Recent weather a perfect opportunity for snowshoeing

Recent weather a perfect opportunity for snowshoeing By DEBRA WOLF, for the Inter-Mountain

For the Inter-Mountain

The recent snows have provided the perfect opportunity to try out snowshoeing at White Grass Ski Touring Center located off of Freeland Road in Canaan Valley. Snowstorm or no snowstorm, my friend Michael Ryder of Bath County, Va., and I had committed to go snowshoeing, and we ventured out recently in conditions of wind, chilly temps, and with snow still accumulating to try it.

Mike Sayre, who is one of three owners of White Grass, walked us through the rental process. I signed a release of liability to get things started. Ryder and I had assumed we would be using the traditional snowshoes, but Sayre offered up to us a newer model made from MSR known as Denali.

The Denali snowshoes had a plastic base, steel blades and black straps for bindings. the boot hole was significant enough for any style of boot to slide into.

“These snowshoes are hard to break,” Sayre said.

White Grass rents out snowshoes for $12 for a whole day. Child rentals are $5. A form of identification is to be left until the equipment is returned. Borrowers may snowshoe on the many trails at White Grass or may take the gear with them to a destination of their choice such as Dolly Sods or Otter Creek and snowshoe.

“Snowshoes are popular in hunting season,” Sayre said. “The snowboarders also use them to go up to the top of our trails here and snowboard down. there is not a lot of slipping and sliding with snowshoes.”

There is a foot attachment, which can be applied to the back of the Denali, which allows a user to carry an extra 100 pounds with him or her. White Grass will sell a new pair of snowshoes out for $150 and a used pair for $100.

Whitegrass also offers snowshoe tours for free. the tours last an hour to an hour and a half. the subject matter and leaders of the tours change. Recent snowshoe tours have included discussion of the red spruce tree ecology, which was led by educators Corey Bonasso and Nathan Beane, and a tour to identify animal tracks, led by biologist Ken Sturm.

The temperature for the afternoon was 10 degrees. there was a lot of wind, and this was the second or third day of the second blizzard that has hit the entire Mid-Atlantic. Snow was still coming down, and nightfall was two hours away.

I was overdressed. I wore snow pants, a shirt, a vest, a fleece pullover, a wind breaking jacket, gloves, good socks and snow boots. Ryder was underdressed. Ryder was wearing jeans, work boots, no hat nor gloves, and a Harley-Davidson leather jacket. He looked fashionable, and I looked over functional.

Chip Chase, another owner and partner of the White Grass business, had sent me an e-mail earlier in the week instructing me in the proper attire. “You need to dress in layered loose fitting clothing that you can zip up and close as needed. Warm boots that can take snow, or we have some cross-country boots you can try. Remember hat, gloves, eye protection, if it is snowing or windy and one pair of wool socks. Waterproof breathable is best for outer layers, and cotton is not a good material in winter,” Chase had advised.

Ryder and I sat in the entryway of the Whitegrass Lodge and strapped on our snowshoes. this process was simple. We slid our feet into the snowshoes. there were three straps to go across the top of the foot, and a fourth strap to enclose the back of the foot.

Whitegrass has 50 kilometers of maintained trails. Some of the trails touch the areas of Timberline Ski Area, Dolly Sods Wilderness Area, Canaan Valley State Park and the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge grounds. however, with night falling soon, we couldn’t take a lot of time to explore.

Sayre had highlighted for us on a map the trails we could cover to get a decent experience of snowshoeing. “Take three Mile Trail into Falls Overlook and Barton’s Bend,” Sayre said. “The trails will be next to the trees which will break the wind.”

I had originally wanted to borrow the snowshoes and take them to one of my favorite trails, Bald Knob Trail, beside of Canaan Ski Area. the climb up Bald Knob in non-winter takes about a half hour. with the deep snows, I imagined climbing time would be more. Bald Knob’s peak elevation is 4,308 feet. the views at the top are beyond compare. It is possible to snowshoe through trails at White Grass to Bald Knob Trail, but I wouldn’t be doing that today.

Ryder and I took the trails laid out for us by Sayre. We moved in the snowshoes just like we would walk. We did walk in the snowshoes, and we did notice a difference with wearing a pair of snowshoes. They did seem to make moving through the deeper snows much easier. We did sink into the snow somewhat, which surprised both of us, because we both had thought snowshoes would keep us on top of the snow.

The steel blade on the bottom was helpful. the blade made movement easier. Ryder and I both felt different muscles in our legs being used. I had read somewhere that by snowshoeing the body can burn off 600 calories in an hour. Just having the contraptions on my feet made me want to move across the blizzardy deep snows. Actually, I wanted to run.

Ryder and I both have running experience. Ryder used to run cross-country, and I just ran 5Ks. Some hikers and runners use snowshoes to keep up with their sports in the winter. I didn’t venture into running in the pair, but I felt the urge to do so.

White?Grass grooms many of the trails. So, the paths are easy to find and follow. there are markers at the start of each trail and in certain areas, there are shelters to stop and take a rest in from the weather. I soaked in the awesome scenery along the trails.

The fields were snow covered and open with drifts. the many pines were a contrast of green and white together. A stream managed to flow between spaces under the snow.

The terrain at WhiteGrass varies from trail to trail. Waterfalls and spectacular views are characteristic of the higher trails.

Ryder was freezing a bit, as we moved along. his refusal to wear a hat was a punishment to his ears. They looked a little white on the tips. Ryder, who works daily on a farm, insisted he could handle the cold, since he has broken frozen water for the cattle with his bare hands. “Next time, I do this, I will wear a hat and gloves,” Ryder said. We had a good time, and we weren’t out too long in the weather.

Back at the lodge, Chase was outside tending to snow fence. He and his work buddy were wearing snowshoes. “Look, I wear snowshoes for working,” Chase said.

Sayre and the third owner of White Grass, Tom Preston, greeted us in the warmth.

“You’re welcome to a hot drink,” Sayre said. the cafe at White Grass has quite a reputation for healthy hot fare. with the storm still brewing outside, Ryder and I had to hit the road while daylight was still available so we could see the sides of the road. there had been a lot of whiteouts on the way over.

The next morning, I ventured out on foot to the store to stock up on groceries. the roads were slick, and I actually longed for a pair of snowshoes to make moving across the packed pavement easier. I told my brother, Don, an avid hunter who has always wanted to try snowshoeing, about my experience with the gear while we went to dinner that evening to celebrate my parents’ 45th wedding anniversary. “A lot of hunters use snowshoes,” Don said.

Now, that I’ve been able to use snowshoes, I might look into getting a pair to get back to winter running.

Recent weather a perfect opportunity for snowshoeing