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Snowshoeing: skiing’s cheaper, lower impact cousin

  • Written by Kirsten Abel
I have a snowboard in my closet that I haven’t used in years. The last time I went skiing was sometime around 1994. I love the snow and I love being outdoors, but I’ve never been very good at any of the traditional winter sports. 
 
Recently, I found a solution to my problem: the ancient art of snowshoeing. For anywhere from about $18 (for a rental) to $100 (for a purchased pair) you can romp and hike your way through a winter wonderland without breaking the bank and without breaking your knees.
First, you need some equipment. The Bellevue, Issaquah, Seattle, and Alderwood locations of REI all rent snowshoes. Depending on whether or not you have a membership, they cost between $18 and $34. If you plan to use your snowshoes near a ski area, there might also be a rental shop on site.
 
3 Dogs AllowedDogs are allowed on many snowshoe trails (Photo by Haley Mullen)For the rest of your gear, you need waterproof shoes (I use my hiking boots), waterproof pants, gloves, and a few layers on top that you can shed as the hike gets more difficult or if the sun comes out.
 
Second, you need some snow. Snoqualmie Pass is a good place to start. There are groomed trails like Hyak Lake and others within Iron Horse State Park. Visit the Nordic Center at Summit East to rent snowshoes and grab a map of nearby trails.
 
For a more difficult task, try Snow Lake, which begins at Snoqulamie’s Alpental parking lot. It’s a narrow trail with a lot of snow and a few tricky creek crossings.
 
Other nearby trails include Skyline Lake at Stevens Pass and Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park.
 
If you’re looking to venture a little farther out, Mount Rainier has an extensive snowshoe trail system. I recommend checking out the
Paradise area. Park rangers even offer first-come, first-served guided snowshoe walks on the weekends at 11 a.m. and at 1:30 p.m. at the Jackson Visitor Center.
 
And even farther out than that, Mount Spokane, about an hour outside of the city of Spokane, offers some stunning peace and quiet. There are at least six different groomed snowshoe trails (see mountspokane.org) that lead you through towering snow-covered trees.
 
Snowshoes were invented about 6,000 years ago. Some historians claim that people used them to cross the Bering Strait into North America. And while the materials and technology of the snowshoe have changed since its inception, the process remains pretty much the same. 
 
A snowshoe works by distributing your weight across a larger surface area, helping you to walk on top of the snow instead of sinking into it.
If you can hike short trails, you can likely get the hang of snowshoeing. The activity can be family-friendly, too. Some companies make snowshoes sized for children.
 
2 Mount Spokane TrailThe view from the Snow Lake trail near Snoqualmie Pass (Photo by Kirsten Abel)Not  only  is  snowshoeing  a comparatively inexpensive winter activity, it’s also low impact. If your back or joints don’t let you participate in  more  extreme sports like snowboarding or skiing, this pastime is for you.
 
Don’t forget to bring water and snacks, and a headlamp if you plan on staying out past dark. Visit wta.org for additional trail information.

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