While the Polar Vortex has most of the U.S. in a deep freeze and some places are getting feet of snow, the West has only 25-50% of its normal snowpack. Snoqualmie Pass, an immensely popular ski resort 50 miles east of Seattle has only 10″ of snow and is more than a month behind its 75 year average opening date. With so little snow you might expect our snowshoes would still be hanging in the garage.
Snowshoes provide two critical functions. The best known is floatation. That is, the ability to stay on top of the snow. When you don’t sink you don’t need to work as hard and don’t risk injury when you posthole or drop through the crust.
The second and sometimes overlooked function is traction. Crampons, the teeth on the bottom of the ‘shoes, bite into the snow to prevent slipping. Or in the case of late December in the Pacific Northwest, they help grip the ice.
My Junior Ambassadors had cousins in town for the holidays and they really wanted to take them snowshoeing. After a few early season trips to the mountains where we found no snow or solid ice, I was relieved to hear the Snow Lake Trail at least had some snow. It was packed hard and really slick in some places, but it was snow and that’s what we were looking for.
Right away, it was clear the traction from the kids’ snowshoes, Tubbs FLEX Jrs, was going to be critical. As a grown up Ambassador, I figured I wouldn’t need any traction. After all, I’ve hiked and climbed all over. I was wrong. While the kids moved quickly up the trail I was struggling to keep up. Even my three year old niece was outpacing me.
The kids’ ‘shoes have metal crampons that run lengthwise to prevent sidewise slipping as well as teeth on the binding under the toes for climbing . There are also ridges molded into the plastic that help prevent them from sliding backward.
We continued for about a mile and a half before we came to a spectacular view of Chair Peak above the dense forest. We decided to stop for lunch and the kids climbed about 20 feet above the trail. Those of us without snowshoes postholed as we followed, but the views made up for it.
If the way in was icy, the way out was downright treacherous. Slipping uphill wound me up with my hands on the slope in front of me. Slipping while descending landed me on my bum, much to the delight of the kids.
Clearly, I should have brought my snowshoes. It’s a lesson neither I, nor my bum, will soon forget.