Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the November-December issue of Washington Trails Magazine. This is a good monthly magazine packed with useful information for Washington residents. The magazine is put out by the Washington Trails Association, an excellent organization that anyone who uses trails around the state should consider joining and supporting. To make this article more useful to local snowshoers, we’ve added comments here and there (in italics) to make highlight resources that will help you enjoy snowshoeing in Central Washington.
Technique: It’s true that if you can walk, you can snowshoe. You just have to widen your step. The first couple of steps feel awkward, but your body quickly adjusts to the width of the snowshoes. Walking backwards or turning takes a little practice. You may fall, but the snow is soft.
Conditions: Check conditions often before you head out to snowshoe. For mountain forecasts, try Washington Online Weather or the National Weather Service. The Northwest Avalanche Center’s website provides detailed avalanche forecasts and comprehensive weather data and forecasts for the mountains. For road conditions, Washington State Department of Transportation has up-to-date mountain pass conditions, including cameras on five well-traveled routes. It is also wise to call ahead to the ranger station where you plan to hike or snowshoe to determine current conditions.
Note: WenatcheeOutdoors has the most useful Weather & Road , Snow & Avalanche information for the region organized in a way that you can quickly get a read of what’s happening around Central Washington (from the Crest to the Columbia Basin, how safe the snow is, what snow conditions other users are reporting. We also have the most complete compilation of Central Washington webcams and these are sometimes very useful in determining where you might plan to go snowshoeing.
General Safety: Choose your destinations wisely. Routes that are popular summer hiking trails, such as McClellan Butte, Granite Mountain or Snow Lake, can be deadly avalanche hotspots in winter and should never be considered as snowshoe destinations. Consult a guidebook to find the best low-risk snowshoe routes. Knowing how to navigate is also key. Snow tends to make the landscape look uniform and obscure landmarks. Finally, always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return and call them when you get home.
Note: Use the online Snowshoeing Guidebook at WenatcheeOutdoors to find a suitable nearby destination for snowshoeing.
Clothing and Footwear: Lightweight ski pants, rain pants with long underwear, or snowboarding pants lined with a little fleece layer or regular trekking pants will work well. Snow in Western Washington is quite wet, so you’ll want something water resistant. Layer your upper body with a quick-dry piece close to your body, then a fleece jacket that can be unzipped for ventilation. You want to be a little cold when you start because you will warm up quickly. For your feet, you’ll want warm, waterproof boots. If your hiking boots come with materials like Gore-Tex, they will be just fine.
Equipment: Rent gear if you want to check out the different types. Most snowshoes now have aluminum frames with a decking material that will keep you on top of the snow. Teeth or cleats on the bottom are essential for the icy, hardpacked snow of Western Washington. Some shoes have straps that secure your boot to the shoe. Others offer a binding mechanism similar to ski boots.
Note: Local places to call about snowshoe rentals include the Mission Ridge Rental Shop, the Stevens Pass Nordic Center, Arlberg Sports, Leavenworth Mountain Sports, Sleeping Lady Resort. If you’re thinking of purchasing snowshoes read this review. Also use our Quick Search box and type in ‘snowshoe review’ and several other reviews of snowshoes from Tubbs and MSR pop up.
In Your Backpack: Snowshoeing is hiking on the snow, so you’ll want to carry the same essentials that you take hiking, including a map and compass, a hat and gloves, water, sunglasses, sunscreen and snacks. Always pack the 10 essentials and a few extra winter ones on any hike.
Etiquette: Snowshoeing is an increasingly popular activity, though not without conflict. Snowshoeing is permitted on all ski trails but snowshoers are requested to keep to one side and not walk across the ski track. On steep grades, snowshoers should keep in mind that skiers have the right-of-way. Do your best to move to one side and allow skiers to pass.
Permits: Depending on where you go, you may need a Northwest Forest Pass,
a National Parks Pass or a Sno-Park permit. This winter, Sno-Park permits will be available for purchase online at www.parks.wa.gov/winter beginning November 1. Stay safe, have fun, and let us know what you find by filing a trip report on WTA’s
website. Visit WTA’s website for more snowshoeing tips, plus contact information
for Sno-Parks and ranger stations.