Whitefish in Winter

Snowshoeing Glacier National Park
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"Lean forward," comes the command from below. I'm standing on a steep pitch; my toes are pointed straight down, desperately gripping the earth, so the words "lean forward" aren't the first that come to mind. I'd rather revert to sidestepping, or better yet, sit on my haunches and slide ungracefully to the bottom. I remember my snowshoed companions waiting for me and take a tentative step down, leaning like mad into the mountainside for balance. Another step. Searching for optimum footholds, I slowly tiptoe down the slope.

The most difficult thing about learning to snowshoe is also what makes it such a fun winter sport: You're not limited to trails. Here at the south end of Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana, when there's good snow cover—count on at least 20 feet in higher elevations—guides don't hesitate to step off the proverbial beaten path. In summer, these areas would be thick with undergrowth and virtually impassable, but today our guide, Jay, takes full advantage of the fresh snow. As we wind our way up the side of Scalplock Mountain, fresh elk tracks cross in front of us. Without hesitation, Jay turns and follows them up into the woods.

Winter brings out the wilderness in Glacier National Park. The snow adds depth and dimension to the mountains, evergreens, and earth. During the park's off-season, you're more likely to see animal tracks than human footprints, as visitors number a fraction of summertime crowds. From May to September, over 2 million people travel to the park; November to April, the number dwindles to fewer than one thousand.

"In summer we would have seen at least a couple dozen people on this trail," Jay says. "There's a solitude you can only get this time of year." Not only is Glacier country short on crowds, it's long on snow. The white stuff starts falling in September, and by Thanksgiving a one- to two-foot base ushers in six months of winter recreation, a half-year of tramping with snowshoes, downhill skiing, and cross-country skiing. It's a winter-sports bonanza.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 8 Nov 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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