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Fun outdoor winter activities in the area

Tons of snow makes for lots to do

Missy Bouchat enjoys a winter hike at Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park. Photo credit: Marguerite Cleveland

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Snowfall is massive in the Cascade and Olympic mountains and the foothills surrounding them. Fun activities to do in the snow include winter hiking, sledding, snow shoeing, and riding snow machines. With the proper equipment and warm clothes, this area becomes a winter playground. Although snowfall is limited on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, it is a short drive to many of the local snow play areas.

Many stores in the area -- particularly Costco -- carry snowshoes, boot crampons or spikes, hiking poles and sleds. Load all your toys into your car and head to the mountains. A few things to remember this time of year: Make sure to carry chains with you in your car. Many areas require them and will turn you around if you don't have them. Snow play can get wet so bring towels and a change of clothes. When in cold weather, you burn lots of calories so pack protein-rich snacks and thermoses of hot beverages.

Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park and Hurricane Ridge (road only open on weekends in the winter) in the Olympic National Park are two great areas to play. I personally prefer Paradise, because if the road is closed due to weather, you can still go to Longmire to hike or snowshoe. Paradise opens once there is at least five feet of snow on the ground. Only inner tubes, saucers and flexible plastic sleds are allowed. No toboggan or runner sleds. On the way up, if you stop at Longmire, the gift shop sells sleds.

You can also take a ranger-guided snowshoe hike on weekends (8 years old and older). It's free and snowshoes are available for use with a donation. Sign up at the Jackson Visitors Center and it is first come, first served. The Visitors Center is open on weekends where you can warm up, use restrooms, or enjoy lunch and hot beverages. If you are willing to brave the cold, you can camp at Paradise either in a tent or by building a snow cave.

Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park is rather unique as it has a small family-oriented ski area which usually opens in December depending on snow amount. It has two rope tows, a poma lift, and a tubing park. The only sledding area for those age 9 or older is at the tubing park and you must rent their tubes at $14/hour. There is also a small children's snow play area for children younger than 9, which is free, and you can bring your own runner-free sleds. The road to Hurricane Ridge is open Friday to Sunday, weather dependent, and you must have chains.

The Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, Mountain View Café, Gift Shop and a Rental Shop are all open when the road is open. The center has restrooms, exhibits and a warming area. The Rental Shop has skis and snowshoes to rent. Interesting fact: the skis once belonged to a Navy Outdoor Rec and were donated with the stipulation a military discount is offered. There are also guided snowshoe hikes available for a fee.

With winter officially starting Dec. 21 and recent winter storms in the mountains, snow accumulations are starting to build so these snow play areas should open soon. Remember, weather can change rapidly in the mountains, so check the weather report before heading out and monitor conditions while enjoying the snow.

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