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(Image: Seattle Refined)

The Firehouse: The front porch of Snoqualmie Pass

It's one of our state's most stunning and accessible outdoor playgrounds.

"Snoqualmie Pass is really that everybody place," said Bryce Phillips, founder of the outdoor retailer Evo and a partner in the development company Evolution Projects. "Within 50 miles of this location, there are four million people. For many, it will be the first place they ever get outside, ever get to the mountains. For others, it's a lifetime of being in the backcountry."

Now, a historic firehouse just off the freeway has been transformed into a front porch of sorts for the Pass.

"The Firehouse has become this new community hub, a place where people can come together and a jumping-off point for the outdoors," said Phillips.

Initially set to be torn down, Evolution Projects stepped in to save the Firehouse, turning it into a new spot for folks to gear up, grab a bite or just hang out.

"The way in which we landed on what we needed [at The Firehouse] is just being here, being a part of the community [...] observing and seeing what is missing. Given how little is [on Snoqualmie Pass], it wasn't too hard to identify next steps," said Phillips.

The Firehouse boasts Evo's first satellite store, focusing on rentals, demos and service while also boasting a solid retail selection. It's also home to Laconia Market, a business that has quickly become a favorite of locals and visitors alike.

"We're the only grocery store on Snoqualmie Pass. There has never been a grocery store up here except for way back in the day. There's no produce, nothing for residents up here, so we're really excited to be able to offer that," said Kirsten Van Swearingen, co-owner of Laconia Market.

Laconia is more than a grocery store. It's a full-fledged cafe serving espresso drinks featuring Tacoma's Lander Coffee and offering a selection of fresh-made, grab-and-go food options. One of Laconia's best sellers is the Dolomite Italian sandwich. Italian meats, provolone cheese and all sorts of delicious accompaniments served up on a demi-baguette. Visitors can grab one out of the cold case or ask for it heated up, so it can be enjoyed outside while soaking up some sun.

"I hope that [Laconia Market] becomes a really great hangout spot for the community and a place that people come every morning and know they can find what they need and also find happy, smiling faces," said Van Swearingen. "We just want it to be a warm, happy place for people."

After a quick stop to fuel up, it's time to get outside. Luckily, the U.S. Forest Service has a brand-new visitors center directly inside the Firehouse's front door.

"People are going to walk in, and they're going to see us right away. We'll be able to greet them. We'll be able to give them information about winter recreation, what's going on at the Pass, any safety information, education. We've got a really great opportunity to be really visible and provide our public service," said Liz Cusanelli, public services and conservation education specialist for the Forest Service.

Starting in January 2023, the Forest Service will offer a guided, donation-based snowshoe program based at the Firehouse. It's a great way to experience wintertime in the woods and, if you're a first-timer, an easy introduction to the sport.

"If you can walk, you can snowshoe," said Jane Ellen Seymour, volunteer coordinator for the Snowshoe Program at Snoqualmie Pass. "On the whole, it's a pretty easy sport to get into."

During my visit, Seymour took me on a portion of the program's guided 90-minute hike. It's one of several planned offerings, including avalanche awareness hikes and extended hikes into Commonwealth Basin.

"It's amazing. We are right off of I-90, but you don't have to go very far back into these woods, and it's like a whole different world. You don't even know you're this close to all the traffic," said Seymour.

Part of the fun of snowshoeing is seeing who else is in the woods with you. Snowshoe hare tracks are a common sight on Snoqualmie Pass, along with the occasional otter, bobcat, even ermine. Of course, nothing beats the serene setting and stunning views.

"It just gets better and better," said Seymour of what it's like to experience wintertime in the forest. "I've been coming in here for 10 years now. I learn something new, if not many things new, or see something new every time. It's cool. It's really cool."