• Crash course in smooth snowshoeing on Rainier

    Hikers also get a few tips on local flora and fauna
  • PARADISE, Wash. — It seems simple enough: strap, stand, step — one foot in front of the other.
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  • PARADISE, Wash. — It seems simple enough: strap, stand, step — one foot in front of the other.
    But synchronizing your steps atop snowshoes is an art — one that was practiced well before its rise in popularity as a winter recreation.
    On a sunny day at Mount Rainier, a line has formed at the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center desk in anticipation of the day's ranger-led snowshoe hike — one of several provided on weekends and holidays. It's midway through January, but people are already beginning to peel back layers. Winter coats are belted at the waist and spare sweatshirts hide out in backpacks. It's a mild winter for Mount Rainier, a ranger notes. The mountain has received about 14 feet of snowfall this year, about half what it usually amasses.
    Once upon a time, Mount Rainier held the world record for snowfall — its height and close proximity to the ocean a contributing factor to the influx of snow. On a clear Monday, though, no new snow is falling. The sun is beaming and kids are removing fluffy mittens to shovel snow by the mouthful before tossing the excess at unsuspecting passersby.
    By 11:15 a.m. sharp, those who signed up for the snowshoe hike gather at the visitor center for a quick lesson on snowshoe technique — "How Not to Fall 101." The assemblage listens intently as Amanda White, the park ranger leading the day's hike, displays two different snowshoes. The first is an older style of snowshoe with a wooden frame and fabric mesh. It lacks the metal claws people depend on for gripping the slick surface, which in turn demands more control from its user. One person opts for the old-school variety. Others rent newer models with hope the metal teeth will spare them a spill.
    The 1.5-mile hike is well-suited for beginners, which several on this hike are. It's also an attractive route for those seeking an easy to moderate hike with breathtaking views offered of Nisqually Pass, the Tatoosh peaks and, of course, Mount Rainier. The day boasts the kind of weather hikers yearn to have the day of their treks. Sun tints the snow yellow and warms people who come out of the shade to bask in its rays. Hikers squint behind sunglasses to take in cloudless skies.
    After hikers grab a pair of snowshoes, everyone meets at the snowy edge of the Paradise parking lot to strap them in place. They make their way up the first hill, which instantly separates the experienced from the inexperienced. Wobbly knees and shaky poles pinpoint several hikers as newcomers.
    In conjunction with a snowshoe crash course, White rattles off a litany of Mount Rainier trivia. First, she unravels a snow pole and plunges it into the ground to demonstrate the depth of snow beneath everyone's feet. An average snowfall at Mount Rainier is about 650 inches, she explains. This year, only 169 inches have covered its surface so far — about half of what is expected by this time each year.
    Her next lesson is a simple one: where can you find elk?
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