If you go down to the woods today …

In true Mr Toad style I have enthusiastically embraced a brand new favourite hobby … snowshoeing. It’s ideal for people like me, who want to enjoy the mountain scenery in winter, but have no desire to hurtle down a slope at 70 miles an hour, pitching headfirst into snowdrifts on the way down.

The house where we’re staying at Lake Tahoe has three pairs of snowshoes in the garage, so I put on a pair and tried a bit of beginner’s showshoeing on a snow covered marsh just down the road.

Snowshoes are like short skis with a hinged plate to strap your foot onto. This means that as you lift your foot the back of the snowshoe drags along the snow, making it less tiring than having to lift the whole contraption up every time, I suppose.

I stomped my way across the marsh and down to the lake, and it’s so satisfying to crunch your way through crisp, fresh snow without sinking down to your knees with every step.

After two days of tramping up and down the marsh, I managed to hone my skills, and in particular I learnt not to trip myself over by standing on the edge of one snowshoe with the other snowshoe as I changed direction. With this lesson under my belt, I felt that I was ready to join a snowshoeing expedition on the mountain, and so Sam and I signed up for a guided trek with Tahoe Jack’s Adventure Authority.

We drove up the mountain and met our tour leader, Scott, at the entrance to the national park. The snow was quite worryingly thick on the ground, but we learnt how to lean forward on the snowshoes to bite into the snow and avoid slithering down the mountainside in an undignified heap. My first mistake was walking under the branch of a heavily snow-covered pine tree. The bobble on my hat knocked against a snowy cluster of pine needles and dislodged a massive wodge of snow which shot down the back of my neck, forcing me to perform a frenzied snow-removing dance before it all melted and ran down my back.

Mistake number two involved Scott’s dog, Athena. Incidentally, he told us that he always brought his dog along to keep the bears away … but more of that at the end of this story. Athena is a snow dog who loves rushing about in the snow, getting covered in the stuff and then running back to Scott. I was busy concentrating on following Scott up the mountain, and I didn’t notice Athena running straight in front of me, so I tripped over her and fell flat into the deep snow at the side of the track.

We climbed up to a ridge with the most beautiful views of Lake Tahoe. We stood drinking hot chocolate and watching the sun make the snow sparkle like a Swarovski crystal display. It was absolutely beautiful, but then the undignified descent on my bum filled the back of my trousers with snow, necessitating another vigorous snow-removal dance.

After this professional expedition I felt sufficiently upskilled and emboldened to go out snowshoeing on my own on our last afternoon at Lake Tahoe. I went to the marsh and put on my snowshoes and stomped my way up and down for half an hour or so, enjoying the solitude – there was nobody else anywhere in sight. I was just making my way back to the entrance when I thought I saw a movement ahead of me. Peering through the trees I could see a large dark circle, which I thought might possible be a large log on its side. For some reason I felt uncomfortable and decided to take a photo of the log and enlarge it to see if I could see what it was.

As I was enlarging the photo the large ‘log’ suddenly moved and I realised that it was a bear – a large Californian black bear. Not only was it a bear, but it was a bear that was standing between me and the exit from the marsh. My snowshoeing skills improved exponentially as I powered sideways in a wide arc away from the bear and towards the exit. At one point as I neared the barrier leading from the marsh to the road, I looked sideways just to make sure that the bear wasn’t following me – and he was standing behind a tree watching me. I shot over the five foot high snowdrift behind the exit barrier like an Olympian going for gold, and dashed home as fast as I could.

Sitting in the house, with a nice solid door between me and any marauding bears, I regaled the family with the tale, enjoyed a Campfire Cocoa (vodka, creme de cacao, hot chocolate and toasted marshmallows … can definitely recommend) and vowed that if I ever go snowshoeing again, I’m taking a four-legged bear scarer with me.

Not my photo – I was moving too fast to take one – but this is just what he looked like.