Winter sports lovers - and those who think they'd like to take up such cold-weather activities as snowshoeing and winter camping - can learn more about those and other sports at several free classes this month and next.
Outdoors retailer REI is offering classes on such topics as waxing techniques for skis and snowboards, avalanche safety, snowshoeing basics, and winter camping.
More people are embracing winter sports, especially snowshoeing, said Pat Kennedy, outreach specialist at REI in Bellingham. Snowshoeing classes are the most popular winter sports events, followed by avalanche awareness, he said.
"Snowshoeing is really hitting with the baby boom crowd," Kennedy said. "It's also very popular for people with kids."
Kennedy said there are several reasons for the surge in snowshoeing's popularity.
Most people who enjoy the outdoors have adequate winter clothing for snowshoeing, he said. And, there are no lift fees, and the initial equipment cost is low, when compared to skiing and snowboarding.
Perhaps most important, no special skill is needed.
"If you can walk, you can snowshoe," Kennedy said. "For winter recreation, it's tough to compare."
For people who aren't sure if they'll like the sport enough to buy their own snowshoes, snowshoeing equipment is available for rent at REI. Kennedy said it's a good idea to reserve ahead for the weekend. Demand isn't as high midweek, he said.
Kennedy said there's good snow in the mountains now, even though the Bellingham area has been seeing rainy days with temperatures in the 50s.
"I went snowshoeing (last week) and it was up to my thigh, around Bagley Lakes, 4,000 feet," he said. "Three feet of good powder, there were 30 people around, snowshoeing and snowboarding."
Winter sports classes in November and December are aimed at adults, but Kennedy said middle-schoolers and older children will understand the instructors.
"Generally speaking, for most of our classes, we say 12 to 13 is a good age. But even at that age, it's probably good to be with an adult who can help explain some things," Kennedy said.
Kennedy encourages people who are serious about winter recreation to participate in the free Jan. 16 Baker Beacon Rally, an avalanche-awareness event co-sponsored by REI and Mt. Baker Ski Area. Details will be forthcoming at rei.com, he said.
Here is a selection of winter-sports classes offered in November and December at REI, 400 36th St. across from Starbucks in Sehome Village shopping center. For more information, call 360-647-8955.
All classes are free, but class sizes are limited. Many spaces remained available for all classes Monday, Oct. 29. Register online at rei.com/stores/bellingham.html.
Ski/Snowboard Waxing Basics: Learn how and why waxes work, and learn base preparation: structure, repair and stone grinding. Classes are 6 to 7 p.m. Nov. 13, and 6 to 7 p.m. Dec. 11.
Snowshoeing Basics: Learn the appropriate selection of gear as well as the basics on what you need and where to go to get started. Classes are 6 to 7:15 p.m. Nov. 14 and 6 to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17.
Avalanche Awareness: Learn how to find local avalanche bulletins and weather reports, recognize basic signs of avalanche danger, and learn simple ways to avoid avalanche danger. Classes are 6 to 7:45 p.m. Nov. 19 and 6 to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 12.
Cross-Country Skiing Basics: Learn information and tips for cross-country skiing. Class is 6 to 7 p.m. Nov. 26.
Winter Camping Basics: Learn how to prepare to stay overnight in the snow. Classes are 6 to 7:15 p.m. Nov. 20 and 6 to 7:15 p.m. Dec. 18.
DISCOVER PASS, SNO-PARK, NORTHWEST FOREST PASS
Day-use or seasonal passes are required for anyone who plans to use state or federal lands for winter activities.
A Northwest Forest Pass is required in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and in North Cascades National Park.
In winter, a special state Sno-Park pass is required at parking areas near some trailheads. A Sno-Park is a cleared parking area near groomed or backcountry trails for winter activities, such as snowmobiling, snowshoeing, sledding and cross-country skiing.
There are 120 Sno-Parks in Washington, including Glacier Creek, Canyon Creek and Salmon Ridge on Mount Baker Highway, and ones at the Shadow of the Sentinels trail and the Mount Baker National Recreation Area off of Baker Lake Road, an area accessed by the North Cascades Highway.
Sometimes, both a Discover Pass and a Sno-Park pass are required, but generally a Discover Pass is not required if you have a Sno-Park pass from Nov. 21 to March 31.
For more information, go online to parks.wa.gov/winter. Sno-Park passes are $40. An annual Northwest Forest Pass is $30.