A forest ranger leads a snowshoe tour at Mammoth, one alternative to hitting… (Mammoth Mountain Ski Area )
Reporting from Mammoth Lakes — Mom: "OK, let's go. Time to try something different — we're going snowshoeing this afternoon."
Teenager 1: "Huh? Why?"
Teenager 2: "I'm not walking on waffle feet, no."
Mom: "Great, here we go."
Surprise! Snowshoeing is actually fun. Good, inexpensive, diversionary fun.
If you have kids, you've been there too. Despite excellent early-season snow (it was mid-November) and some great mornings boarding and skiing on the half-dozen open lifts at Mammoth (followed by substantial portions of home-cooked meals shoveled into waiting jaws), the teens were flopped on the couch and grumbling about the bad Internet connection.
So, snowshoeing. Why not?
The 30ish couple I'd met on Chair 3 had given me the snowshoe idea. They like to ski hard in the morning, they said, then leave by noon when the weekend crowds hit the slopes. Filling a light backpack with food and drink, they layer up and head out to quiet meadows where they can bird watch and picnic as the sun sets.
"We like to appreciate all that the mountains have to offer," the husband told me. They were planning to try a new spot that day, snowshoeing up the summer road to Minaret Vista. Another skier had recommended the scenic vista to them, and the helpful rental folks at Kittredge Sports, on Main Street in Mammoth Lakes, had done the same for me.
However, I couldn't see my teens savoring a romantic winter picnic, so for $11 each we rented snowshoes for a half-day from Footloose Sports, also on Main Street, to be returned at 8 a.m. the next morning on the way to the slopes.
For beginning snowshoers, Footloose recommended the nearby Shady Rest camp area, but there wasn't quite enough coverage.
So we headed to the Lakes Basin (minus our chains despite the previous day's blizzard). Even this early the road to Tamarack Lodge & Resort was a bit icy. During the season, a shuttle from the village can take you to Tamarack too, where its cross-country ski center has two or three designated areas for snowshoeing.
After strapping on our gear — the boys laced their snowshoes onto actual hiking boots; I used my after-ski boots. Both worked fine — then awkwardly taking a few test steps, the teens clomped around on their enlarged feet while mom strolled, took scenic pictures and marveled at the solitude of the campsite she'd biked through on Labor Day.
We watched the ducks diving into the cold water, then skittering across the ice to new feeding grounds. The boys invented "snowball in the hole" — get your frozen ice ball into the designated opening in the ice, or else. There are also new snowball favorites: "Ambush mom from behind the tree" and "Outrun your brother on waffle feet."
We marched across the pristine drifts (too early for cross-country skiers, so we didn't bother anyone) around the back of Twin Lakes near its ever-present, lovely waterfall.
The snowshoes didn't exactly keep us on top of the snow, but it is a different sensation from that of sinking into the drifts. Verdict?
Well, after Snowshoe Day 1:
Teen 1: "Mom, that was fun."
Teen 2: "Yeah, not bad. Now can we eat?"