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 rapid turns take a little practice, but if you fall the snow will be 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. Many summer hiking destinations like McClellan Butte, Granite Mountain or Snow Lake, cross dangerous avalanche paths or avalanche runout zones and and require considerable experience and knowledge of snow safety to travel safely. 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 Washington State is often quite wet, so you’ll want leggings that are 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. Use gaiters to keep snow out of your boots and coddle your feet with thicker wool (or synthetic) socks. Sturdy, over-the-ankle hiking boots made of waterproofed leather or Gore-Tex will work well for snowshoeing.
Equipment: Rent gear if you want to check out different types of snowshoes before you buy. Most snowshoes now have aluminum frames and a synthetic decking material that keeps you on top of the snow. Teeth or cleats on the bottom are essential for the icy, hardpacked snows often found in our mountains. Most shoes have straps that secure your boot to the shoe. A few snowshoes 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.
In Your Backpack: Snowshoeing is hiking on snow, so carry the same essentials that you take hiking including raingear, extra layers of warm clothing, matches and firestarter, map and compass, hat and gloves, sunglasses and sunscreen, first-aid supplies, gear-repair items, and food and water. Advanced snowshoers visiting potential avalanche terrain should also carry transceivers, snow shovels, and avalanche probes.
Etiquette: Snowshoeing is an increasingly popular activity, though not without conflict. Snowshoeing is permitted on all ski trails but snowshoers are requested not to walk in the same tracks used by skiers. 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.
This article was originally published 12/27/10 by WenOut staff.
Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the November-December issue of Washington Trails Magazine. We edited the original story for improved accuracy and to make the information more appropriate to Central Washington snowshoers. The magazine is put out by the Washington Trails Association, an 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 also added comments (in italics) to help you better enjoy snowshoeing in Central Washington.