Our family loves downhill skiing. My husband and I grew up doing it. It’s one of the few sports where we keep pace with our three boys and our middle-aged egos remain intact.
But enough friends (as well as my active parents) had raved about snowshoeing that it had piqued my interest. When we received snowshoes as a gift from my husband’s sisters — whose kids are slightly older and therefore cool — we decided to try it.
This first time we took the snowshoes out over winter break, our boys’ interest stemmed mostly from curiosity: What kid (or adult for that matter) doesn’t like to take their new holiday toys for a spin? Turns out, snowshoeing offers a few things skiing and boarding don’t. And while our 7-, 12- and 14-year-old boys didn’t come away with YouTube-worthy GoPro videos, here are five reasons why snowshoeing is worth working into your winter calendar.
1. You can snowshoe even in cruddy conditions
Going into the holidays, our sons had been begging to go skiing but with the Summit at Snoqualmie areas and Crystal Mountain closed much of December that year, we had been skunked. So we grabbed our snowshoes and like good snow-chasers, two days after Christmas, we headed to Mt. Baker, usually one of the snowiest ski areas in the country.
My parents know that area well so we picked the Heather Meadows base lot, at the edge of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Usually when we are driving in that area, at some point we start to see snow. At that point, the kids’ arguing usually ceases and our moods are lifted. In our family, snowflakes are like happy pills.
But that day we didn’t see flakes. We were this close to turning around. But we stuck with the plan. And I’m glad we did, because as we quickly found, after getting drenched putting on the equipment for the first time, one bonus of snowshoes is that you can go over everything. Marginal snow conditions do not have to be an excuse for staying indoors!
One helpful tip I had read beforehand: ParentMap writer and snowshoe-fan Kristen Russell speaks to rules of etiquette on trails groomed for Nordic skiers: Snowshoers should stay on the side. “The smooth center part is actually groomed for snow skaters, and they will not be happy to find a family tearing up their track.” So we stayed to the side of where skiers were coming down the mountain.
If Mother Nature cooperates and we get lucky enough to be blanketed in powder, snowshoeing will be even better. Not far up the mountain, my kids’ calls of “Over here, over here, fresh snow!” reminded us that making new tracks feels pretty good.
2. Snowshoeing is cheap
We were fortunate to get our snowshoes as a gift. Still, at $15–$20 per person for rentals, this is as inexpensive a way to get your family into the wintry mountains as you will find. There are no lift tickets, and parking at Washington State SnoPark lots for non-motorized activities (for locations click here) are $20 a day, or $40 for a seasonal pass which is transferable between vehicles. Discover Passes, which offer access to Washington's State Parks parking lots, cost $10 for one trip or $30 annually.
The ski clothes we already had were totally adequate. The only thing we needed were hiking boots, something we use anyway. For families not wanting to invest in snow pants, layers underneath jeans would be fine, just add in gaiters to keep pant legs dry.
Strolling through the REI in Tacoma, one of the managers Courtney Randazzo reminded me, “This is a sport where you can really take advantage of what your kids already have.” Ahhhh, I’m relaxing already.
3. Connect with nature instead of racing through it
While downhill skiing gets us out in the fresh air, the lift lines and crowded ski runs mean we don't quietly appreciate the beauty and rawness of nature. It’s why Thierry Werderitis of Fairhaven Bike and Ski in Bellingham tells me backcountry sports have taken off in popularity. “People want to get out of bounds, they crave getting away from it all.”
Since snowshoeing is basically a slightly awkward walk, my parents offered a few helpful tips on technique but that was all we needed to set off. Being competitive brothers, my boys quickly challenged each other up the highest hills and figured out how to run in snowshoes.
But after that burst of energy, they settled into walking pace where they could see trees as towering and majestic rather than as gates to ski around. In slow motion, rather than speeding by, they saw the depth (and danger) of tree wells. And they studied the sky and clouds, the direction of the breeze and raindrops.
So they felt when the temperature dropped enough for the rain to flip to small flakes, and then it felt like we were a part of a winter. Call me a bad mom, but I was okay when they took out their smartphones to take a picture of it.
4. Connect with your kids instead of your electronics
Over the years, I have interviewed Julie Metzger of Great Conversations and taken to heart her advice about having many, short talks with your kids shoulder to shoulder, not face to face. While snowshoeing, we were burning calories but we were hardly out of breath. It is perfect for easy conversation.
It’s easier to chat nonchalantly about friendships, teachers, girls (God forbid!) when interspersed with, “Is anyone ready for a snack break?” My parents, who do day-long snowshoe expeditions, could share stories of their different hikes, the peaks they had seen and the people they go with.
5. It's an experience for the ages… all ages
We all want to go again, find even better snow and snowshoe for longer. I’m tempted to let the kids and my parents plan the next trip and take myself right out of it, because now this is something they can own. My kids are lucky to have healthy grandparents and this is a physical activity that takes advantage of that; snowshoeing bridges the generational gap.
We had tasty pizza and and drinks at The North Fork Beer Shrine in Deming on our way back down, sharing war stories. My kids may not report back to their friends on the killer run or ride they had snowshoeing. But as we think about our next trip, I can see that our snowshoe memories may be more lasting.