Croatia, at the crossroads of Europe and the jewel of the Adriatic, attracts around 10 million tourists a year. The bulk of its tourism industry is centred near its stunning coast, and it’s near here that many of its key mountains – Velebit, Ucka, Risnjak, Snjeznik and Biokovo – are situated. Equally as challenging as the nearby Alps, many of its peaks rise 1,500 metres or more from sea level, and it’s this, coupled with strong winds and heavy snow in January and February, which makes Croatia perfect for snowshoeing and mountaineering activities. It is estimated that there are more than 400,000 active sports enthusiasts in Croatia.
With more than 30,000 members and a history of great alpine and mountaineering success, the Croatian Mountaineering Association’s (HPS) Mountain Guide Commission (Vodička služba) organizes UIAA trading standard aligned Winter Mountaineering and Snowshoeing courses for CMA Mountain Guides.
The Winter Mountaineering and Snowshoeing standard includes instruction to gain vital skills and necessary knowledge for safe guidance in snow and ice terrain, including light glaciers and snow-covered ridges. However, for the first time in the country, a comprehensive training course has been set up for guides to learn snowshoeing skills and leadership.
The CMA was officially formed in 1874 – the ninth of its kind in the world – and today has around 30,000 registered members from more than 300 clubs and regional associations. It is the only national sports federation of mountaineering activities in the Republic of Croatia. It has a history of alpine and mountaineering successes. One of its more recent was earlier this year.
From February 2nd to the 9th, 19 prospects and 14 instructors lived, worked and snowshoed for eight days in 0.5 – 1 metre of snow over the wooded and ridged terrains of Platak in Northwest Croatia, adjacent to Risnjak National Park. Equipped with climbing gear, the group succeeded in developing quality guidance standards as well as opening up new routes for groups on snowshoes. Naturally, safety for all was paramount and the training included working closely alongside the local mountain rescue instructors. Leadership skills were taught along with how to move carefully and safely in deep snow. The ever-present conditions proved excellent for strengthening the knowledge and skill base required.
The snowshoeing routes were combined with more challenging snow or mixed alpine climbing for those seeking a little extra value from their winter trip in Croatia. The group, during the course, tested snowshoes against more traditional tournament skis and the results proved snowshoes were generally better.
On flat terrain, the skis were faster. However, when ascending steeper terrain, with firmer snow, the ski’s zig-zag movement was no match for the clean and simple track of the snowshoe. Comparing the cost and the amount of time needed to gain skiing knowledge, snowshoes proved to be more suitable, as long as the group was properly guided and tracks were well researched beforehand.
Croatia is not known for its high mountains. Its highest, Dinara, stands only 1,855 metres high. But, more and more adventurers are seeking new challenges among its peaks. As the region becomes better known for snowshoeing, it’s a tremendous comfort to know that the CMA can offer visitors more than 50 trained snowshoeing guides who will help them get out and about safely in this beautiful country.
This article was co-written by Dorijan Klasnic.