by Mitch Kaplan
You can slide, stride or ride to your heart’s content, but mountain resorts are far from limited to the traditional downhill or cross-country adventures these days. Here’s a look at a few spots that offer some unique snowshoe adventures.
Mad River Glen Family Snowshoe Adventures
We’ve long said that the beauty of snowshoeing is that the only required skill is the ability to walk. But, there’s more. Snowshoers move at a pretty mild pace. That means the ability to explore the immediate surroundings in a way that fast-moving snowsliders can’t. I’m reminded of the toddler who not only can’t see the forest for the trees, but stops to look at every bug and crack in the sidewalk.
Mad River Glen’s Family Snowshoe Adventure program covers "real easy terrain," as Sean Lawson, their Naturalist Program Director, puts it, "with hikes lasting from 1.5 to two hours. The idea is to "learn about Vermont’s forests and wildlife." The programs facilitate ages five and up. Hikes cover a bit less than a mile, but the route can be adapted for the group. "If we have really young kids who might not go that far, we shorten the route. We’re flexible," Lawson notes.
Traveling along the Snowshoe Hare Trail, the hike follows a wooded loop on the lower part of the mountain with only a bit of climbing - about a 300 feet elevation gain for entire trail. Depending on the participants and the conditions, snowshoers seek animal tracks, explore the hardwood forests for the major tree species (the sugar maples that make Vermont famous, American Beech trees, etc.) and search out evidence of black bear, porcupine and moose.
On family hikes, the naturalists bring along three sets of cards: animal cards with a picture and drawing of that animal’s tracks; wildlife tracking cards, with animal tracks and their measurements for kids and adults to assess any tracks they find; and a set of bird cards, with names and pictures. “We make a lot of fun and informative stops along the way,” Sean says. “Each program a bit different depending on what’s out there that day.”
The program costs $20 for adults, $15 for children 12 and under, and $50 for a family of two parents and their kids. Snowshoes can be rented for $5. This season’s dates: Dec. 12; Jan. 2 and 16; Feb. 5, 26; March 19, - all at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. No advance reservations are necessary.
For the more hearty with older kids, Full Moon and Night Hikes are also conducted for which reservations are recommended. And, Outbound Snowshoe Adventures are staged on Saturdays. These are all-day intermediate to advanced rambles on backcountry hiking trails and the Long Trail for ages 15 and up, including lunch, transportation, snowshoes and poles. Advanced reservations are necessary. Price: $50. For more see www.madriverglen.com/naturalist .
Recommended footwear for all hikes: an insulated hiking boot, or winter boot, over the ankle to keep snow out and give good support.
Among the other resorts offering naturalist-led snowshoe hikes:
Gunstock, New Hampshire. offers a Beginner Nature Tour, a guided nature snowshoe hike through the woods and on the boardwalk, Saturdays at 11:30 a.m.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Hole Hiking Experience offers a half-day tour designed for all levels of physical ability with healthy snacks provided. 866-733-4453
Vail, Colorado. Guided snowshoe adventures on the top of Vail Mountain with the staff of the Nature Discovery Center. Hikes leave from Adventure Ridge and are most enjoyable for adults and children over 12. Price: $10 Suggested donation to the Gore Range Natural Science School.
Monarch Ski Area, Colorado. The Adventure Snowshoe Tour is for all ages and abilities. Includes transportation, all equipment - snowshoes, poles, gaiters, fanny packs and water and a picnic lunch. A moderate workout with 4-6 hours on the trail. Info: 719-530-0914.
Whistler, British Columbia. Whistler Cross Country Ski & Hike stages 1.5-hour “Discover!”, through the Whistler Valley, with snowshoeing tips and a look at the natural wonders along the way. Daily, 9 a.m., 11 a.m. & 1 p.m. 604-932-7711.
...... Mitch Kaplan
is the author of The Unofficial Guide to the Mid-Atlantic with Kids, The Cheapskate’s Guide to Myrtle Beach and The Golf Book of Lists. He is a contributor to The Unofficial Guide to New England & New York with Kids and to the annual guide Ski America & Canada.