Snowshoeing across deep snow

Snowshoeing across deep snow

Reading time:
3 MIN

Whether in the red desert sands of Mali or the metre-high snows of the Arctic, the mountain infantry must be mobile at all times. They are robust, motivated, and respect nature’s power. Some items of equipment are needed nevertheless.

Six soldiers in snow camouflage move in column using snowshoes – small, oblong platforms strapped to their feet.

During the exercise, mountain infantry troops learn how to move across snow.

Bundeswehr/Maximilian Schulz

It has snowed overnight in the forests of Norway. The soft powder snow makes it very difficult to move without great effort. When soldiers of the mountain infantry need to make their way through the snow, they use special equipment such as snowshoes. The snowshoes the mountain infantry uses are practically the Swiss Army knife of footwear. They distribute a soldier’s weight over a larger contact area than boots. That way, mountain infantry troops can cross layers of snow into which they would otherwise sink up to the waist. Cleats on the underside of the snowshoes prevent the women and men from slipping on icy surfaces. The front end is fitted with a climbing aid that flips up when the soldiers walk and digs into the surface. That makes walking uphill easier. For the mountain infantry, using snowshoes saves a great deal of energy and strength.

A ski with skin

The soldiers of the alpine platoon regularly train how to move on skis.

The soldiers of the alpine platoon regularly train how to move on skis.

Bundeswehr/Maximilian Schulz

Another way to move across snow is to use skis and ski poles. The mountain infantry have their own sets of ski equipment. The advantage of skis is similar to that of snowshoes in that they provide a larger contact area between the ski and the snow. Additionally, during long descents, soldiers carrying their march loads and weapons are able to move more quickly and easily on skis. To go downhill, the climbing skins are removed from the underside of the skis. The skins prevent the skis from sliding backward on a surface and, much like snowshoes, provide a secure grip. When soldiers need to save their strength, they can let themselves be towed by a rope attached to a vehicle. This method is called skijoring.

Ski poles as a rifle rest

Three soldiers in snow camouflage move through snowy terrain in single file with their skis, poles and rifles.

The soldiers quickly become accustomed to moving on skis.

Bundeswehr/Maximilian Schulz

The poles provide stability and grip. By pushing the poles into the snow and moving themselves forward, skiers can speed up. The ski poles can also serve as a rifle rest. When soldiers aim their rifles, that is called assuming a firing position. Using the poles as rifle rests, several different firing positions can be chosen. In the deep snows of Norway, accordingly, mountain infantry troops also practice a combination of movement and using different firing positions. 

The Swedish workhorse

A Hägglunds oversnow vehicle is parked next to a heavy truck on snowy ground.

The Hägglunds oversnow vehicle has wide rubber tracks to prevent it from sinking into the snow.

Bundeswehr/Maximilian Schulz

The soldiers need heavy-duty vehicles to transport their gear. For many years now, they have thus relied on the tried-and-true Swedish Hägglunds tracked articulated vehicle. Its wide rubber tracks can be depended upon to transport the heavy vehicle along with soldiers and their gear through the snow. A Hägglunds vehicle is made up of a front and a rear unit. Thanks to its quiet engine, soldiers can use the Hägglunds to move through terrain undetected. Ultimately, the same principles that also hold true for every other soldier in the field apply: move inconspicuously and avoid leaving tracks. That way, enemy tracks are more easily noticeable, while the soldiers themselves are not discovered by the enemy.

by Peter Müller