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First Time Snowshoer: Advice from a Couch Potato

Roni Freund Pete Freund Photography | 03/26/2019 | Blog, Snowshoe, Winter Fun

By Roni Freund

At fifty-plus years of age, I had a chance to go snowshoeing for the first time this winter. My husband and I stayed at Sun Mountain Lodge in the beautiful Methow Valley. I’ll start by explaining that I’m not a big fan of playing in the snow. That being said, we wanted to give it a try, and we heard that the cross-country and snowshoe trails right from the lodge were incredible. We had already rented equipment from Winthrop Mountain Sports on the way to the lodge, (Sun Mountain Lodge also rents anything you need) and purchased our trail permit from Methow Trails, so we woke early, dressed warm in layers, as instructed -- and headed out!

During the night a fresh four inches of snow had fallen, so the day was very bright, albeit overcast. Folks were already skiing in the lesson area, so we checked the trail map supplied by the front desk at check-in, decided on a loop trail that seemed promising and of adequate length (not too long for rookies), and asked a staff member where exactly we would find the trails. 

The first DO: Do make sure you know where you are in relation to your map – no matter where you are snowshoeing. We had a rough idea, and the friendly staff member who pointed “that way” for a trail was not enough to actually get us where we wanted to go. By the time we headed out on one trail, realized it was not the one I wanted, turned back, found a sign for “Moose” and “Click-A-Pic” I had already worked up a sweat. Did I mention four inches of fresh snow overnight?

Sun Mountain Lodge sits majestically at the top of a mountain – so the trail I picked started off going downhill – a fact not explained on a 2D map. The four inches of fresh snow had not yet been trod on the trail, and I could not tell with certainty where it was headed, but it was headed toward horses (sleigh rides during winter and trail rides during the summer!!) and I had previously seen a sign that some section of a trail was closed near the horse barns. So half-way down we decided, rather than get to the bottom and discover we could not get where we wanted to go, we hiked back up to get better instructions from the ski shop.

Turns out we were headed the right way in the first place, and we were going to have the “special treat” of being the first ones on the trail after the fresh snowfall.

The second DO: Do pick a trail that someone has tramped before you -- especially if you are an out-of-shape rookie. Breaking trail adds an extra level of cardio you may not enjoy. Also, heading out into an unknown wilderness, in the snow, without tracks to follow, leads to confusion and anxiety when the trail disappears. Fortunately, the folks who maintain these trails mark them with “string” on tree branches and shrubs, so when you can’t see the trail, you can see ahead to the next marker. That is a great precaution, except when the fog sets in …

As you may have deduced, I’m not an athlete. I spend my days sitting at my computer in my home office working for various clients doing various things, with a mix of laundry loads and grocery shopping thrown in. The exercise I get on a daily basis involves juggling responsibility and wrestling temptation – and doing a couple flights of stairs on laundry days. So when the fog set in, and the trail continued to go downhill (which as we all know can only mean one thing – uphill the entire way home) even my husband started to worry that I would need to call out for rescue. But for that would have needed cell service.

The third DO: Make sure you know the elevation gain of your chosen trail, and that it is appropriate for your skill and energy level. The map showed the trail in kilometers for distance, but what I should have taken into consideration is, the shorter trail had more elevation drop, followed by gain than I was prepared for. If I’d selected a trail that was longer (the first one we started out on) it was longer, but had only slight hill climbs. 

The fourth DO: Stop and smell the roses (so-to-speak). When you are in the wilderness, or wide open country away from the noise of civilization, the sounds of nature are fascinating, and the view can be incredible. My husband and are nature lovers, so identifying the animal tracks in the fresh snow was a fun part of the experience. 

The fifth DO: Pack water and good energy snacks, like trail mix or granola. When you stop to investigate the animal tracks or take in the view, remember to hydrate. Other items to pack that don’t weigh much, and can be helpful:

  • A whistle – to scare away predators or alert rescue teams
  • Inhaler – if you own one, there’s a reason, so you may as well pack it.
  • Flashlight or headlamp – just in case
  • First aid supplies – a small kit could be very useful if you need a bandaid for a blister.
  • Compass – and learn how to use it before you leave home
  • Pocket knife – great for skinning varmits, or shaving tree limbs and bark to get kindling to start a fire to cook aforementioned varmit, in an extreme emergency!
  • Matches or lighter – why not?

The sixth DO: Take lots of pictures. My husband carried his heavy Canon camera and even heavier camera bag – but the photos he took were worth it in our case. I would recommend NOT packing the extra weight, unless you are in better shape than I am, and the trade-off is worth it to you. My cell phone camera did the job for my own photo diary. That being said, the photos in this blog are from my husband’s Canon (Pete Freund/Freund's Photography)

The seventh DO: Tell someone where you will be, the name of the trail, and if possible, your anticipated return time. And don’t cause unnecessary worry -- let those folks know when you make it back after the journey!

The Last DO: As much as this was an unexpected workout, I’m glad I did it – DO enjoy yourself. Looking back on the experience now, several weeks forward, it was really a great way to see some country that I would never have seen, and enjoyed the mental break from the list of chores awaiting me back home. 

One last thing ... I recommend a refreshing beverage and a foot rub by the fire at the end of the day!

Special thanks again to the folks at Winthrop Mountain Sports for the equipment rentals and instructions, Methow Trails for the INCREDIBLE work they do to keep the trails maintained, and Sun Mountain Lodge - for this great fireplace to dry our clothes and warm our bones after the trek!

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