshoeing, or you’ll only need to walk up one hill before you start sweating buckets! As for normal hiking, layers are the order of the day. Light, quick-drying material is best, with a warm fleece or quilted coat, but with lightweight rainwear for the top and bottom – and don’t forget your sun cream.

So, if you want a break from grey skies this winter but you don’t fancy the expense or the faff of downhill skiing, why not give snowshoeing in the Pyrenees a try? MountainPassions heart icon

Snowshoe group in Pyrenees, France Image © O. Guix

Escape the crush of the ski station. Image © O. Guix

Feature by Sally Simmonds © 2024