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Bellingham
Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Hiking in a winter wonderland

Western students enjoy the colorful trails and lakes when the days are warmer, but the current frost and snow blanketing the paths bring more opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.

Pat Kennedy, the market coordinator for Bellingham REI and a self-proclaimed “winter junkie,” said this is his favorite winter in his 11 years living here.

“It’s colder than usual, snowier than usual, drier than usual,” Kennedy said.

With a year like this, students have an opportunity to explore outdoor activities like winter hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

“If you’re a summer hiker, you’re just adding some insulating layers.”

Pat Kennedy

Junior Grace Schmidt works at Mt. Baker Ski Area and enjoys how winter sports give her a reason to go outside in the tough Bellingham winter. Schmidt said she is happier if she spends time outside.

“There are some great people [in the winter sports community],” Schmidt said. “I’ve met a lot of really good friends through the Mt. Baker Ski Area.”

Marissa Unick snowshoes through deep snow along the Park Butte trail Saturday, Jan 30, 2016. // Photo by Alex Powell
Marissa Unick snowshoes through deep snow along the Park Butte trail Saturday, Jan 30, 2016. // Photo by Alex Powell

If students try winter hiking, Kennedy recommends trails in the Chuckanut Mountains. The most popular place for snowshoeing is Artist Point, and Salmon Ridge Sno-Park is the best place for cross-country skiing, Kennedy said.

“Salmon Ridge is probably the most underserved of the three mentioned and about an hour away,” Kennedy said. “[It’s] popular because it is very groomed and not avalanche terrain.”

Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing is great, yet those interested need to be aware of what the right trails are and if there’s avalanche danger, Schmidt said.

Avalanche gear alone can be $500, which someone would need during back-country snow travel or in avalanche terrain, Kennedy said. Hiking is the winter sport with the lowest cost of entry and the least amount of gear required.

“If you’re a summer hiker, you’re just adding some insulating layers,” Kennedy said.

It’s important to be careful out in the snow. You should always travel with someone, and tell somebody else where you are going and when you’re coming back, Kennedy said. This is important since many places locally won’t have cell reception.

Schmidt’s experience with spotty service also taught her that lesson.

“There isn’t good cell service along Mt. Baker Highway for most of the drive. If you end up coming back late and something happens to your car, the chance of staying overnight is pretty high,” Schmidt said.

Those interested in winter outdoor activities should prepare for winter cold exposure, Kennedy said.

Whatcom Community College student Marissa Unick basks in a snowstorm along the Park Butte trail Saturday, Jan 30, 2016. // Photo by Alex Powell
Whatcom Community College student Marissa Unick basks in a snowstorm along the Park Butte trail Saturday, Jan 30, 2016. // Photo by Alex Powell

“Your first-aid kit might adjust a little bit,” Kennedy said. “Your kit changes to, ‘what do I need to bring for hypothermia?’”

Hand warmers, space blankets, a headlamp with fresh batteries, synthetic or wool clothing, a puffy jacket, extra gloves and a snow shovel are all items to bring in case something goes wrong and you’re stuck overnight, Kennedy said.

By digging into the snow, someone can make a snow cave that can be as warm as 40 degrees, Kennedy said.

Schmidt mostly has gone cross-country skiing in Leavenworth. She has a list of items she brings with her whenever doing winter sports.

“I have a container of dehydrated food, water and walkie-talkies,” Schmidt said. “I always have my snowshoes in my car just in case.”

Winter sport options and equipment rentals are available at Mt. Baker, REI and Western’s Outdoor Center.

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