When a white blanket of snow covers the Sierra Nevada, it opens up the region for a different look at the environment, one that can be found through classic cross country skiing or snow shoeing.
Within Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, many walking and hiking trails take on a different feel with winter and transform into skiing or shoeing trails on the snow. Trails that may be used for these winter modes of transport are well marked with yellow signs. A map of all cross country ski trails is available at visitor centers and stores within the park.
“The beauty of the red bark of the trees against the white snow is breathtaking,” said Dana Dierkes, public affairs specialist for Sequoia and Kings Canyon.
While it may feel awkward initially, “if you can walk, you can use snowshoes,” she said. However, it is a bit more tenuous for small children.
Cross country skiing can prove a little more difficult for some, but can be easily learned.
“It can be kind of tricky at first,” said Daniel Blankenship, park ranger. “But once you develop a rhythm and pace, it is the equivalent of going for a walk.”
In classic cross country, the skier moves skis parallel to each other with a “kick and glide” motion. While it is best on groomed cross country trails (where two tracks are made by grooming machines in the snow for you to follow), it can be done under different conditions, but again, only on designated trails within the national parks.
Care must be given to follow trails that permit either activity, as to not harm the natural landscape.
Snowshoe ranger-lead tours are available on held on Saturdays and some holidays during the winter dependent upon weather and staffing availability. These tours are generally about one mile and take about two hours. The past few years have not leant weather conditions for these specific tours, but other ranger walks have been available instead. The hope, of course, is for this winter to being a lot of snow.
In general, the snowshoe tours are not too strenuous, Blankenship said. For any given tour, an assessment is made of the group as to its interest and ability, before the direction of the tour is made. Snowshoes for the tour are available on a first-come basis for ranger-lead tours.
A bit more strenuous adventure is offered through the Off the Beaten Path Snowshoe tour lead by naturalists from the Sequoia Natural History Association. Dates and times are determined by weather conditions.
In general walking paths lend themselves to the same view, but under different conditions with the snow. Winter visitors may still bird watch, site see and photograph various areas of the parks that they have seen in spring, summer and fall, only with a different backdrop.
Of course, either activity is weather dependent. Under some conditions, such as a light snow or no snow, hiking boots may be more appropriate. When the weather is stormy, tours will be cancelled and either activity may be banned.
Cross country ski and snowshoe rentals are generally available at the Alta Market and Ski Shop at Wuksachi Lodge, and the Grant Grove Gift Shop. A call should be made to check availability.
Skis, boots and poles may also be available at various sporting good shops in the Central Valley. Care should be given in properly sizing, not only boots, but skis and poles as well for each individual. There are different types of cross country skis. Renters should advise the store on where they will be skiing and under what conditions.
To check snow, skiing and snowshoeing conditions, availability of equipment rentals and dates and times of ranger-led snowshoe walks, call the park’s main line at (559) 565-3341.