For lovers of the outdoors (who might also be lovers, period), here's how to plan a Valentine-themed getaway for snowshoeing and wine tasting around Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge.
As three couples from Portland plowed together up Mount Hood’s steep slopes, giant, fluffy flakes fell through superchilled air. The group paused to take photos or take in the snow-laden evergreens and a few gulps of clean, frosty air.
Their reward was warmth, hot chocolate and the giant stone fireplace at Timberline Lodge — and the warmth that comes from exploring a winter wonderland together.
Erik Nelson and Darlene Law made up one of the couples. “He sent me a voucher at work and said, ‘Are you interested?’ I was like, ‘Sign me up!’ ” said Law, who was a snowboarder but had to take a break after an injury. Snowshoeing gives her a way to exercise in the outdoors without worrying as much about a major accident.
Their snowshoe excursion came after a morning spent touring the Columbia Gorge, about 6,000 feet below Timberline. The gorge has a slightly more refined luxury of its own, in the form of waterfalls, hikes, food and wine.
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In the spirit of this week’s Valentine’s Day, there’s plenty of winter left to take your sweetie on a trip that combines the outdoors and romance.
Get cold, then cozy
One of the Northwest’s best qualities is the number of places where you can be on the slopes in the morning, in a wine-tasting room in the afternoon, and staying at a top-notch lodge in the evening. Mount Hood is a quintessential example.
Because the charming town of Hood River, Ore., is so close to Mount Hood (depending on the weather, it’s about a half-hour drive, less if you’re headed to a closer resort such as Cooper Spur), you can snowshoe or go cross-country skiing in the morning and wine tasting that same afternoon.
Snowshoeing is the perfect low-key activity for couples, especially those whose skills or experience don’t quite match up. It’s easy to learn: like walking, but with your feet wider apart. You can snowshoe as long or as little as you want without shelling out for an all-day lift ticket.
And fortunately, piles of snow have finally arrived this winter, as they did on that day on Mount Hood, when the sky dumped about a foot of fresh powder on the mountain.
Don’t get hurt
Some tricks will make snowshoe mishaps less likely, says Jeff Pietka, who leads snowshoe expeditions on Mount Hood for a Seattle-based tour company, EverGreen Escapes. Dig in with your toes to get the full benefit of the cleats on the bottom of your snowshoes. While you’re traversing a particularly steep slope, point your toes uphill and walk sideways. “Snowshoes were made to go uphill,” Pietka says.
And most important: Don’t cross your steps or step on one snowshoe with the other.
Even if you fall, it’s no big deal. You’re not going 30 mph — and the deeper the snow, the softer the landing.
As Nelson and Law and the other couples learned from experience, if things get too steep, you can always sit, put your feet in the air and slide down a hill. This is especially fun in deep powder, which piles up underneath you and gives you a cushion at the bottom.
“I need to get more active because these 10 to 12 hours a day in front of my computer is really taking its toll,” Nelson said as he relaxed after the hike. “The gym is great, but I need to get out and do something different.”
Once you’ve worked off all those calories, Timberline Lodge is there to fortify you with hot cider or cocoa — or something stronger.
Even as the flakes fall up top, winemakers near Mount Hood are showcasing their wares down below. There are nearly 30 wineries along both sides of the Columbia Gorge, and while not all are open in February, there are enough to make for a full afternoon. Tasting rooms and good restaurants in downtown Hood River expand the possibilities.
Because the Columbia Gorge AVA (American Viticultural Area) — stretching from the relatively cool and rainy area around Hood River to the dry desert on the east side of the Cascades — encompasses such diverse territory and soil types, the region’s winemakers grow a surprising array of varietals. The rainy western section produces nice pinots and rieslings while the high-desert area produces full-bodied varietals such as zinfandel and syrah.
And when you’re done for the day, there’s a lot of romantic lodging nearby, including some options near the trails and others right along the Columbia River. If you want to stay at Timberline, make a reservation well in advance, as the lodge (celebrating its 75th anniversary this year) fills up quickly, especially on weekends.
Christy Karras is a Seattle-based freelance writer.