They learned how to use the snowshoes quickly: before lunch kids were laughing and racing a 20-yard course through the snow, with the winner earning a Smokey Bear lapel pin. Forest Service Ranger Kim Larned captivated the children with stories about voles, eagles and snow bugs as they swished over the gentle slops and down valleys on the mile-long loop course. It was 11-year-old Charles Fritz’s first time snowshoeing. “I learned about lichen and how deer can digest it, but it is poisonous to humans, and how the Pileated Woodpecker creates an almost exactly rectangular hole to stick their six-inch barbed tongue in to reach the food,” he said.
But the avalanche rescue dogs were the hit of the day.
After their hike, children met Betty, Etta and Bazuka and their handlers Katherine Fitch, Ron Linde and Kevin Huggett from the Alpental Ski Patrol.
The three dogs showcased their tracking skills by demonstrating how they could quickly find two sweaters that were buried in the snow earlier. Two students hid in an ice cave while Fitch and her dog Bette, a mixed breed, went to the rescue, as Bette dug and barked to signal where the children hid. Fitch rewarded Bette with her favorite toy, a stuffed duck. “Dogs have a 1,000 times better sense of smell then humans,” said Fitch.
Fitch said it takes six months to a year to train the dogs. “It is quicker to train a dog for avalanche recue than a handler. We have years of classes to become certified,” she said.
Guided snowshoe walks at Snoqualmie Pass are offered every weekend starting at 10 a.m. Call 425-434-6111 for reservations. Trips for special events and school groups can be scheduled. Information for all snowshoe walks on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is available online at http://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/mbs/home/?cid=stelprdb5403349&width=full.