By Brandon Fralic
When the lowlands succumb to sogginess and the highlands are buried in snow, there’s one thing that gets me through Northwest winters: beer. Warmer winter brews provide comfort from the cold. And because moderate outdoor activity effectively cancels out the calories – with the added benefits of fresh air and sunlight – I’m making an effort to get out more before imbibing this winter season. My solution? Snowshoes and brews.
To break into this low-impact winter hobby, rent or buy some snowshoes from your local shop. First-timers needn’t worry about the learning curve – most folks pick snowshoeing up with little effort; it’s essentially walking with extra-large shoes in the snow. Stay out of groomed ski tracks and you’ll be set. Here are a few easy pairings for the beginner snowshoe and brew enthusiast.
Mt. Baker: Salmon Ridge Sno-Park + The North Fork Brewery
Cost: $20 for one-day Sno-Park permit (or $40 seasonal permit)
There’s no need to drive far for snowy excursions. Follow Highway 542 for 46 miles east of town to reach Salmon Ridge Sno-Park, located across the road from Silver Fir campground. Don’t be surprised if the snow is more than a foot high in the parking lot. With nearby Mt. Baker Ski Area holding the world record for snowfall in a season (1,140 inches, winter 1998-1999), this little riverside park can really get dumped on.
Salmon Ridge Sno-Park is mostly flat, making it the perfect jaunt for beginners and families. Walk alongside groomed cross-country ski trails down to the north fork of the Nooksack River, taking care to stay out of ski tracks. Snowshoers can make their own paths through the deep snow. There’s nothing quite like breaking trail here on a bluebird day – the sounds of the river, wind, and snow falling from massive Douglas fir, hemlock and cedar trees above.
Post ‘shoe, drive 26 miles back towards Bellingham for brews at The North Fork Brewery. Weekenders are advised to show up early, as this place will be hopping with the ski crowd by 4 p.m. Warm up with whatever barleywine is on tap – there’s always a high alcohol ale at the Fork. For the even more adventurous, barrel-aged sours may be this beer shrine’s finest offering. Besides the pizza, of course.
Leavenworth: Waterfront Park Trails + Icicle Brewing
Cost: Street parking. Snowshoeing is free
When the snow is abundant, it’s possible to snowshoe from trail to taproom in Leavenworth. And that’s exactly what you should do. Begin at Waterfront Park – just a couple blocks from Icicle Brewing Company. Strap on snowshoes if the powder is plentiful, or simply take a walk on well-packed trails if it isn’t. The way runs south from Waterfront Park, across forested Blackbird Island to Enchantment Park – following the Wenatchee River all the while. The two-mile trail network offers a few flat, easy loops for skiers, walkers and snowshoers.
Few towns in the state are more lively than Leavenworth. A festive feeling, fueled by a constant rotation of Bavarian-themed events and mountain magic, follows you into the taproom. Take the chill off at Icicle Brewing Company with a pint of Dark Persuasion, a luxurious German chocolate cake ale. Snacks and small plates are available, but if you’re famished head down the street to Icicle’s sister business, Munchen Haus, for unfussy German sausages served in a heated outdoor biergarten. Prost!
Whistler/Blackcomb: Lost Lake + Brewhouse
Cost: $5/day for parking in Village Day Lots 4 & 5
Best known for its world-class ski slopes, Whistler/Blackcomb also caters to snowshoers with plenty of walking trails. The most convenient snowshoes-to-brews route begins in Whistler Village, with a trek out to Lost Lake. From parking lots 4 and 5, you can take the Valley Trail out to Lost Lake Trail, loop around the lake, stow your shoes in the car and head across the street to the Brewhouse. The trail network is extensive, offering endless options for an hour or a full day of exploration. Back at the Brewhouse, enjoy pub grub and a Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics-inspired 5 Rings IPA while watching the tiny train pass overhead.
Speaking of trains, for an alternative adventure from Whistler’s Function Junction, snowshoe out to the Whistler Train Wreck – a traincar graveyard in the woods. Follow it up with arguably the best beer in Whistler at Coast Mountain Brewing. Their farmhouse ales are fantastic.
Guided ranger walks
The US Forest Service offers ranger-guided snowshoe walks throughout Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest during winter. Excursions include Avalanche Awareness Walks, Winter Photography Outings, and “Kids in the Snow” among others. From north to south, these outings are offered by the Glacier, Darrington, Stevens Pass and Snoqualmie Pass ranger stations. An excellent value for beginners, these guided walks include snowshoe rentals for a suggested donation of $15-$25 per person.
To make reservations, search for “Guided Snowshoe Walks” at: fs.usda.gov/main/mbs/home.
Based in Bellingham, Brandon Fralic writes about Pacific Northwest trails, ales and travel for a handful of regional publications. brandonfralic.com