We’ve been looking for ways to get outside during the winter months here in Oregon. We don’t get much snow at our elevation (1000 feet). Instead it’s an unrelenting cold rain which isn’t much fun for hiking or cycling. But, we do have easy access to snow with Mount Hood basically in our back yard (a 40 minute drive east).
I have been an downhill skier most of my life, so I assumed that XC skiing would be pretty similar and much more enjoyable than snowshoeing, which frankly sounded like a hard slog through the woods. Necessary to get where you needed to go, but not much fun.
However, our local REI offered a free snowshoe seminar before Christmas and we decided to check it out. The equipment was pretty impressive and a far cry from the giant tennis racket affairs I was remembered. Still, I wasn’t convinced that it would be easier or more fun than XC skiing.
With that in mind, the next weekend, we took an introductory XC lesson at Mt. Hood Meadows Nordic Center. The experience was eye-opening. While there were certainly aspects that I enjoyed, for the most part, the activity was not much fun. Turns out, all my bad habits from downhill really worked against me and I could tell it would be a long time for me to build the skill level needed to make it an activity I could look forward to. A bit disappointing, but I was willing to keep trying. Perhaps backcountry or telemark would be better…
Then, as luck would have it, REI sponsored a snowshoe clinic at the White River Junction SnoPark on Mount Hood. Tubbs, MSR and Atlas snowshoe vendors brought demo equipment to try out for free.
The weather was about as perfect as it could be, 16 degrees, sunny and windless with about 8 inches of new powder. We tried the 9 series from Atlas first (recommended by the presenter at the REI seminar) and I was shocked at how easy it was to move and how much fun it was to wander through the deep snow, off the beaten path into the woods. In fact, in many ways, it was easier than hiking because all the brush and rocks were buried under the snow. It was rather like floating a few feet above the ground. The cleats provided great traction and steep hill climbs were simple (the 10 series has climbing bars, extendable risers under the heel, which made the steep climbs even easier).
We wound up trekking about 2 miles up and back through the White River drainage. In the summer, this area looks like a bomb blasted moon scape because of the ash-laden whitewater snow run off. In the winter, it’s a welcoming, visually interesting valley filled with ridges, sledding hills and vales.
We had so much fun that we decided to get our own equipment. Just to be certain of the choice, we rented MSR snowshoes the next day from Otto’s in Sandy. We went back to the same place, but the snow was severely trampled and packed down by the crowds from the previous day. Still, we were able to find some powdery places for a fair comparison. The MSR snowshoes are a very different design and proved to be far less comfortable and surprisingly loud. Good thing our first experience was with the Atlas from the previous day. We still had fun, and covered a good 4 miles this time, venturing much further up the river valley than before.
There are other snowshoe manufacturers, and they all have their own take on design, but the Atlas approach appears to suit our needs best.