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Jamie Lusch/Mail TribuneMerrill and Ashland’s Ken Hearnsberger snowshoeing on Mount Ashland.

ASHLAND – Chamise Kramer heads up the Mount Ashland access road with all the skiers and snowboarders on a sunny winter morning, but they quickly part ways in the parking lot.

Those on poles and boards head for the ski area lifts, while Kramer and his friends make their way to the end of the parking lot where their fun begins.

They strap on snowshoes and embark on a leisurely, somewhat aerobic ride through fresh powder. And they are not alone.

“That’s where you really realize how many people are discovering this part of the mountain without the lifts and looking for a totally different experience,” says Kramer of Ashland.

“I really like being here in the winter, and this time it’s all about the shoes,” she says.

When it comes to getting a feel for the Oregon winter backcountry, snowshoes are the best equalizer.

While thousands of snow-lovers race down the slopes on boards of varying widths, a smaller contingent travels hundreds of years to traverse the snowdrifts with special shoes to keep them aloft.

And it’s not a big expense. You can rent a pair of snowshoes and poles from local outdoor outlets for less than $30 a day, to hike up Mount Ashland’s backside to places like Grouse Gap or cross prairies that abound with wildflowers in the spring.

It’s not rocket science. It’s barely brain surgery. And you don’t need a helmet or a lift ticket.

“You don’t have to worry about getting comfortable on something like skis or snowboards,” says Kramer, a botanist by trade who does public outreach for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. .

“Anyone can snowshoe,” says Kramer. “We put the children on snowshoes.

The first tip is to put them on properly, putting your waterproof boots on so they don’t slip.

Then grab your ski poles and start heading down the trail.

The back end of Mount Ashland near Forest Service Road 20 is a snowshoer’s paradise, shoes gliding easily over packed snow, shoe teeth gripping ice.

Leave the path through majestic meadows and the width of the shoes prevents you from sinking into snowdrifts of 6 feet or more.

The snow that sustains hikers in the prairies is welcome, but vitally important to the flowers and creatures that lurk deep within.

Some of these grasslands are high-quality habitat for flowers like Indian paintbrush, pollinators like rare bumblebees, and land creatures like voles and groundhogs, says Rogue National Forest wildlife biologist Sheila Coyler. River-Siskiyou.

The snowpack acts as an insulating blanket, hiding them from the harsh winter months, Coyler says.

“Without snow cover, they are exposed to extreme conditions that can lead to mortality,” Coyler says.

And like voles and marmots, snowshoers should dress smartly, but not necessarily heavily.

“You really want to dress in layers,” says Kramer. “But once your body starts moving, you generate a lot of your own heat.”

The trail to Grouse Gap is also popular with cross-country skiers but is closed to motor vehicles.

Signs advise visitors to keep their dogs on a leash, but federal law does not require it on these federal forest lands other than in the campgrounds.

With a bow to Frank Zappa, everyone knows not to eat yellow snow. But the specter of pet feces on the trails is more than just a dog killer.

Dogs can transmit diseases like parvo to foxes and other animals. Additionally, not picking up after your pets can diminish the backcountry experience for others.

“There’s nothing worse than being on skis or snowshoes and having to dodge someone’s trash,” says Kramer. “It’s one of the ‘leave no trace’ principles.”

Either way, a snowshoe adventure on Mount Ashland, perhaps complete with a drink at the Mount Ashland Ski Resort Lodge, is an essential list for many southern Oregonians.

Seeing the vast expanse of wilderness in winter, without the specter of smoky skies of wildfires in summer, is worth every calorie burned to get there on snowshoes.

“I love that you can see so far into the distance,” says Kramer.

“It’s such a great reminder of why we love this place,” she says. “It’s hard to come here in the summer and not see anything. It can be a bit heartbreaking at times. But when you come here in the winter between the storms, it’s breathtakingly beautiful.

Contact Oregon Outdoors editor Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or [email protected].

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