The Nordic Center at White Pass Ski Resort, 22 miles west of Packwood, Washington, offers snowshoeing and cross-country skiing for adults and kids of all ages and abilities. With elevations starting at 4,500 feet and over 11 miles of well-groomed trails, the Nordic Center's snowshoe and cross-country trail system meanders through the rolling, wooded terrain of the Wenatchee and Gifford Pinchot National Forests.
Once you arrive at White Pass, you'll want to head over to the Nordic Center's yurt, just above the Nordic Center trailhead. There you can pick up a complimentary map of the snowshoe and cross-country trail system, rent snowshoes, cross-country skis, and book lessons. The Nordic Center yurt is open Thursday through Sunday and holidays from November through April, depending on snow and weather conditions.
My husband Erik, our two-year-old son Finn, and I arrived at the Nordic Center on a bright, sunny morning. After we strapped on our rented snowshoes, we loaded up a warm and well-bundled Finn into his bright blue backpack carrier. Then we snowshoed over to the center's practice loop for a couple of laps to warm up before we headed down a short hill to the trailhead.
When you reach the trailhead you have two wide trails to choose from. This is where the center's main loop, also known as the Lake Loop, starts and finishes. The trail on your left is more difficult and heads uphill before curving east around the lake. The right trail curves around the lake's south side and is an easier, flatter trail, which is great for beginning snowshoers and families with young kids. The Lake Loop encircles the frozen Leech Lake and is 2.3 kilometers long or just under 1.5 miles.
From the Lake Loop, you can connect with nine other trails and loops that meander through the hills and forested areas beyond the lake. These are the more difficult trails, preferable for intermediate and advanced snowshoers and Nordic skiers. All the trails are double-tracked, wide and well-groomed with an eight foot lane in the center for cross-country skiing and skate skiing. For snowshoers there are two walking lanes running along the outside of all the cross-country trails.
You'll also find a snowshoe-only trail consisting of two loops connected by a long single trail. The first loop follows Leech Lake's frozen banks, running along the inside of the Nordic Center's main Lake Loop, while the second loop, called the Falls Loop, lies several miles beyond the lake. The Snowshoe Trail's route changes seasonally, so be sure to check in first with the friendly folks at the Nordic Center yurt.
Since the staffers at the yurt recommended that we avoid the snowshoe-only trail around the lake due to snowmelt, Erik and I decided to take Finn along the south side of the main Lake Loop. There we snowshoed at our own pace, enjoying wide-angle views of the slopes before descending down a gentle hill to a tree-lined trail with views of the frozen lake. As we walked we smiled and waved at several groups of snowshoers and skiers of all ages, from other parents and toddlers to enthusiastic teenagers and even grandparents with their grandkids.
After completing our snowy excursion, we dropped off our snowshoes and headed over to White Pass's dark timber-framed lodge for a hearty lunch at the bustling Day Lodge Café. Open at 7am daily for breakfast and lunch, the Café offers both buffet-style and cook-to-order fare. With our trays piled high with juicy hamburgers, crisp French fries, fresh salad, and gooey pizza, we claimed a table and dug in.
- Carrie Uffindell