Lance Young is a walking trail encyclopedia. “Where would you send beginning snowshoers?” I asked him, and he immediately mentioned four excellent local hikes. Not only does he know how to get there, but also, where to park, the altitude gain on the trail, the distance, what the terrain is like…it’s all in his head. Once he’d given me the low down on his first four, he threw in two others for good measure. This is a guy who knows the landscape. And luckily for me – and the participants in Lance’s One World Outing Club – he’s more than happy to share that information.
Lance started the One World Outing Club 26 years ago during the gas crisis of the 70s. Commercial vehicles were exempt for the “odd day/even day” gas rules and with the rental of a yellow school bus and the eager participation of a handful of participants, the Outing Club was born. The yellow school bus, which was cold and noisy, was upgraded over time and now the club charters a deluxe 47 passenger bus. The club also enlists the skill of veteran driver, Burt Reeves. Burt knows the roads like Lance knows the trails. Burt safely chauffeurs club participants from the greater Seattle area to Forest Service and Sno-Park trailheads in the Cascades.
Lance’s Outing Club has primarily attracted skiers, but snowshoers are showing up more and more. They’re absolutely welcome, and nearly all the destinations that Lance selects have plenty of options for both nordic skiers and snowshoers. The club is also starting to run snowshoe only trips – there’s a day at Scenic Hot Springs, a steep and occasionally icy trail up to a semi-developed hot spring, scheduled for early February. And snowshoers are encouraged to join in the trip to Sun Mountain, where there are 20 kilometers of snowshoe trails – and accommodation at a comfortable lodge, hot pool and fireplace included, of course.
The club isn’t a guided tour service. Participants are expected to bring their own gear, to be competent outdoors folks, and to be good stewards of the outdoors. While beginners are absolutely welcome, indeed, encouraged to join the group, they’re expected to know their limits, to stay on the trails, to follow directions, and to pair up with a more experienced buddy while they’re out on the snow. There are no hard and fast rules (other than be back at the bus on time) but common sense is expected to prevail.
That said, the Outing Club is a very friendly group. There tend to be more women then men and the median age is about 50 – though the occasional family with kids that come along can drag the age number right down. There are participants who have been with the group since the days of the yellow school bus. I first heard about the club from 62 year-old ex-Boeing guy who asked me, in an off hand way, if I was in to winter sports. But two gal pals of mine have also taken the bus with Lance. One of my friends told me she signed up because she knew she’d have a snow day on the horizon for as long as the season lasted.
In addition to accommodating all ages, the club also welcomes folks of all abilities. Some folks get off the bus and disappear immediately in to the white stuff, not returning until just before the bus starts the engine. Other folks head out for a few hours, come back, sit on the bus, warm up, and head out again for another go. There’s no pressure to complete the route of the day or to keep up. If you’re fast and want to be out there on your own, maybe make a summit or a viewpoint, you go right ahead. If you’re social and just want to wander around on the snow, maybe picnic and chat with your fellow outdoors folks, you go right ahead. There’s something for everyone.
Lance starts running the snow bus in early December and in a good year, the trips can go all the way through to April, though typically, the Cascades run out of accessible snow in mid-March. The club tries to hit a new trail at each excursion. They’re not confirmed until the night before the trip because Lance checks up on the weather and the snow. If it’s raining on the west side of the Cascades, they’ll head east. If there’s new snow and superior conditions up north, that’s where they’ll be heading. Participants call an answering machine the night before the trip to find out where they’re heading, but Lance says that most folks have taken to just trusting him.
With white powder dusting the peaks of the Cascades and winter in the air, we’re all primarily focused on getting out on the snow, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the club runs year round. Summer activities include bird watching tours, naturalist hikes, mushrooming expeditions, bike rides, and lots more. Club activities have been in North America only, until now – this year, Lance is hoping to get enough participants for a spring ski tour in Norway.
The One World Outing Club is a non-profit organization and as such, some of the time Lance spends on the club is used advocating for access to the outdoors. He focuses on lobbying for the use of public lands for environmentally low impact sports like nordic skiing and snowshoeing. Lance’s off the snow efforts are completely compatible with the club’s primary goal – making it easy for people to get out and experience the beauty of nature.
Photos courtesy of Lance Young.
Visit the One World Outing Club Web site at http://www.outingclub.org.