Written by Grace McKeag, Trip Leader & Student Manager
With the winter season fast approaching, I thought it’d be fun to explore some of the different outdoor activities we have access to here in Northern California. NorCal is home to rugged mountains, snowy meadows, and endless untracked powder, and the ways in which to enjoy these areas are endless! This blog post will cover cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and backcountry skiing and snowboarding. While these are just a few ways to enjoy the outdoors here in the snowy months, they are some of my favorites.
Cross-country skiing is a wonderful way to make miles in the backcountry while being able to take in the scenery around you. These skis differ from downhill skis in many ways. They are primarily meant for flatter ground as one’s toes are the only parts clipped into the skis. They are thin and lightweight, making it easy to transport them to wherever you will be adventuring. Once you’re clipped in, you can glide easily over fresh powder. Getting the rhythm of the movement that propels you forward can be tricky, but once you find the right tempo and pace, you’re sure to put in some distance! This is a great winter sport to try, especially if it is your first time getting involved with winter activities!
Northern California is home to many high elevation, mountainous areas, and we have lots of fun areas to explore on cross-country skis. One of my recommendations would be the McGowan area in Lassen National Forest. Located 50 miles northeast of Chico, this makes a great spot for a day trip to cross country ski. Here you can find 10 miles of trails, 5 of which are periodically groomed with markers. If you want to see glistening snow and snow-capped trees, I would recommend this spot on a snowy weekend!
Looking to rent cross-country skis for your adventure? If you are located in Chico, check out Mountain Sports for rental equipment. Happy skiing!
Snowshoeing is another great way to get outdoors in a winter wonderland. What’s great about snowshoeing is that you have the full freedom to make the activity as difficult or as mellow as you want! They can be used to hike up snowy mountains, or they can be used to go on flat, powdery walks. Snowshoes allow your feet to stay on top of the snow while walking instead of sinking a few feet into the snow. Having a pair of these with you if you decide to explore a snowy area makes for a fun adventure.
The versatility of snowshoes gives you plenty of different options to explore in NorCal. Lassen Volcanic National Park is a great spot to go to for those located in Chico, as it has countless trails and snow-covered areas. My favorite snowshoe trail in Lassen Park is the Manzanita Lake snowshoe loop. It’s a great trail for beginners as it’s only a 1.5 mile loop. From the trail, you can see Lassen Peak as well as the infamous Chaos Crags. Make it a day trip and pack a lunch; you’ll be sure to have a lovely time! If you are looking for something a little more strenuous, another local recommendation would be to snowshoe up Colby Mountain located in Lassen National Forest near Butte Meadows. Only a 45-minute drive from Chico, this is another great spot for a day trip. I’d recommend following the Silver Tip trail to the fire lookout on top, which is about a 4.7 miles in total. This route would be best to start in the morning, as you have to account for the trip back down the mountain!
If you’re looking to rent out snowshoes for the winter, check out the Adventure Outing’s Equipment Room.
Backcountry Skiing and Snowboarding
The final outdoor winter option I’m going to mention is backcountry skiing and snowboarding. This sport is tough, but the reward is oh so sweet! Backcountry skiing and snowboarding requires lots of personal gear and prior skills in either skiing or snowboarding. If you have never skied or snowboarded before, this is not the sport for you, yet. Exploring the backcountry through this sport is humbling, beautiful, and certainly sweat-inducing. One hikes up their skis or snowboards on their backs using snowshoes to get up the mountain, unless they have a backcountry ski setup which allows them to travel uphill with their skis on via climbing skins. Once they reach the top of the hill or mountain they have climbed, they ski down.
While there are plenty of wonderful spots to backcountry ski and snowboard in California, my all-time favorite spots are located in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Lassen is a great local spot to Chico that allows access to many different places and types of terrain to earn your turns.
For backcountry skiing and travel, one needs proper avalanche safety gear and education. The gear includes an avalanche beacon, snow shovel, and probe. Knowing how to use these tools is an imperative part of backcountry skiing and snowboarding and cannot be done without them. Acquiring the proper education to travel in the backcountry safely is equally, if not more, important that enjoying the sport itself. Education would include taking – at minimum- an avalanche awareness course or an Avalanche Level 1 and Avalanche Rescue course. If you are interested in looking into a course, check out the Shasta Avalanche Center (Mount Shasta) or the Sierra Avalanche Center (Tahoe). In winter months, these organizations will offer several free avalanche safety clinics and presentations. Know before you go!
Stay safe, ski hard, and enjoy the upcoming winter season!