I (Heart) Snowshoeing A family falls for a Cascade winter By Erin Pursell
Crunch, crunch: The author and her family test their newfound snow- tromping skills in the Cascade Mountains near Seattle.
DAD DASHES BACK TO THE CAR with a bottle of SPF 70. "If you burn easily," he announces, "I've got you covered."
The windshield wipers beat. Our fleece is zipped to our chins. "It's raining," my mother says, fighting to keep the corners of her mouth neutral as she settles into the passenger seat. My boyfriend, Stephen, and I can't look at each other we're laughing so hard.
We're heading from Seattle to the central Cascade Mountains for a day of snowshoeing at Meany Lodge, a 1920s-era skiing outpost on 54 acres of private land that remain untouched by the throngs of Northwestern skiers ripping and flailing down Snoqualmie Pass's nearby runs.
Part of what makes Meany alluring is that you can't get there by car. At the start of the partially groomed trail, equipped with essential supplies including a brownie the size of a small bread loaf, we drop our snowshoes into a tangled pile, then stare at them. Dad, thick lines of sunscreen tracing his jawline, is the first to take up the challenge, and for five minutes we are entertained by the thrashing dance of a man attempting to fasten contraptions that resemble tennis rackets to size-15 feet.
Once we all have our shoes on, we decide they're not nearly as awkward as they look. Our steps, however, sound like a tank battalion clattering into battle until we acclimate to the rhythm and quiet down enough to let the tranquility of the surroundings emerge.
Hemlocks and silver firs poke through the white as if gasping for air. A bird rustles a branch and snow flutters down, dusting my eyelashes. Stephen squeezes my gloved hand, firing a jolt of elation that reminds me I'm in love.
Mom gracefully trailblazes to the top of a hill. Trying to keep up, Dad lifts his knees so high it looks like he's tiptoeing through mud. At the top, Mom stops to let us catch up, then free-falls onto her back and makes snow angels. Stephen and I join in, transported to childhood years when the icy flakes that crept under the deepest wool layers were easier to ignore. Dad provides Olympics-style commentary on our form.
It takes us three hours to meander three miles through dense forest to the lodge. Just before it comes into view, we stand in a row on the ridge and look north, at the peak of Mt. Margaret and the Yakima River snaking through the valley below. My dad strikes a cliché pose--an explorer scouting uncharted territory, his hand above his brow shielding the sun that still hasn't managed to break through the clouds. When we finally arrive at Meany, it does feel as if the miles we've moved forward have taken us back in time.
Where to Go: Meany Lodge starts its winter operations on December 26; it's open Friday through Sunday evenings and longer on holidays.
To get there, drive east from Seattle on I-90. Take Exit 62 and turn right toward Stampede Pass, then head south to the Crystal Springs Sno-Park and park on the left. Guests can snowshoe or ski in or catch a lift on the lodge's snowcat. A Washington State Parks Sno-Park permit and groomed-trails permit are required; you can buy them at REI or from the snowmobile driver.
For additional information, including more-detailed directions, an event calendar, and a packing list, visit meanylodge.org or call (360) 886-1217.
Meany is the oldest continuously operating ski lodge in Washington State, warm and comfortable in a lived-in way with the smell of musk mixing with the aroma of a strange meaty stew. Noisy kids roughhouse between long, wooden tables. The walls sport vintage posters of skiers strapped onto long boards with bear-trap bindings. Regulars, clad in old-school down and wool, sprawl on beat-up couches that smell like Grandma's house. Many, brags one character in flip-flops, bought their duds at Value Village, a thrift emporium: "We save our stylish gear for Whistler."
The walk back is quieter. I see more. The icepack above a stream, reduced to a trickle by the cold, glows blue in the diffused afternoon light. Mom still leads the way; Dad lags behind to chat up the photographer. Every few steps Stephen and I look at each other and stop for a kiss.
Back at the car, we dump the snowshoes in a muddy pile. I'm sweaty and tired; even my belly feels worn out from laughing. As Dad fiddles with the stereo, I give thanks for my parents, for an outing I can share with them just an hour from our home, for suddenly sleepy Stephen, on whose shoulder I rest my head, and for the giant brownie we've finally busted open as our reward for the hard work of having so much fun.
Erin Pursell is a Seattle-based writer, editor, and yoga and Pilates instructor.