Conventional wisdom says, "If you can hike, you can snowshoe." True enough, but that's a deceivingly simplistic guideline for novices. Experts advise beginners to rent snowshoes before they buy, take a lesson and become accustomed to snowshoeing in a controlled environment such as a groomed trail at a ski resort before taking off into the backcountry.
With that in mind, these ski resorts accommodate snowshoers, mostly with groomed cross-country ski trails. Call for information about trail fees.
Rentals, no lessons. Snowshoers can hike on the property and neighboring fire roads, and at nearby Page Meadows, Blackwood Canyon and Sugar Pine Point State Park. (530) 583-4242, (800) 543-3221, www.granlibakken.com.
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Heavenly Lake Tahoe
Rentals, no lessons. Snowshoers share groomed trails with cross-country skiers. (775) 586-7000, www.skiheavenly.com.
Rentals, lessons and special monthly outings, such as full-moon tours and lunch outings. Snowshoers can hike on miles of groomed trails that meander through varied terrain. (209) 258-6000, www.kirkwood.com.
Mt. Rose/Ski Tahoe
Rentals, no lessons. There is a small snowshoeing area. (800) 754-7673, www.skirose.com.
Rentals and lessons. Snowshoers share groomed trails with cross-country skiers. (530) 562-1010, www.skinorthstar.com.
Rentals and lessons. Snowshoers share groomed trails with cross-country skiers. (800) 500-3871, www.royalgorge.com.
Rentals, lessons and special outings. Snowshoers share groomed trails with cross-country skiers. (530) 659-7453, www.sierratahoe.com.
Rentals, no lessons. Snowshoers walk on ungroomed trails that hug the border of the resort. (530) 426-3901, www.skisodasprings.com.
Rentals, no lessons. No designated snowshoe area, but the nearby Pacific Crest Trail is recommended. (530) 426-9000, www.sugarbowl.com.
Rentals, no lessons. There are two snowshoers-only trails; otherwise, snowshoers share groomed trails with cross-country skiers. (530) 587-9485, (530) 587-9444, www.tahoedonner.com.
Nordic skiers have long known the convenience of entering the backcountry via the 21-site Sno-Park network maintained by the state Department of Parks and Recreation. Generally, snowshoers will find themselves in lots of company, which is a good thing when you don't want to risk getting lost in the woods.
Be smart and buy a $5 day-use permit (or $25 for the season, Nov. 1-May 30) so you don't get dinged for $75 by the California Highway Patrol. The $5 buys parking in the snow-plowed roadside Sno-Park lots; permits are sold via AAA and from area vendors.
For details, to buy passes and to learn the locations of permit vendors and Sno-Parks (and whether they allow snowmobiles -- should you want to avoid those parks): (916) 324-1222, (916) 324-4442, www.ohv.parks.ca.gov.
Go with a group
Organized group outings are an option:
Veteran outdoorswoman Cathy Anderson-Meyers' company, CathyWorks, based near Grass Valley, books public and private group tours, rents gear, hosts snowshoeing clinics and offers instructions. (530) 273-6876, www.cathyworks.com.
The San Francisco-based Bay Area Outdoor Adventure Club offers day and weekend snowshoe trips (and rentals) to site as near as Lake Tahoe and as distant as Lassen Volcanic National Park east of Redding and Red Bluff. (415) 954-7190, www.outdooradventureclub.com; club membership is optional.
State park rangers will lead snowshoe treks this winter at Donner Memorial State Park (off Interstate 80 between Sacramento and Reno) and at Sugar Pine Point State Park (off Highway 89 near Tahoma on Lake Tahoe). For schedules: www.parks.ca.gov.
Sorensen's Resort in Hope Valley sponsors a variety of snowshoeing outings from January through March. To register or request a brochure: (800) 423-9949, (530) 649-2203, www.sorensensresort.com. The resort is at 14255 Highway 88.