Outward bound

High steppin'

Unless you happen to have bought a season pass, your lift-ticket budget is probably maxed out, and possibly even your zest for carving turns has waned, meaning that dozens of feet of fresh snow in the mountains sits untouched. It would be nice if the sun popped out for a few days down in the city, but as any resident Northwesterner knows, you gotta live with the maritime climate, and that means, at least for this year, heavy spring snow.

So don't fight it. Instead, try a new approach and get back to basic snow travel: snowshoeing.

The oft-repeated saying goes, "If you can walk, you can snowshoe." And if you can snowshoe, you're also getting a great aerobic workout by burning up to 840 calories an hour, which is far more than you'd do running around Green Lake in a cold rain.

Chances are your lonely hiking guidebook is gathering undue dust on the bookshelf because the latest report called for snow on your doorstep. Don't despair: Snowshoes bridge the seasonal gap between end of winter and early spring.

When the base of a hiking trail is snow- free and hiking boot accessible, but the upper reaches of the route are still encased in snow (or when there's snow everywhere), strap a set of snowshoes to your day pack. Strap on the 'shoes when you begin to punch postholes in the snow, and keep on hiking over higher elevation snowfields. (The MSR Denali snowshoe, built in Seattle, is one of the best options; its hard-plastic design has serrated steel traction bars to make it all-terrain ready.)

The spring five (besides the standard 10 safety essentials) include: sunglasses and sunscreen—just in case the sun deigns to show its face, snow glare is very bright; lunch—nothing better than a backpack-cured sandwich; an Ensolite pad seat, to keep your butt warm and dry on the snow; literature, while lunch settles; and finally, a topographic map, so you can pick out the high peaks from your high-elevation vantage point.

Two tips: Park your car so it's pointed downhill, so as not to chance a dicey maneuver on a narrow logging road late in the afternoon, says Dan Nelson, author of Snowshoe Routes: Washington, a great source for winter and spring routes.

And check with ranger stations in the area you're headed to for up-to-date avalanche conditions, a serious concern with the unstable spring snowpack.


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