I’ll admit it upfront: I’m not a skier. Few things make my bones feel more vulnerable than the idea of flying down a hill with gliders on my feet. But for those of us who like a more sedate winter sport, snowshoeing is perfect.
With Mount Hood so close by, Portlanders have lots of places to snowshoe. All you need are warm clothes, snowshoes and a snowy trail. My favorite thing about snowshoeing is the quiet. In the snow-muffled landscape, often the only sound is my snowshoes. When you stop, there’s perfect silence.
Snowshoeing is also good exercise. According to Weight Watchers, a 150-pound person burns about 650 to 700 calories in an hour of snowshoeing. Use snowshoe poles to up your caloric burn. It’s also great exercise for your dog. My fluffy Keeshond lives for snow, tearing up and down the trail and probably covering three times the distance I do.
If you’re new to snowshoeing, it’s a good idea to rent or borrow snowshoes. I always like to try out an activity before investing in gear. My first few times out, I used my husband’s ratty old pair. They were too big for me – I felt like Bigfoot – but I got the gist, and decided I liked snowshoeing enough to buy my own.
You can rent snowshoes on Mount Hood. Mount Hood Adventure charges $15 per adult and $10 per child for a 24-hour rental. Plus, you get trekking poles and a trail map. Mount Hood Meadows Rental Center also offers snowshoe rental for $15 per adult.
What if you like snowshoeing enough to buy your own? We have a ton of gear shops in Portland, from the Mountain Shop in Northeast, to REI in the Pearl. My favorite neighborhood outdoor store is Next Adventure, so I headed there to check out snowshoes. I was dreaming of a cute short pair, probably in shiny metallic purple. But at Next Adventure, an employee told me to step on the snowshoe scale. What?! The scale doesn’t reveal your weight, but recommends how long your snowshoes should be. Turns out that at 135 pounds, those cute little girly purple snowshoes might not be long enough to keep me atop the snow. So I wound up buying a less attractive but more reliable, higher-tech pair. Mine have excellent crampons, those useful pointy parts on the underside that dig into ice and prevent falls. They were on sale for about 100 bucks. Prices range from $60 on the low end to $300 for primo snowshoes. Beginners don’t need to go that high.
It’s tempting to buy used gear, but Snowshoe Magazine advises against it. If you do, inspect the snowshoes thoroughly for damage and wear.
Snowshoeing is pretty much like walking – but with really big feet. When you’re walking straight along a trail, you just need to widen your stance. But obstacles that are no big deal when you’re hiking are much more challenging with snowshoes. For example, a log across the trail that you’d just step over in your hiking boots requires a cartoonish effort to get one huge foot up and over, and then the other, without stepping on the first one and tripping. The times I’ve fallen in snowshoes have mostly been when trying to walk backwards (don’t do it!) or turn around. It’s easy to tweak your knee or ankle if you catch one snowshoe under the other while turning. Instead, keep space between your feet and turn in a wide radius.
Breaking a trail through new snow is tiring. It’s easier to walk in somebody else’s footsteps. Your snowshoeing partner or group can take turns being in the lead so nobody gets too tired.
Where to Go
Snowshoeing is much less expensive than skiing because you don’t need to go to a specially designated area with a lift. Many of the trails on Mount Hood will do. Beginners should pick trails with gentle elevation gains and drops, as navigating steeper slopes can be tricky. My favorite place on Mount Hood is the Twin Lakes Trail. You park at the Frog Lake Snow-Park and follow signs for Twin Lakes. I also like the Old Barlow Road Trail, which has lots of dramatic icicles. Here’s a good link to Mt Hood snowshoe trails, courtesy of the Outdoor Project.
Conditions are best when the snow is fresh, rather than hard-packed. Watch the weather report and pick a nice, sunny day with fresh snow.
A Group Adventure
While snowshoeing poses fewer risks than skiing or snowboarding, it’s still wise to go with a buddy or two. If you don’t have any like-minded friends, join a group. Mount Hood Adventures offers several snowshoeing tours, including a moonlight trek and trips that include techniques for newbies. Next Adventure’s Outdoor School offers day trips that include gear rental, instruction, a guided tour and round trip transportation from their Portland shop for only $50. You can even register for a one-day snowshoeing class through Portland Community College for $85.
This is a good year for snow. So if you haven’t tried snowshoeing yet, make 2017 the year to get out there and do it.