Fortunately, the learning curve for snowshoeing is short whether you're age 10 or past a certain age. It doesn't take long to understand why an experienced snowshoer adopts a reverent tone when describing the experience.
Yes, it's fun, inexpensive, an active outing, a good family experience, easy to learn, doesn't require a ski ticket or costly equipment, and can be a pulse-quickening activity.
But the reverent tone doesn't come from any of those positives. It comes from being a part of your surroundings like in no other outdoors sport, particularly if you don't have to -- or want to -- reach Destination X by a certain time.
It comes from snowshoeing in a snow-laden forest that has muffled all sound, including an occasional thud of a clump of snow falling off a tree limb, the sound of heavy breathing and the crunch of snowshoes.
It comes from feeling safely wrapped in a cocoon of white, far away from others whose chatter revolves around speed, the latest equipment purchase, or the latest tech toy.
I can go anywhere when I snowshoe, especially through a forest cathedral with gaps between trees too small for skis, snowboards or snowmobiles. When I snowshoe, a complex, contradictory world becomes simplified. I have time to think.
Guided outings: It's easy to take your first steps in snowshoes without making a major financial investment, thanks to ranger-guided outings in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest at Stevens Pass and Snoqualmie Pass.
It's the easiest way to get started, as well as a chance to learn about winter ecology, wildlife and area history on hikes in January through March.
The Forest Service provides the snowshoes, you provide layered and insulated clothes, hats and gloves, and a sense of adventure and humor.
To offset the costs of the program, a donation of $10 per person is suggested for all tours except the extended hike and the photography outing at Snoqualmie Pass ($20 requested).
Make reservations for Jan. 8 to Feb. 26 at Stevens Pass. Call the Skykomish Ranger District, 360-677-2414.
Introductory snowshoeing tours are at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
Snoqualmie Pass: The 90-minute walk and extended snowshoe trips run Jan. 8 to March 31, the winter photography and ecology outings Jan. 21 to March 31, and the Kids in the Snow program Feb. 4 to March 31.
Make reservations at 509-852-1062 before Jan. 2; and 425-434-6111 after Jan. 2.
The extended half-day hikes start at 9:30 a.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Winter photography and ecology outings run from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and are limited to six people.
Earn a Junior Ranger snow badge on the Kids in the Snow program at 1 p.m. Saturdays.
Mount Rainier: The national park also offers snowshoe walks. Rangers talk about how plants, animals and people adapt to challenging conditions. A $4 donation per person goes toward snowshoe purchase and maintenance.
The park concessionaire rents snowshoes (check at the Longmire General Store).
Daily snowshoe walks may begin as early as Dec. 17. After early January, the 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. outings are offered only on weekends and holidays.
The snowshoe walks last about two hours and cover 1˝ miles. There are no phone-in reservations. Sign up is on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Holiday shopping: A gift membership to the Washington Trails Association (www.wta.org) would be a contribution to a volunteer organization that has an extensive trail-maintenance program.
Choose a regular WTA membership that includes six issues of Washington Trails magazine, or a holiday membership that includes the magazine and a copy of Craig Romano's new book, "Backpacking Washington."
Correction: The Pilchuck Audubon Society's annual Christmas Bird Count for north Snohomish County will be held on Dec. 17. An incorrect date was given in this column on Dec. 3. The south county bird count will be held Dec. 26. For more information about the bird count, see www.pilchuck.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.
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