For years, I’ve dreamed of snowshoeing deep into the woods to cut down a wild Christmas tree. It sounds so much more exciting than going to the local tree farm or the grocery store to pick out a tree. This year, finally, my dream came true, but not without a few lessons learned.
Lesson #1: Trust the experts. We bought our permit at the local ranger station. (Only $10 for a tree up to 10 feet!) They gave us maps and warned that the roads could be nasty up high. When we arrived to hunt our tree the rangers strongly recommended we chain up because the road wasn’t plowed. We probably could have made it, but with the Junior Ambassadors and Mrs. Ambassador in the truck “probably” wasn’t good enough. It’s better to be prepared.
Lesson #2: Be prepared. Bring chains. Bring a shovel. Cold weather gear, food and snacks, a topo map (the ranger-provided maps were just photocopies), and everything you would need to spend the night in the woods. It’s not likely, but preparedness is all about… being prepared. And don’t forget the saw or axe. Or the rope. Or your Tubbs snowshoes.
Lesson #3: Scout your tree hunting grounds. We chose a spot that I’ve been to several times before so I was familiar with the type of trees that were there and the general conditions. The first time you go shouldn’t be when your car is loaded with kids.
Lesson #4: Be realistic. You’re going into the woods, not to a tree farm. Most trees don’t grow into perfect cones without a lot of help. Most of the wild trees you’ll find are going to be flawed in some way. Be prepared to accept a “corner tree” that only looks good on one side or one without a lot of coverage down low. Bonus: More room for presents.
Lesson #5: Don’t dismiss trees that are only a few yards from the car. There’s no rule that says you have to choose trees that are five miles in. Remember: The farther you go to get your tree the farther you have to haul it back. Cut the first tree you like and then go for a walk with your extra time. (If you do decide to go deep into the woods, bring a pulk or a sled with a rope to make the exit easier.)
Lesson #6: Make sure you have extra time. We made the mistake of leaving late (11:30am) and needing to be back early (2:30pm). Three hours sounds like a lot of time, but we were rushed and it didn’t need to be that way.
Lesson #7: Bring a way to measure the tree. I thought the tree we chose was about seven feet tall. Perfect. When it was cut and on the trail it looked closer to eight feet. By the time we got back to the truck (only three quarters of a mile away) I would have sworn it was 20 feet tall and weighed 150 pounds. It turned out to be almost exactly 10 feet tall, but clearly an objective means to measure it would have been handy.
Lesson #8: Make it a family affair. Not only did we have our family of five, we also dragged along the Ambassadors-in-law. If we could have fit more people in the truck we might have invited even more. For us, Christmas is all about family and having grandparents along made it much more festive.
Lesson #9: Be modest. The first time you go snowshoeing for a tree, don’t plan an epic adventure. We walked along a snow covered logging road, not a ridgeline trail. We chose a spot that was close to home even though there were no views. It was more important to avoid the long drive for the kids while we got our feet wet… er… snowy.
In the end, we had a great time and got a decent tree at an incredible price. Will we do it again next year? Probably. And even if we wind up at a tree farm I’ll still be able to say I’d done it this once.