There wasn’t much quality snow in the hills south of Ashford last January, so when the Mount Tahoma Trails Association held an outreach event, there was concern it might be a bust.
“The morning of the event I was worried that nobody was going to show up,” said Michael Wenger, an association volunteer since 2010.
The group had a permit good for 120 people for their Tour de Huts event. And it was far from a bust. They filled every spot. Businesses in Ashford ran out of snowshoes to rent. “I couldn’t believe it,” Wenger said. “People were showing up who’d never skied the trails before.”
This year’s version of Tour de Huts is Jan. 28 and with ideal conditions for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, another large turnout is expected.
Tour de Huts is designed to get people interested in Nordic skiing and snowshoeing, as well as introducing them to the Mount Tahoma Trails. The large trail system has three huts and one yurt that people can visit and even arrange to stay in over night (although winter weekends are sold out).
The event is free, but you must bring your own gear. Wenger recommends renting equipment in town in case local businesses sell out. To park at the trailhead, visitors will need an annual Sno-Park pass or a Discover Pass and a daily Sno-Park pass.
Great snow conditions this year mean there will be some changes. Last year, two-wheel drive vehicles could reach the trailhead. This year visitors will likely need chains. Also, the upper lot is unreachable, meaning there will be limited parking and the hike (or ski) will be longer. The association plans to run a shuttle from Ashford, Wenger said
Wenger said all visitors get a prize, and there will be a raffle with prizes such as gear and trail system maps.
Q: Why did you choose volunteer with the MTTA?
A: I got into the group because I was always outdoorsy. I would cross-country ski, mountain bike and hike, but I didn’t feel like I was giving anything back. So I went to a volunteer party in the summer of 2010 when they were remodeling High Hut.
I helped out, and I learned more about the group, and I really liked how it was a co-op kinda. It was just a small group of people, and they really cared about the trails and everything.
Q: But there are other good volunteer groups closer to where you live.
A: I wanted to do something with skiing. I didn’t grow up skiing. I grew up in Georgia. But I liked the peacefulness of cross-country skiing and how you could see the same trail in the winter and it would look completely different. I looked into the Summit at Snoqualmie’s Nordic ski patrol, but I just liked the MTTA. It’s more grass-roots. The Summit is more about just patrolling the trails. I felt like with MTTA there was so much to do. … It just felt like I could learn a lot more.
Q: What are some of the things you do as a volunteer?
A: Everything from patrolling the trails, making sure everybody is OK, making sure everybody in the huts has permits to stay there, stocking the hut. There are volunteers who groom the trails. We take turns staffing the office in Ashford (Saturdays and Sundays). And we’ll go out to help with rescues.
Q: What do you think people should know about the trail system?
A: I think the big thing is that it is open to everyone. It’s a no-fee trail system. You have to pay for a Sno-Park (parking) pass, but aside from that there is no cost. You go to a place like the Methow, there are great trails out there, but you have to pay to ski them.
Also, people should know that it is volunteer run. Sometimes things don’t go exactly as planned because we are volunteers. We have a lot of people who ensure the trail system works. And it’s open to skiers and snowshoers.
Q: Why should people try cross-country skiing or snowshoeing?
A: Living in the Northwest where our winters are dark and it’s easy to get depressed, I think it is a great way to stay active. I think it is a nice way to see areas of the state that you haven’t seen before or even to see something you saw in the summer that looks different with snow.
In terms of snowshoeing, it is something anybody can do. If you can walk, you can snowshoe. Cross-country skiing is great, takes a little more skill, but you can go faster and farther.
And it’s cheap, too. I’m pretty cheap. I don’t enjoy downhill skiing, but even if I did I would struggle with the cost. You can buy a pair of snowshoes for like $100 and a Sno-Park pass ($40) and you’re set.
Q: What else do people need if they are attending Tour de Huts?
A: Make sure their cars are equipped to get up to the trails (chains). And make sure they are carrying the 10 Essentials in their pack. The trails will be patrolled, and there will be people to help out, but you should be prepared.
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Tour De Huts
When: January 28, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Where: Mount Tahoma Trails, South District, near Ashford.
What to bring: Parking pass (Sno-Park annual pass or daily pass plus Discover Pass), chains for the car, and snowshoes or cross-country skis.
What: Tour de Huts is a free event where visitors can snowshoe or ski the MTTA trails, visit the two huts and yurt in the South District and learn about the MTTA. Prizes will be raffled.
More info: skimtta.org/tour-de-huts.