By Polly Keary, Editor
Miss hiking once snows close the trails?
Snowshoeing can open those trails right back up again.
Snowshoeing opportunities abound in the Sky Valley, and the sport is considerably less expensive than skiing. On snowshoes, trails rendered inaccessible to boots can open the high country to snowshoers, who can experience pristine wilderness vistas without the summer crowds.
If you’ve never been snowshoeing before, it’s good to have a little information before you get started.
There are three types of snowshoes; recreational, mountaineering and aerobic fitness.
The recreational snowshoes are typically the best for beginners. They work best on fairly level terrain. Mountaineering snowshoes are best for deep powder, steep slopes and for long treks carrying more weight. And aerobic shoes are for those using them as a way to stay in shape.
As a form of exercise, snowshoeing is excellent, burning about 600 calories per hour, and it burns more than walking or running the same distance at the same speed.
An entry-level pair of snowshoes and poles costs about $100, but they can be rented at some outdoor stores, including most area REI stores. Call for more information.
Snowshoeing can be done anywhere there’s about eight inches of good snow cover, but a good place to start is a nordic center such as the one at Stevens Pass, where there are a number of trails especially for snowshoers. And with a day pass rate of only $12, it makes for a very affordable alternative to skiing.
The sports is considerably easier to learn than is skiing or snowboarding, but there are some tricks to it.
It’s often said that if you can walk, you can snowshoe. But there are ways to reduce fatigue, including slipping the edges of the shoes over each other rather than walking with a wide-legged “straddling” posture. Breaking fresh trail can consume 50 percent more energy than using an established trail, so it’s a good idea to start out in a heavily-used environment.
And turning can be difficult in tight spots, so when starting out, it’s a good idea to stay in areas with wide trails and open fields.
A good way to learn the sport is to attend a ranger-led trip. The Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie Forest Service begins offering snowshoe hikes in January, open to all skill levels. Saturdays and Sundays there is a 90-minute walk called Introductory Snowshoeing that is specifically geared to beginners. There are also 90-minute guided interpretive walks which include information about the winter ecosystem and wildlife, and extended half-day hikes that head into Commonwealth Basin.
See here for more information.
Once you are comfortable using snowshoes, try one of the many trails in the area that are perfect for year-round use, such as Tonga Ridge.
Never snowshoe alone, set out with plenty of time to get back before dark, wear warm layers and sturdy waterproof hiking boots, carry the ten essentials and a GPS device, and have fun staying fit in the great outdoors all winter long.