Looking for some winter fun beyond snowboarding or downhill skiing? Washington offers all sorts of other snow play, from snowshoeing and cross-country skiing to snowmobiling, dog-sledding and tubing.
The Washington State Sno-Parks program makes access to all that easy by providing plowed parking areas from which groomed (and some backcountry) trails begin. But navigating the permit system takes some savvy.
About 120 Sno-Parks are scattered through the state along main roads. Many are designated for snowmobiles only (with more than 3,000 miles of groomed trails); others are for nonmotorized use only (with about 300 miles of groomed trails for cross-county skiers, snowshoers, etc.), while a few combine both.
There’s a cluster of Sno-Parks off Interstate 90 near Snoqualmie Pass, including Hyak and Cabin Creek, where I’ve happily gone cross-country skiing for years through the woods (and some trails at Cabin Creek are groomed for skate-skiers). As a novice snowmobiler, I zoomed off from a Blewett Pass Sno-Park and almost took my snowmobile over the edge off an icy, sidehill-clinging trail.
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Compared with downhill skiing and boarding, Sno-Parks are economical. A one-day Sno-Park permit is $20.
The real deal is the all-season permit (Nov. 1 to April 30), which costs $40 if purchased online through the state parks website (permits are $2 more if purchased through a vendor, which includes REI stores).
But it gets more complicated. At eight popular Sno-Parks, including Cabin Creek, Hyak and Lake Wenatchee, an additional “special groomed trails” seasonal permit ($40 online or $42 through a vendor) is required. Those buying a one-day Sno-Park permit must also buy a one-day state parks Discover Pass or use a seasonal Discover Pass if heading to such areas.
Get the details on Washington Sno-Park locations and permits at parks.wa.gov/winter. And a bit of good news: Washington Sno-Park permits are accepted at snow parks in Oregon and Idaho.
Some communities offer extensive cross-country ski trails, especially in the Methow Valley, which has one of the best nordic-trail systems in the nation. Seemvsta.com.
Leavenworth also has groomed cross-country trails near town:leavenworth.org.
Mount Rainier National Park is perennially popular for sledding (in a designated area) and also for ranger-guided snowshoe walks and backcountry skiing/boarding: nps.gov/mora.
The Summit at Snoqualmie offers gentle cross-country loops at its base and extensive cross-country trails at the top of the lifts. summitatsnoqualmie.com/
Before you go play in the snow, check mountain road conditions around the Pacific Northwest. Here’s how:
Washington: wsdot.wa.gov or phone 511.
Oregon: tripcheck.com or phone 511 (within Oregon) or 503-588-2941 (from outside Oregon).
Idaho: 511.idaho.govor phone 511 (in Idaho) or 888-432-7623 (outside the state).
British Columbia: drivebc.caor 800-550-4997.
At some point, you’re bound to be driving on icy or snowy roads. Here are winter driving tips, gleaned from the Washington Department of Transportation and AAA.
• Drive more slowly. Keep your headlights on. Leave more space between vehicles, since stopping takes longer on snow or ice.
• Those of you with four-wheel and all-wheel drive vehicles: Slow down. On ice you can’t stop more quickly nor steer better than anyone else.
• Make sure you have chains and that they fit your tires. Practice putting them on before you’re up in the mountains.
• Winterize your vehicle: Check your battery, antifreeze, defroster and wipers.
• Be prepared for delays /road closures because of poor conditions or avalanche control. Have extra water, food and blankets/heavy clothes and a good flashlight in your car. Carry emergency flares in case of a breakdown.
Kristin Jackson: email@example.com