Doing what you love in gainful employment must be the ideal dream for many. Going to work in the French Alps each day has to be the ultimate. The scenery, the crisp fresh air and exercise is seldom part of an average commute. But this is where Gareth Jefferies, a qualified member of SNAM, BAIML and snowshoe guide is fortunate. The French Alps is virtually his office. Having spent time in the police force and now based near Morzine with his family, I was keen to know the spark which lit his interest in snowshoeing.
“The ability to travel over snow with the minimum of fuss. I also ski and it’s hard to learn, involves plenty of expensive equipment and can be over complicated. Snowshoes can be bought for less than a tenth of the cost, are easy to use and require almost no maintenance.”
To become fully qualified as an IML can take a significant number of years. Training, assessments and “away-days” in the mountains all form part of the challenge. Gareth, however, didn’t seem to look on it as a daunting prospect. It therefore seemed fitting to ask him when he started and how long it took to become fully qualified as a mountain leader.
“I started out on the route to gaining the qualifications as a mountain leader in 1998. I became fully qualified in 2002.”
More and more people are taking up the sport. Particularly since snowshoeing has become one of the best ways of exploring stunning scenery and getting closer to nature at a not too brisk pace. Did Gareth have any advice for the complete novice? Particularly as the sport is considered a great workout for the whole body.
“Don’t overdress. It’s the most common mistake. You think that because it’s snowy you’ll need to wear all the clothes you own. Put it this way, I’ve only put on my thermal leggings under my usual trousers once or twice in my life and both times it was -20C.”
Gareth started out in the UK, but now lives in France with his wife and three children. Did he ever see Britain catching up with the sport’s popularity in Europe?
“Snowshoes are used in Scotland and are useful when there is deep snow. I have friends in the Avalanche service who use them daily. They’d be worth having with you in certain conditions but the snow is fickle so planning to use them on a holiday might be quite optimistic.”
Certainly optimism and excited anticipation are keywords when planning a holiday anywhere, and Morzine, in Eastern France, seems to have all bases covered. The mountain views are stunning, the restaurants, hotels and skiing facilities second to none. One of the most northerly of the French Alpine resorts, Morzine seems to reap the benefits of its own microclimate even though it lies at just 1,000 metres. A quaint market town, the real feather in its cap is the low-cost of accommodation. With this in mind, along with the quality of the resort’s restaurants, I asked Gareth about the social aspect of snowshoeing, and whether there were any occasions which stood out personally.
“Snowshoeing has opened many doors for me and I’ve made lots of new friends. I’ve even spent nights out on the mountain with septuagenarian members of the aristocracy. Without snowshoes that would have been impossible.”
The design and manufacture of snowshoes has evolved in leaps and bounds over hundreds, if not thousands of years. With the more recent history going back to the Canadian Indians, where did Gareth see the technology of snowshoe design going in the future?
“Snowshoes are getting lighter all the time, but the real advances seem to be improving the walk-ability so helping with the users gait. The latest snowshoes from TSL for 2014 have made advances in this direction.”
Coming right up to date with the Winter Olympics in full swing in Sochi, what were his thoughts about snowshoeing becoming an Olympic sport. Particularly since the committee seems very reluctant to recognize it as such.
“No. I can’t see it. If you want to race then take skis. It’s faster.”
And there you have it. The man, his skills, his lifestyle in an idyllic setting. A beautiful place and a great way to earn a living. For full information on becoming a qualified IML, go to www.baiml.org.