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Guide to Winter Hiking

Wellness Feature

Written by Lauren Hunsberger

Photograhy by Andrew Valantine

Pick a trail

There are two types of winter hiking trails: a bare trail (like a flat river walk) or snow- and ice-covered routes (found at higher elevations). “The biggest difference is if you’re going to be in the snow, there is slightly different gear you need, more technical gear,” says hiking guide Anna Roth. “My best recommendation is to understand the terrain you’re going on. Research the trail on WTA.org, read the hiking description and get a sense of what the trail is like. Also, it’s important to remember that just because a trail has bare ground in the beginning, doesn’t mean there isn’t snow up higher.”

Insider tip

“If you want to maximize your time in the winter, be prepared to drive to or from the trailhead in the dark. Or just pick a shorter hike. There’s a lot less daylight on the whole.”

 

Pack the right gear

Winter gear for all types of trails still focuses on the classic 10 essentials, just a heartier version. “To be safe, always prep for snow and ice. Bring some sort of traction device,” Roth says. Her go-to traction supports are Microspikes and poles. Snowshoes are only needed in soft or deep snow. “I always carry extra layers of clothing too. I find if I don’t use them, someone in the group will.”

Insider tip

“My favorite thing is to carry thermoses of warm drinks. Not just hot chocolate either. I love a savory drink, so I pack broth. It can provide a few more calories and some good nutrients.”

 

Educate yourself

If you plan to go snowshoeing or reach a higher elevation, Roth stresses the importance of understanding where avalanche risks exist and how to spot them. She suggests taking the Avalanche Awareness class hosted by REI or going one step further and attending a course with the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education. Lastly, Roth suggests reading up on the local trails. “There’s a very useful piece on our website titled: ‘Does Your Favorite Summer Trail Sport an Avalanche Shoot? How to Know and Where to Go’ Awareness is really important.”

Insider tip

“One nifty thing on WTA.org is a direct link to the weather for the trailhead of that hike. It’s next to the driving directions. It’s really helpful if you don’t know how to read snow reports.”

 

WTA recommendations

There are extensive lists of trail options on the website for all levels, but Roth has a few unexpected favorites of her own. “Probably my go-to thing in the winter is a river walk. I’m from southwestern Washington, and I love the coast and lowland rainforest trails in the winter. It’s such interesting terrain that time of year. If I want a more challenging hike, I put together a long loop in the Issaquah Alps. I just don’t have a strong pull to do a 13-hour snowshoe, so I do high mileage in the alps.”

Insider tip

“There are so many other good resources on the site, like tips on hiking with kids in the winter, snowshoe recommendations and recipes for stuff to put in your thermos.”

 

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