People have all sorts of utilitarian or recreational reasons for going snowshoeing. In Vanessa Schmautz’s case, it was her 26th birthday.
Schmautz and eight of her girlfriends from Missoula rented an Air B&B in Sandpoint and celebrated the occasion over the recent Martin Luther King holiday weekend with food, music and fun, including a hosted snowshoe tour at Schweitzer Mountain Resort.
“After this, we’re headed back to Sandpoint for brunch and a hot tub,” Schmautz said on Sunday to smiles of approval from her group.
Guided snowshoe treks are ideal for groups of mixed abilities. In this case, Schweitzer Activities Center guide Emily Renzini, of Spokane, assembled snowshoes and poles for those who needed them, assisted those who asked for help getting strapped into their snowshoes, delivered a few group pointers – and they were off.
“It’s not like skiing, where one person might be way better than another (in a group),” Renzini said. “Most people need only a few tips to get started.”
“The only thing that seems to catch some people by surprise is how fast they warm up when they start hiking on snowshoes,” said Danni Demmons, Activity Center manager. “It’s definitely more work than just hiking.”
Some in the Schmautz group had their own snowshoes while others were complete newbies who used Schweitzer gear. Everyone brought her own day packs for clothing, water and snacks.
And it seemed that everyone in the group had a mobile phone for one of the most thoroughly documented day trips in the history of digital photography.
Spokane Parks and Recreation also offers guided group tours to trail destinations as close as Antoine Peak and Newman Lake in Spokane Valley to more rigorous backcountry treks at Mount Spokane and Sherman Pass. The treks include guide and gear for $29-$49 per person depending on travel distance and amenities. Sometimes van transportation is provided. Special events also are offered, such as women’s only hikes and moonlight tours.
Custom private group trips can be booked through city outdoor recreation director Ryan Griffith to local Spokane-area trails, the reliably snow-covered trails at Mount Spokane State Park as well as other destinations.
Schweitzer Mountain offers a range of alternatives on well-signed trails that are usually packed by previous users. While snowshoeing is not allowed on the groomed Nordic skiing trails at Mount Spokane, Schweitzer’s groomed cross-country trails are multiuse and also open to snowshoers and snow bikers.
“You pretty much never have to break trail on the trail system,” Demmons said. “We ask snowshoers to stay to the side of the groom trails away from the skating lane an tracks set for cross-country skiing.”
Schweitzer’s one- to two-hour hosted hikes usually fall into three categories:
- Hermit’s Hollow trek, a dip into old growth forest that’s appealing whether it’s sunny or foggy on the mountain. In good weather, and depending on the group, the hike often extends to Picnic Point, four miles round-trip, for a breathtaking overlook of Lake Pend Oreille. Cost: $20, includes guide and gear.
- Summit trek, which includes round trip chairlift ride so all of the hiking is on the easier terrain of the top of the mountain. Booked on days of good visibility, snowshoers can see grand views over Lake Pend Oreille as well as into Washington, Montana and British Columbia. Cost: $30.
- Moonlight treks introduce snowshoers to the magic and quiet of winter woods in a cloak of darkness. While stars and moon may complement the experience, headlamps are provide along with snacks on the trail and hot soup, bread and hot drink and the Gourmandie upon return to the mountain village. Cost: $40.
People often join the hosted hikes for an introduction to the sport or because they don’t want to venture onto the trails alone, Demmons said.
“Some people have the gear but want help learning how to use it,” Renzini said. “We give everyone the option of using poles for balance especially in deep snow, but some like to go without them when they’re on packed or groomed trails.”
Once they feel more comfortable, snowshoers can plan their own treks on the 32 kilometers of designated snowshoeing trails on the mountain, including the Nordic trail system. Fees for the Nordic and snowshoe trail passes are $17 for adults and $14 for juniors. Snowshoe rental packages are $15-$20.
Dogs are not permitted on the Schweitzer snowshoe or Nordic trails. However, people heading out on their own will find dog-friendly trails nearby. Drive 1.9 miles down the Schweitzer Mountain Road from the resort to the roundabout and take the north branch to a parking area. The Selkirk Recreation District Trails, mostly designed for summer-fall mountain biking, offer good snowshoeing routes. No trail pass is required on these routes, which are well used. See online info at selkirkrecreationdistrict.com.
The hosted trek was ideal for the Schmautz birthday party group, which was game for adventure and some exercise to counter the food and drink of a celebration weekend.
Renzini, a 25-year-old Schweitzer guide who’s been exploring the mountain since she was 6, answered all of the group’s pretrek questions, including the top concern posed by several women who announced how much coffee they’d drank that morning.
“We’ll find the perfect tree if needed,” Renzini assured.
The trek flowed with Renzini seamlessly working in very short breaks to keep the group together, reveal mountain history and spell out some natural history as well.
“The trees with the bent over tops are Western hemlock,” she pointed out. “They’re the ones with the little cones that look like babies compared with those from other trees.”
She pointed out the two types of lichen in the trees, the tracks of snowshoe hairs in the snow and noted that moose occasionally roam through the area’s deep snow.
At a steep hill, she showed the hikers how to step down in a heel-to-toe gait to let the claws on the bottom of the snowshoes provide traction without tripping.
The women seemed to have a great time as they trekked, staying close for easy conversation and exploring far-ranging topics, such as the benefits of snowshoe yoga.
“I wonder if you can make snow angels while wearing snowshoes?” Schmautz said at one stretch of pillowy, unblemished powder.
The answer is definitely yes, as she proved before eight mobile phones instantly emerged to video and photograph the discovery.
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