Taking my daughter and her friend for an afternoon of sledding at the Paradise Snowplay Area on the southern side of Mt. Rainier, I thought, Norman Rockwell himself could not have captured a more picturesque and perfect day.
The sun shone low in the sky, casting a complimentary light onto the white grandeur of the mountain, which was further accented by the backdrop of a cloudless, azure sky. Lower on the horizon sledders of all shapes and sizes dotted the hillside, their winter wear creating a colorful canvas. We left the truck with our plastic toboggan, powdered sugar snow sticking lightly to our boots, making soft sounds as we ascended the sledding hill. We reminisced how it had only been a few short months ago this same hillside had been awash in copper, crimson and gold colored fall foliage.
The Paradise Snowplay Area at Mt. Rainier consists of two sledding troughs, about 100-yards in length, capped by runaway ramps at the base. There were two lines; both fairly were long, but not off-putting, made manageable in the warm sun. The girls queued up. Muffled shrieks of delight and terror could be heard coming from bundled and bemittened children, chapped rosy parts of their swathed faces barely visible. More than one adult could be heard excitedly hollering, too.
“Do you want the front or the back,” my daughter asked her friend. “Back!” While they busied themselves navigating the sledding seating arrangements I took in the views of the Tatoosh range and snapped a few photos of families enjoying the warm winter day. Rangers kept a keen eye on the sledding troughs, safety of both sledders and meadows top of mind.
When their turn came, the girls positioned their toboggan in such a way they thought would maximize both speed and side climbing opportunities. With one quick run at the trough they were off, rocketing down the hill, swooshing and squealing all the way.
A quick look around the parking lot showed others were there to enjoy a different sort of snow play. Groups of snowshoers and cross country skiers were also taking full advantage of the weather, heading out toward snow covered trails that start at the Paradise parking lot. At 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. park rangers lead guided snowshoe trips along the Nisqually Vista Trail. The outing is free, and limited to 25 people. A park ranger suggested the outing for children 11 and older. The trip includes snowshoes as well as interpretative information. A $5 suggested donation is appreciated and used for repair and purchase of snowshoes.
The Paradise Snowplay Area is generally open late December through March when the snowpack over the meadow reaches and maintains five feet in depth. Sufficient snowpack is required to help protect the delicate meadow vegetation beneath the snow. Only “soft” sledding devices such as inner tubes, and plastic saucers and toboggans are allowed. The gift shop inside the Visitor Center sells saucers should you require one. Don’t forget that officials require chains to be carried in every vehicle entering the Park in winter.
Find more information on the Paradise Snowplay Area.