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How to Ascend and Descend on Trail and Snow

Dhaarna Kukreja

Last updated: 03-08-2017

One foot in front of other.

Yeah, that is pretty much the basics of hiking. But one needs to improvise the technique as one walks on different terrain and in different situations (ascending & descending).

Walking the right way in the mountains is important to avoid any foot or knee injuries. The efficient gait in the mountains reduces the impact on the body and minimizes the probability of falls and mishaps on the trail.

Not only this, with the right walk, one covers more distance in less time without having to put any physical effort.

How to Ascend and Descend on Trail and Snow

So what is the right way to ascend or descend on a trail or snow?

Below are a few simple steps you need to inculcate in your gait when going for a hike.


Walking uphill

  1. Find a rhythm between your breathing and stride. Maintaining a rhythm would keep your heart beat steady and keep you stable
  2. Maintain a steady pace. Going fast from the beginning will only make you tired easily.
  3. The hip and sternum straps should not constrict your stride but they help a lot in distributing the weight of the rucksack well.   
  4. In the case of steep ascent, go zig-zagging instead of going straight up.

Going downhill

  • Don’t lean forward or backward. Your center of gravity should be low and over your legs. If you are straining the thighs and calf muscles, then most probably you are going fine.
  • Keep your downhill leg slightly bent to minimize stress on your knees.
  • Put your weight on your heels while descending down.
  • Take smaller steps for greater balance and control.

How to Ascend and Descend on Trail and Snow


The basics remain mostly the same as far as the weight balance, rhythm or pace are concerned. Just some additional precautions for the snow.

Ascending on moderate snowy slopes

  • Hit the hard snow with your toe.
  • Put the weight on your toes.
  • Allow your leg weight and momentum to carve a step in snow.
  • Angle the step slightly inwards the slope.
  • In the case of harder snow, use the side of your boot to slice a step in snow.

Descending on snow

If snow is soft, then it does not pose much difficulty walking down the snow. Simply take the steps downhill using the basics for trail downhill walk.

However, in the case when the snow is harder, follow the steps below :

  • Plant your foot solid into the ground.
  • Drive the heel into the snow while keeping your leg straight.
  • Make sure that the weight of your body is on the firm leg (Transfer the weight) before you move the other one forward.
  • Your upper body should be slightly backward so that your weight isn’t pulled forward
  • Don’t let the knees lock - Remember to feel the pressure on your thighs & calf muscles

How to Ascend and Descend on Trail and Snow

How to Ascend and Descend on Trail and Snow

A few notes to take:

  • You should be extra careful if your ascend and descend routes are the same because the footmarks slant downwards and in cold weather, their upper layer would freeze quickly to become slippery.
  • Avoid walking on snow next to rocks since it can have hidden traps beneath the snow. They are called rock-gaps (a mountain hazard) and can be more than 5 feet deep.

There is an alternate for the times when the snow slopes are clear (over meadows or straight spur slopes) and you want to have some fun- Glissade!

Glissade (n.): to slide down snow in a seated or standing position while using your feet, ice axe, or both to control your speed

Beware: Glissading can be dangerous if not done under the supervision of an expert.

Here's a quick refresher video on Ascending & Descending

Last but not the least - Relax!

Don’t forget to add frequent but short breaks on the trail for stretching so that your muscles don’t get sore. Walking continuously for long hours can not just put a toll on your muscles but also bore you. Boredom makes you think about 100 other things and hampers focus which increases the chances of a fall. So, breaks are important.

Dhaarna Kukreja

Heart of a writer. Soul of a gypsie. Read more

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