"It's just like walking," they said encouragingly. Well, not quite: there's a technique, which involves keeping your feet well apart and waddling like a duck so you don't tread on your own shoes and trip yourself up. Today's hi-tech snowshoes consist of a plastic and metal skeleton, with two fearsome-looking serrated blades underneath and a nifty system of straps to hold them on.
My first outing was in the Jura. We parked at Gänsbrunnen and walked up the Hasenmatt, a climb of 800m. Patches of sun soon appeared in the mist, and I stopped a couple of times just to admire the sight of bare branches covered with snow, like intricate pieces of lace soaring into a brilliant blue sky.
I learned how to walk like a duck, using my poles, and cursing my new gloves, which proved to be inadequate – I'll get mittens next time. But I was pleased I'd had the forethought to invest in water- resistant trousers and thermal underwear. Everyone falls over in the snow from time to time, and you don't want to get wet when the temperature's below zero. I learned to appreciate the advantages of snowshoes: given enough snow, you can make as many shortcuts as you like, as long as you don't get lost.
At the top the wind felt as if it had come directly from Siberia. But there was the most beautiful view of the Alps from Mont Blanc to Säntis, and a clear view along the main ridge of the Jura (Weissenstein to one side and the Chasseral to the other). It was too cold to hang around, so we moved quickly down to the comparative shelter of the forest for a snack. Going down was an adventure in itself: learning how to stride down through virgin snow, sliding as you go – tremendous fun. But I have to admit, I was glad to get my snowshoes off at the bottom, after a trek of 4 ¼ hours.
Altogether I was well pleased with my first excursion on snowshoes. Yes, it's more strenuous than hiking, and it's good if you have strong legs, because there isn't much chance of sitting down to take a rest. But it's a lot less strenuous than trying to walk through the snow in ordinary boots – you'd never get up the mountain at all without snowshoes. And it's well worth the effort, just for the experience of a magical winter wonderland, away from the greyness of ordinary life.
Photo: swiss-image.ch/Stefan Schlumpf