On a recent Friday night, I found myself huddled around a computer monitor with my three kids watching C-Span to see if my family would be snowshoeing or sledding in the morning.
The irony of watching a bunch of geriatric stooges shuffle around and chit-chat in the warm confines of the Capitol while I’m waiting to see if the ranger will be able to take us on a scheduled snowshoe hike the next day wasn’t lost on me. It was a bit confusing for the kids, though.
“What are these people doing?” my 10-year-old asked, tracing certain politicians’ paths as they walked back and forth to groups scattered around the room, no doubt chit-chatting about our country’s problems.
“Nothing,” I answered. “Absolutely nothing.”
Proving my point, as the clock struck 9 p.m. (midnight in D.C.), our country’s fearless leaders continued to mill around on the screen and the government officially shut down.
Earlier that day I’d received an email that if the government did indeed shut down, hordes of federal employees would not be showing up to work in the morning, including Kevin Green. I had been talking to the Skykomish Ranger District park ranger about a story on taking kids snowshoeing, but the shutdown blew up our opportunity and canceled the hike Green was scheduled to lead at Stevens Pass the next morning.
So I took it as an opportunity to unleash my inner Libertarian. We decided to get as far away as we could conceivably get from the other Washington and head north to Mount Baker for some non-government-sanctioned sledding. Suffice to say, the kids weren’t too disappointed; part of my hook for the snowshoeing story was encouraging whiny kids in snowshoes. There would be no need for cajoling with a promise of whisking down a snow-covered hill in an inner tube.
In the Puget Sound region the amount of snow this winter has been scant, which means I had to dig deep in the basement to get to the sleds and inner tubes. We packed up some snacks, warm clothes to change into and headed for Mount Baker.
The drive was a long, winding one, with a heavy snow presence taking up about the final 15 minutes as we neared the ski area. The amount of snow on Mount Baker is breathtaking. The mountain holds the record for annual snowfall at 95 feet for one 12-month period and, even in moderate years like this year, the snow banks that line the road and ring the parking areas are impressive.
Because of the large amount of snow and numerous stopping points along the road, Mount Baker is an ideal place to give kids a good snow fix. We slid into a parking spot among a lineup of cars where Highway 542 splits just after The Chalet at Mount Baker. A pair of lakes, Highwood and Picture, create natural basins for sledding, and there was a large crowd of young families sledding down the varied size embankments around Highwood Lake. (Note: There are a bunch of snowshoe trails in the vicinity, so I packed the snowshoes as a threat.)
As a father with bills to pay, the best part about sledding at Mount Baker is it’s free fun. Just bring a sled or inner tube and jump into the fray. We started on some small hills with the little ones and then moved over to a larger, more crowded hill to give the oldest kids some thrills.
Because it was Saturday, it was crowded on the mountain. Snow fell hard the entire time as kids dragged saucer sleds to and fro, often sinking up to their hips in snowdrifts. Parents all seemed to be either gleefully shouting or consoling little ones who had wiped out. Because my wife is a great planner and packed well, we all had a great couple of hours in the snow before retiring to our car to enjoy hot cocoa, snacks and a warm interior.
As Charlie and I went down the larger hill for the final time, I looked out into the far distance and imagined a certain group of our nation’s leaders huddled in their underwear in the snow. Maybe we could just leave them out there shivering, I thought. I bet they’d come up with a solution then for once in their lives.
Places to sled
Mount Baker near Picture Lake: Head for Milepost 55 and look for The Chalet at Mount Baker. There’s plenty of parking where Highway 542 splits near Picture Lake. The tubing area is free. No restroom, tube rentals or rope tow. Just remember there’s no sledding in the Mount Baker Ski Area. Travel time from Everett: 130 minutes.
The Summit Tubing Center: For more structured tubing fun, head to Snoqualmie Pass. The tubing center has numerous designated tubing areas and lifts. But you’ll pay, with tickets ranging from $5 to $28 (price includes tube rental). Open from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.summitatsnoqualmie.com/activities/tubing. Travel time: 80 minutes.
Mount Rainier at Paradise: A pair of groomed tubing runs are located near the north parking lot at Paradise. Bring your own sleds or inner tubes and it’s free with payment of a park entry fee. Open daily until 4:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/mora. Travel time: 160 minutes.
Lt. Michael Adams Tubing Park, Leavenworth: Glide down the 100-foot tubing run named in honor of an Army officer killed in Iraq in 2004. There’s a rope tow and tubes are provided. Cost is $17 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., or $15 at all other hours. For more information, visit skileavenworth.com/activities/lt-michael-adams-tubing-park. Travel time: 120 minutes.