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I was recently in the mountains of Snowdonia in thick snow. It was about 2 foot (about 0.6m) in places. It was a lovely day just after Christmas so it was quite busy too (even a few snow boarders on the Carneddau). Everyone was postholing up the slope (me included). It was hard work!

enter image description here

It occurred to me that snowshoes would be perfect in this situation. At the same time it occurred to me that I have never ever seen anyone in the UK use snow shoes, or for that matter a shop sell them.

Is there a practical reason for this or is it simply because snow in the UK is so transitive?

Bear in mind that most of the slope was of a lesser gradient than above

  • You lucky thing. I was on the borders of Snowdonia at Xmas & didn't bring my board. I would have loved to get a hill day - I got one on Hampstead Heath a few years ago & it was sublime. – kittylyst Jan 8 '15 at 16:23
  • Looked pretty rubbish actually, @kittylyst . We followed one guy walking up Y Braich for about an hour, but the slope was too shallow and the powder top deep. He put his board down shuffled about for a bit, then walked back down! – user2766 Jan 8 '15 at 16:27
  • Snowshoes have advantages over skis in bushy terrain off trail (where long skis are cumbersome) and when it is very cold (so the skis don't glide any more, and/or the snow is very fluffy so even skis sink in deep. (Summary from a winter spend in Winnipeg compared to Central European conditions). Both are not the conditions I'd expect in UK, so I'd expect skis rather than snowshoes if at all. – cbeleites supports Monica Feb 23 '18 at 21:28
  • Hi @cbeleites. Very few people ski in the UK, especially snowdonia, snow like in the photo is a once a year event – user2766 Feb 26 '18 at 9:15
  • @Liam, I did have that suspicion (coming from a part of Germany that also has almost no snow). Thus, "if at all". Nevertheless, what I know of the landscape in UK (and your picture) suggests that if you wanted to do some wintersports with the bit of snow you may get, skis rather than snowshoes would be tool of choice. Keep in mind that backcountry skiing becomes fun with small amounts of snow when snowshoes still do not make sense (I'm thinking of, say, 20 cm). OTOH, if snowshoeing is more fun for you, go for snowshoes. But remember snowshoeing is hard work as you have to lift the snowshoe... – cbeleites supports Monica Feb 27 '18 at 15:04
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This is really interesting, and I think it might be similar to why we don't generally have snow tires / chains etc as a common item here in stores. Certainly the South rarely gets snow, with Wales, The North and Scotland being more likely to get snow days.

From the MET Office:

The UK gets on average 33 days of snow fall or sleet a year (1971 - 2000). Most of this is snow falling on higher ground where temperatures are lower.

Also from the MET office:

How much snow settles?

Much of this snow fall does not settle, and the figures for snow on the ground (snow lying) are much lower. On average across the UK there's only 16.5 days a year when snow is on the ground, compared to 27.7 days in Scotland. Again, most of the snow on the ground can be found in mountainous areas.

Without going too in depth into marketing... stores are very likely to sell what they know a consumer is likely to buy, and in numbers. If you'll note snow shovels and sledges turn up in UK stores in winter and certainly in the South they are plastic, and not likely to be used (or last if they are!). They will sell well when people are going to panic buy and therefore the quality can be low due to an unlikeliness to sell but not many people will panic buy snow shoes. The stores we have would prefer to cater to weather they can guarantee we will have... rain is more common all year round - you're more likely to find waders than snow shoes in our stores.

Ideally if you want something that companies like Blacks, Millets (acutally owned by Blacks), Sports Direct, Go Outdoors, Trespass etc might consider specialised, you're better off buying online as they might not keep the items in stock, as here I would say they would very likely come under seasonal stock.

As a note Blacks (and others) have 'Snow Boots' but they certainly look more fashionable than servicable, being more like very winter wellies... So lack of continuous snow and availability would be why people are less likely to use them.

MET Office UK Snow

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    This sounds right to me. What snow we do get is often not enough to need snowshoes. Also peaks/ridges that do get lots of snow often become quite hard packed due to wind and stuff. Its only after fresh snow or in some valleys where snowshoes would be useful. I can think of only 1 (possibly 2) hikes I've ever done in the UK where snowshoes would have been useful. – nivag Jan 8 '15 at 13:30
  • I can't even imagine that little snow. I've seen it snow every month of the year, record snowfall in one season in my hometown is 37 feet. – ShemSeger Jan 8 '15 at 13:46
  • @ShemSeger that's really kinda cool :) I've seen nothing so far this year, we might get a few days worth in Feb-April time but nothing much and it usually lasts a day. – Aravona Jan 8 '15 at 13:49
  • Surely there are shops that sell gear for expeditions abroad, or does everyone just Chunnel over to France to buy that kind of stuff? – ShemSeger Jan 8 '15 at 13:52
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    I'd also suggest that it's also much more common to have hard frozen show on mountains in the UK which favour crampons rather than the soft fluffy stuff where a snowshow is better – Liath Jan 8 '15 at 13:54
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In addition to the good answer by Aravona, there are two important reasons:

  1. Snow shoes are impractical on steep terrain because they put a lot of stress on your ankles.

  2. If you are going to buy equipment for going up snow-covered mountains, there is a much better solution: mountain skis with skins attached. Skins increase the grip tremendously.
    Example:

skier using skins

Skis with skins are better than snow boots because

a) skis have a larger surface area, so they sink less in deep snow

b) you have small metal objects you flip up under the heels of your ski boots, making it much less stressful on your ankles. The experience is similar to walking up stairs.

c) when you are finished going up, you remove the skins and can go very fast down

  • Most of our mountains don't have snow all year round, Snowdon for example in summer is usually bare by 8am as any overnight snow would have melted, so would ski's be better on fresh loose snow or older compacted snow? – Aravona Jan 8 '15 at 14:02
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    I can climb way steeper slopes in my MSR Accent snowshoes than I can when I've got my skins on. They both have heel raisers, but the snowshoes are lighter and give you way more traction. – ShemSeger Jan 8 '15 at 14:13
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    Snow shoes are lighter than skis if you have to take them off and carry them, but managing a pair of skis strapped to your backpack isn't really a big inconvenience. Some people hike up that way. – semi-extrinsic Jan 8 '15 at 15:12
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    Skis with skins are better than snow boots That's debatable. Skis are longer and therefore less practical in tree areas, Snowshoes have televators too, you have less control over your going down on skis (again, particularly in forests.) And you don't really have to learn to use snowshoes. – njzk2 Jan 8 '15 at 18:18
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    Some powder skis are mountain skis, but far from all. Mountain skis have to be lightweight (so carbon fiber is common) and are not super-fat. If you look at DPS, just to take an example manufacturer, you could call their Wailer 112RP a mountain ski, but the Spoon is a pure powder ski. Actually, a 112 mm ski is at the wide end of the spectrum for a mountain ski. – semi-extrinsic Jan 27 '15 at 10:50
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Snowshoes are available in the UK, but generally you have to go to more specialist mountaineering shops. I doubt any of the high street chains stock them, instead look at the smaller independent shops. Especially those shops located close to mountainous areas, where snowshoes could be more useful. eg

Or Decathlon list a reasonable range of snowshoes, including several own-brand Quechua models (fairly cheap). This is probably because Decathlon are a French company. And I suspect they won't have many of these in store, you would have to order online.

Other than that, it may be best to buy online. It seems the MSR snowshoes are quite widely available from UK online shops.

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