A snowshoeing course on the Dachstein

Fresh snow in the Dachstein range

Fresh snow at the Gjaid Alm on day 2 of the snowshoeing course

The new year is in full swing and so it seems nearly like an eternity since I came back from a four day snowshoeing course on the Dachstein at the beginning of January. I spent four days with a group of DAV hiking enthusiast on the Gjaid Alm where we learnt about avalanches, hiking in winter conditions and stamped around in our snowshoes.

The Krippenstein Bahn to the Dachstein plateau

Arriving on the Dachstein with the Krippenstein Bahn

The focus of the course was to learn how to manage avalanche risk on winter hikes and how to navigate through winter landscape. I really enjoyed learning about both. They are such fundamentally different skills to what you need to know if you are hiking in the summer. That makes sense (mainly in the case of avalanche risk, obviously), but I was still surprised how different navigating in winter landscape can be.

During the four days we spent a lot of time outside practicing how to locate people caught in an avalanche. The highlight of the course was definitely when we practiced excavating an avalanche victim. I hope I will never have to do that (even more so that no one will ever have to excavate me). In a real situation it would be distressing. During our practice it was a raucous event, with snow flying all around – mainly full shovel loads straight into other people’s faces. I swear we just followed the instructions.

I also learned an important lesson about the weather. When we set off for our hike on Saturday morning, the weather was great. The sun was out and the sky was blue.

At lunch at about 1 pm, it was overcast and a small cloud has just pulled over the Dachstein ridge into the valley. I would have still continued with the hike, but our instructor decided we should turn around. After an hour the weather got better again. I felt vindicated. Then the proper clouds pulled in. By the time we arrived back at the Gjaid Alm, we couldn’t see hardly anything at all.

We returned on a track we made the day before, so the fog was not that much of a problem. Without a track though it would have been practically impossible. Earlier in the day we navigated along a staked out trail without a track. Finding the long wooden poles some 100 or more meters apart from each other wasn’t easy in perfect visibility. In bad weather it just would not have been possible.

Fog shrouds the Gjaid Alm

Visibility approaching zero as we return from our hike on day 3 of the course

On the whole there was an incredible amount of new stuff that I learnt during the snowshoeing course. A little bit of snowshoeing and a lot of mountain skills.

Like last time when I was on the Dachstein for a mountaineering course, I will follow-up with more notes on the skills we learnt. This time I have a feeling it will require more than one post.

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