Snowshoe opportunities abound

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If you can walk, you can enjoy winter weather in the

great outdoors on a pair of snowshoes.

It just takes a few minutes for beginners to learn how to

maneuver on snowshoes enough for a gentle stroll through the

woods. Modern, lightweight snowshoes made of metal alloys or

plastic are a vast improvement on the old wooden frame and

leather shoes.

One of the best places for novices is just a few

minutes from the Snoqualmie Valley, a short trip up Interstate 90

to Snoqualmie Pass. And one of the best places to learn is from

rangers of the U.S. Forest Service.

Rangers give two snowshoe tours every Saturday and

Sunday from early January into April. Tours start at the

Snoqualmie Pass Visitors Center.

The Forest Service provides snowshoes and a ranger

who combines teaching with winter ecology lessons on the

two-hour tours, said Toby Hastie, ranger at Snoqualmie Pass.

"Our programs have been so popular that we have waiting

lists each weekend," Hastie said.

To reserve a space, call the visitors center from 8:30

a.m. until 4 p.m. Thursday-Sunday at (425) 434-6111.

If you can't join a tour, Hastie recommends three snowshoe

excursions in the Pass area. Each snow hike is in a place that

isn't prone to avalanches.

By contrast, some popular alpine hikes (like Snow

Lakes) can be extremely treacherous, even to those experienced

on showshoes, Hastie said.

Commonwealth Basin passes through a forest of fir and

hemlock and approaches steep mountains, while avoiding areas

prone to avalanches.

Follow the Pacific Crest Trail north (toward Kendall

Peak) from the parking lot on Alpental Road, just a quarter-mile from

I-90. The basin has streams, gullies and meadows to explore.

It's about 2-1/2 miles round-trip.

Gold Creek, just east of Snoqualmie Pass, offers

routes along a gentle valley floor. Travel north from Exit 54 to the

snow park. This hike offers great views of the surrounding peaks.

You can go up to six miles round-trip without much elevation gain.

"You're out in the open and get some great views,"

Hastie said.

The Summit's Nordic Center offers another choice. You

can find the Nordic Center at Exit 54. Some of the best routes are

available by chairlift to the top of the hill at Summit East.

At Snoqualmie Pass, both the Nordic Center and

the Snoqualmie Pass Trading Center (at Exit 53) rent snowshoes.

If you do go out, remember to dress in layers. You'll

get warm quickly as you move and cool nearly as quickly when

you stop. Make sure to wear a waterproof outer layer and

breathable inner layers. Don't forget sunglasses and sunscreen,

either. Make sure to bring a pack, with food, water, matches

and basic first-aid gear, plus room for the clothing you shed.

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