Snowshoeing the North Cascades in Winthrop, Washington

With some of the heaviest snow accumulation in the nation, Washington’s Cascade Mountains are an outdoor paradise. The town of Winthrop, with a year-round population of about 400, sits in the Methow Valley in the North Cascades, and features an extensive network of cross-country ski trails. There are more than 200 kilometers of groomed trails that extend to nearby Mazama, which is less than 30 miles from the Canadian border. Along with the cross-country options, there are numerous snowshoeing opportunities as well. According to Kristen Smith of the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce, “The Methow Valley is the nation’s largest cross-country ski area, and snowshoeing is a nice complement to all our Nordic offerings.”

In addition to a plethora of fabulous snowshoeing, the AAA four-diamond Sun Mountain Lodge and restaurant offer luxurious lodging and scrumptious seasonal dining. Set on 3,000 acres at 2,900 feet above sea level, Sun Mountain Lodge offers a unique combination of privacy, tranquility, and serenity balanced by the highest standard of excellence in service and guest amenities. The lodge features 96 guest rooms, 56 with fireplaces, and 360 degree panoramic views of the North Cascades and Methow Valley. Step out of your guest room and into your snowshoes as a variety of trails start right at the lodge. According to Karla Segale, Sun Mountain’s director of marketing, about 15 kilometers of trails are available at Sun Mountain. They vary in degree of difficulty, and there’s an option available for all levels.

Snowshoe tours are offered on Saturdays from December 30 through March 3 and are led by a local naturalist. Participants learn about winter ecology, wildlife and tracks, snow, and more during the 11 a.m. tours that depart from the lodge. Snowshoes are available for rent and a $5 trail pass is required. Brian Charlton is not only Sun Mountain’s General Manager, he’s also an avid snowshoer. “We have so many options and varieties of snowshoe trails, you can’t help but get a good workout, and the scenery is breathtaking everywhere you look,” he says. “We have and easy one-mile Interpretative Trail that features great views of Mount Gardner and Mount Robinson. From the lodge, you can take a short walk or an extended trek, and we have trail maps.”

For those wanting another type of workout, try your hands and snowshoes at the annual Winthrop Snowshoe Softball Tournament, held President’s Day Weekend (February 16-17, 2013). Sponsored by the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce and Three Fingered Jack’s Saloon, this popular event is now in its third decade. To help participants and spectators keep track of the action, all of the balls are fluorescent yellow. “The softballs are not the only things colorful,” says Kristen Smith of the Winthrop Chamber. “Some teams don costumes in addition to their snowshoes, making the Winthrop Snowshoe Softball tournament much more than just another softball competition. This is downright hilarious and entertaining for all ages!”

Après Snowshoeing

You would expect nothing but the best from a four-diamond establishment, and that’s exactly what guests receive at Sun Mountain Lodge. The Spa at Sun Mountain offers everything from the standard massage, to facials, and manicures. Charlton highly recommends the Double Decadence, for two. The shared experience includes a bottle of champagne or sparkling cider and chocolate truffles in a tranquil environment, accented with soft music and candle light. There’s also an herbal foot soak during the 90-minute massage.

For a unique dining experience, try the sleigh ride dinner excursion. Enjoy a half-hour sleigh ride in the crisp mountain air and dine in a cozy tent in the middle of the forest. Also, the award-winning Sun Mountain Lodge dining room is under the watchful eye of certified Executive Chef J. Russell Bradshaw.

The Lodge’s wine cellar opened in 1998 and was designed to mirror the classic cave cellars of Europe. It contains one of the most extensive resort wine collections in the Pacific Northwest, and features more than 5,000 bottles and 600 different labels. At last count, there were more than 300 wines from Washington State, with lots of California wines, as well as many others from around the globe. Designed by NBBJ of Seattle, the cellar features stone and ironwork by local craftsmen, as well as a large cherry wood dining table with seating for 14.

Strolling through the town of Winthrop, you’ll notice its American Old West design, making it a popular destination any time of year. Do not miss a visit to the eclectic Three Fingered Jack’s, the oldest legal saloon in the state.

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