Discover your winter wonderland on snowshoes

February 23, 2010

By Staff

With a steady snow falling, Sandra Hiltmann and David Millard strapped their snowshoes on and headed up Kendall Ridge overlooking Snoqualmie Pass and Lake Keechelus.

Crunching through snow-covered hills, the two friends enjoyed the hike’s quiet, easy pace.

Climbing up the Kendall Ridge Trail, the hikers enter another world apart from the crowded, noisy trailhead off Interstate 90.

The crowd thinned out, the silence echoed in their ears and the snow turned more powdery.

By far, snowshoeing is one of the easiest, no-fuss winter sports around.

It was Millard’s first time snowshoeing, but he cruised along without a problem. Most people quickly get used to walking in snowshoes.

“You strap them on and go,” he said as the snow crunched below his feet.

It’s a simple pleasure

Floating across fresh powder on a pair of snowshoes is a pleasure unto itself. Most outdoor enthusiasts know the frustration of wading through snow in hiking boots. It only takes a few inches for a simple walk to become physically taxing.

With snowshoes on, you glide along quickly and with ease.

A few quick steps in them and you’ve pretty much learned all you need to know: Pick your foot up a little higher, have a solid place for it to land and don’t walk backward — otherwise you might find yourself sitting in the snow and asking for help up.

Those who have had knee injuries should know it’s easy to twist them into unusual angles if you’re not on a stable path or looking where you’re going. Be cautious, especially going downhill.

For the most part, even a group of novice hikers or first-timers can head out into the snow without instruction. While most winter activities involve a load of specialized equipment or a lot of preparation, snowshoeing is easy and affordable for most.

“You can do it anywhere there’s snow,” and the costs are minimal, Hiltmann said.

Snowshoes and poles can be rented for as low as $20 from local outfitters for the weekend, far less than the cost of ski or snowboard rentals, lessons and lift tickets.

It does help to have a pair of sturdy, water-resistant hiking boots. If you’re going snowshoeing, make sure to dress appropriately for the weather.

“You’ve got to make sure you have got the right clothes on,” Hiltmann said.

You should come equipped for cold weather, but wear layers you can peel off and store, since you might get hot, depending on what trail you choose.

Hats and gloves are a must, and if you’re not used to frosty temperatures, bring hand and feet warmers. You can find the one-use, prepackaged kind at drug or convenience stores for about $1 per pair.

Bring a relaxed attitude

Aside from that, the sport is pretty low maintenance — no special boots, binding or even outdoor wear is necessary.

Millard said he appreciates the relaxed attitude of snowshoeing.

For families and friends, it offers quality time to catch up without the distraction of televisions, iPods, video games or computers. There’s time to spend with each person in your group as you traipse through the cool mountain air to new places or familiar trails covered in white.

“It’s more social and less competitive than skiing,” Millard said.

Snowshoeing also offers a sense of freedom that doesn’t often come with winter outdoor sports. While it’s easiest to stay on trails where snow has already been tramped down, anyone can swing off trail to do some bushwhacking on virgin snow. Of course, sound judgment should always be used to maintain safety and avoid ecological damage.

Remember to check a map before you go off trail, as you could end up on private property or in unstable areas.

Research where your trail goes and what it borders, in case you get lost. You should also keep in mind that some trailheads require parking permits, so research those ahead of time by visiting a park’s Web site.

Whether it’s just a few hours after brunch or a weekend of exploring mountains, snowshoeing is a great way to experience winter in the area.

Before you go

  • Check avalanche conditions from the Northwest Avalanche Center or call 206-526-6677.
  • Seattle Mountaineers Snowshoeing — call 206-284-8484 or go here for courses, trails and tips.
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