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Lessons in the Snow



Written by Shelly Forster


 In January I led a series of snowshoe outings for the Wenatchee Department of Parks and Recreation. Don’t be fooled -- I’m not an experienced guide nor am I remotely qualified to lead anyone on a trip with technical features or major hazards. Last month was actually the first time I’d ever led an organized hike. However, Parks and Rec was looking for a guide to take beginners on easy snowshoe walks, and I was looking for a way to leave my desk and to get WenatcheeOutdoors… outdoors.

Truthfully, WenatcheeOutdoors website is a fantastic community resource with mountains of information (about mountains), but at the end of the day, it’s only a bunch of electrons organized in a very particular way somewhere out there in a server.

What’s really most valuable about WenatcheeOutdoors is the spirit behind the site and the drive to help others enjoy the world around us. What’s valuable is not just the knowledge but the inspiration that helps people see remarkable places through outdoor adventures. We pack the website with information, but it’s what readers choose to do with the information that truly matters.

With this knowledge in hand, I decided to outreach for WenatcheeOutdoors by leading snowshoe trips for the City. My thought was that if I could introduce others to snowshoeing, they might be inspired enough to learn more and to continue enjoying winter hiking. While I do not know as much as the expert guides at Northwest Mountain School, I have learned enough natural history and been on enough hikes to keep a group entertained and safe for two hours on a trail. I’m no Sherpa, but I know how to go for a walk with other people. I also know that every outing happens because of a decision to spend time in a particular place in order to fulfill particular desires.

For some, an outing goal is to crank out adrenaline, bag a peak, bust a heart valve on a bike, climb Cliffs of Doom, or “SHRED THE GNAR-POW”. For others, the goal in getting out is to build muscle and lose weight, or to breathe free air. Still others couldn’t give a lick about the physical perks of going on an outing and instead hike to see wildflowers, rare birds, and weird fungi along the tail. I can lay claim to most of these goals (minus the ridiculous gnar-pow bit), depending on the day and my own motivation. As such, I know that these diverse goals can shape very different outing agendas.

So, I wondered: why would folks sign up (and pay for) 2-hour family snowshoe hikes within 20 minutes of the Greater Wenatchee Metropolitan Area? For an adrenaline rush? Nah. To build muscles? Nah. To hunt for rare migratory birds? Doubtful. I discovered over the four weeks of snowshoe hikes that the motivations were varied: Some wanted to try a sport for the first time, or enjoy an activity with family and friends. Others wanted to learn about the trails or tire their kids out so they’d nap long into the afternoon. Some came hiking last year and wanted more. The most sheepish group had had unused snowshoes in their closets for years and needed a catalyst to get the ‘shoes out of the box and onto the feet.’ 

In short, people weren’t there to learn EVERYTHING about winter hiking or to become snowshoe experts. They weren’t there for a two-hour lecture on avalanche safety, or an extended review of current snowshoe technology, or a treatise on why their jeans and hand-me-down snowpants weren’t the swankest gear on the mountain. They were there because they wanted to have a safe, simple intro outing.

I know WenatcheeOutdoors sometimes seems like a mill for high-adventure stories from adrenaline hounds and gear nerds, but I do believe that 2-hour snowshoe rambles are just as valuable as 16-hour ice climbs or 4-day ski tours. WenatcheeOutdoors can seem intimidating to beginners or slow-paced outdoorfolk, but look at the URL about 3” higher on your screen, and you’ll see what’s at the heart of our mission: Just Get Out. No matter your outing motive, there are many resources on the website to help with getting out for any level of adventure.

One of the best results of the snowshoe tours? For some, the intro was enough to inspire them to dive deeper into the sport and to develop stronger outdoor skills. We had three hikers that enjoyed snowshoeing so much that they signed up for Andy’s adult snowshoeing class to delve into navigation, avalanches, and winter survival. What began as a fun two-hour stomp around Dry Gulch or Squilchuck evolved into a greater passion for a sport that will help them get out on longer, more challenging trips.

So, here’s my call to action: You might be the most extreme adrenaline addict in the valley -- an Usain Bolt who no one else can keep up with on the trail. That’s terrific – keep at it. However, sometimes when you’re out there, think about what you love about your pursuits and see if you can’t turn on just a few people to this love of yours by sharing a very tame version of what you do. Teach lower-adrenaline people something new or take them somewhere you love, but do it at their ability level with a goal they can accomplish.

One of my favorite hikes of the snowshoe series was a tour with two women in their sixties. Both had snowshoed before, but they’d never been on a guided snowshoe hike and had never seen Squilchuck in the winter. We stopped every 500 feet to rest and chat, and turtled our way up all of the hills. Would I have liked to hike waaay faster and farther? Of course. However, in doing so I would have left these older women behind and missed the opportunities we had on this hike to talk about natural history, share stories, and laugh our behinds off. Really.

On this and other tours I learned that sharing the outdoors with new people often means adapting to their goals and pace. That’s a small sacrifice if you’re able to share a meaningful experience and inspire them to keep getting out.

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Many Thanks: The snowshoeing series was Sarah Fitzgerald’s brainchild. She and the Parks & Rec staff provided the logistical wizardry that connected hikers with the program and made sure the equipment was always good to go (no small task for a group of 20+ hikers). Another terrific force was Joe Anderson, who volunteers on the Mission Ridge ski patrol, and volunteered to lead many tours in this series—both this year and last year. He’s enthusiastic, fun, and imparted great wisdom about leading snowshoe hikes. We sent Joe a Sports Outlet gift card as a thank-you, but if you have unwanted platinum nuggets or rare gems, please send them his way. He deserves it. Finally, hats off to all of the friends and AmeriCorps volunteers who gave up weekend time to help me with these hikes.

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Here’s the record of what we achieved on the hikes. We didn’t hit any major summits, but we did get a lot of people trying a new sport or visiting a new place.

Final Tally:

- Places visited: Dry Gulch, Squilchuck State Park, Twin Peaks
- Oldest hiker: 60+
- Youngest hiker: 2
- Number of cars pushed out of snow banks: 2
- Batches of chocolate chip cookies eaten: 6

- Number of registered hikers: 74
- Number of first-time snowshoers: Lots
- Guides: 2
- Assistants: 13
- Total number of people we snowshoed with: 89
- Number of people we’ll snowshoe with next year: ??  (be part of that question mark).