Words by Tessa Strain. Photos by Florian Reichert and Alex Buisse.
Mountains look their best with a covering of snow and have provided some of our most memorable runs, but these conditions also require a bit of forethought and care. Here are our top tips for making winter mountain running fun, safe, and enjoyable.
The grip on your shoes is critical to stop you slipping and sliding. In slushy snow, trail shoes with good treads will be fine, but if conditions become icy and/or steep then you might want metal dobs, or even a set of micro-spikes to put over your shoes. If you are going near steep slopes then you should probably be taking an ice axe (and know how to use it!). Remember that previously slushy snow can ice over fast once out of direct sunlight – it’s not quite as simple as retracing your steps.
Getting your clothing right makes such a difference to the enjoyment of a run. Temperature differences can be substantial between the start and summit of your run, especially with wind-chill, so it’s not always easy to judge from the car park. A good strategy is to start off in a base layer (like a Phase AR), which wicks away any sweat. Having a wet base layer is not only really uncomfortable but can make you really cold when you reach colder and windier sections. As I get higher, a women’s running jacket or men’s running jacket is usually added (and another layer), depending on the conditions. The Norvan SL is a great all-round running jacket: lightweight gore-tex and takes the edge of fiercer winds. If things get really cold and windy, the Argus (Men)/Gaea (Women) Jacket adds additional warmth with its Polartec® Alpha® isolation. Good gloves (like the Venta gloves) and a hat (like the Phase or Trino Beanie) are a must on every winter run as the periphery and the head tend to cool fastest.
Runs are a lot less stressful if you know you are able to cope with almost all eventualities. The Aerios 10 litre is a good pack for stuffing full of extra layers and safety equipment, and the drawstring front adds to the capacity. The nuclei FL jacket fits neatly in there – stuffs down small and only weighs 220g. It’s also worth taking bivvy bag, extra food, head torch and a mobile phone: everything you need to keep warm and safe if an accident happened.
[Have taken a picture with almost all these lined up. The order from left to right: Top row: Aerios 10 litre, Bivvy bag, Beta AR pant, Norvan SL. Second row: Phase AR zip neck, headtorch, map. Bottom row: Nuclei hoody, phase gloves, phase beanie, neckwarmer, compass, emergency food, phone]
Plan Your Route Carefully
Picking a sensible route is critical in winter. Check out local mountain weather and avalanche information to work out what would be appropriate. The best routes have options to cut short, as sometimes conditions can be much slower going than expected. Be prepared to do so, don’t let your ego get the better of you.
Runners are often obsessed with speed: challenging yourself by climbing the mountain in the fastest time possible. All of this changes, however, if the conditions become snowy or icy. Relax and stop looking at your watch! Your heart rate will go up at the same time as your speed goes down when running in the snow. But that’s fine – and actually a great strength and endurance training!
Share your run with a friend
Mountains are best shared with friends, and not just for the chat. It’s much safer to be out on the hills with someone and a lot more enjoyable too. If you don’t have anyone to go with, then make sure you let someone know your planned route and when you expect to return. Don’t forget to let them know you are back too!
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