2015 DEC - Snowshoe Running
Getting Serious about the Snowshoe Series
By Laura Clark
Everyone likes the continuity of a series, be it the World Series, Nancy Drew stories, or Star Trek movies. You know the characters, you understand the format and you feel at home. For this reason, I always found it odd that while road races seldom employ this marketing tool, trail events like the Grand Tree Trail Race Series (runwmac.com) and the Dion Snowshoe Series (dionsnowshoes.com) are all about this concept. Perhaps because these events began as fringe sports, race directors recognized the wisdom of banding together to ensure a consistent participant base. In fact, a quick glance at WMAC’s Dion Series reveals that many of these races represent the efforts of a variety of clubs and venues across western New England and eastern New York.
So what does this mean to snowshoe enthusiasts? If you do travel outside your local area, you will have a ready carpool of like-minded buddies. When you arrive, you will recognize friends from other races in the series. In snowshoeing, where the same course varies from year to year due to snow conditions, you can reasonably gauge your effort by your placement in the pack.
And then there is accountability. No one is excited at arising at o’dark thirty in subzero temperatures, except maybe your dog, but just knowing your weekend friends will be doing the same crazy thing will prod you from your cozy blanket cave. Plus, it is difficult to become complacent when you anticipate a different site each week.
The concept of a series implies that all events maintain a common spirit while relishing individual differences. Dion events pride themselves as being extremely affordable, with proceeds donated to local trails, forests and towns. A few have awards, more have raffles, and all have a meet-and-greet social afterwards to encourage camaraderie – and the occasional tall tale. The main emphasis is on enjoying the outdoors in the winter. You may find yourself chatting on an equal basis with a young family, an older veteran, or a national class athlete. Championship races may get a bit fancier, but still maintain a down-home feel.
While road racers can pretty much count on having a road, snow conditions are less predictable for snowshoe racers, so it is advisable to check the websites close to the date. In poor conditions, some events may get postponed, with those in more fortunate snow areas filling in with make-up races. Some may opt for a trail race and still others might be cancelled all together.
If you don’t own a pair of snowshoes, you might want to start with the Dion Series as rentals are available for $5 a pair from Bob Dion, the premier snowshoe crafter based in nearby North Bennington, Vt. We are so fortunate that every week we have access to the person with such a wide base of experience, since he designs, builds and uses the product.
As it stands now, the series kicks off on Saturday, January 9 with the Hilltop Orchards 5K in Richmond, Mass., just 40 miles southeast of Albany. The meandering, mostly wide 5K route leads you over, through orchards and surrounding forest, and back to the lodge – where you can enjoy cider and donuts in front of a roaring fireplace. Be sure to bring some extra cash to purchase cider, hard cider and craft beer! (capitalregionnordicalliance.org)
Bob Dion’s own Hoot, Toot & Whistle 5K scheduled for Saturday, January 23 in Readsboro, Vt., traces the historic track of the defunct Hoosac Tunnel and Wilmington narrow-gauge rail line. The course is deceivingly tough as it features bumpy single-track, which flows relentlessly up and down in short spurts. There are no hills steep enough to justify hiking, but the rolling terrain insures that you never get a break either. Afterwards, runners return to the Readsboro Elementary School for refreshments and raffle prizes, including the much-coveted cake. (dionsnowshoes.com)
On Sunday, January 31, Theresa Apple has revived the Curly’s Record Run 4-Miler in the Pittsfield State Forest in Pittsfield, Mass. The race features a mostly single-track course, climbing almost 700 feet in the first mile, followed by some “level” sections before descending 800 feet on the 1920s Shadow Trail – site of Curly’s record-breaking ski descent. While this sounds intimidating, there are many big-shoed walkers who attempt the ascent, in tandem with the runners, the reality being that unless you are the winner you are doing a lot of hiking! (berkshiresports.org)
February looks to be a crowded month with the Northfield Mountain 4-Miler leading the pack on Saturday, February 6 in Northfield, Mass. The Northfield Cross-Country Ski area features a two-mile trek up, and a two-mile freefall descent back down, again ending in a pleasant lodge. The trails are wide, not as steep as Curly’s and the descent, with an absence of twists and turns, is one where you can really charge full speed ahead. (northfieldmountain.blogspot.com)
In the Capital-Saratoga Region, look for Saratoga Winterfest 5K on Sunday, February 7 at Saratoga Spa State Park, and Camp Saratoga 8K on Saturday, February 13 at Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park (both at saratogastryders.org), as well as Brave the Blizzard 5K at Guilderland Elementary School on Sunday, February 21 (areep.com). Winterfest and Brave the Blizzard are both good races for beginners, with a mix of hills and flats and a casual attitude, featuring an enormous pot luck at Winterfest and a huge pancake breakfast after the Blizzard. Camp Saratoga is more challenging, and will give you a run for your money mentally and physically, as you must power past the finish line and up a steep hill for the final stretch. Again, a log cabin, wood stove, and huge feast complete the day.
Farther afield, Carolyn Stocker of the Western Mass Distance Project plans to bring snowshoe racing to the Pioneer Valley with the Snowshoe Scramble 5K/10K at Mt. Tom State Reservation in Holyoke, Mass., on February 20. (runwmac.com)
Also in the running are the Bay State Games on Sunday, February 28 at Canterbury Farms in Becket, Mass., and Thunderfest 5K on Sunday, March 6 at Greylock Glen in Adams, Mass., with a possible trek up part of the Thunderbolt Trail – where the founders of the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division trained. The season concludes on March 12 with the Northeastern Regional Championship at Mount Prospect in Woodford, Vt. With a base elevation of 2,200 feet, Prospect is a magical area where snow falls early and stays late. Race director Tim Van Orden will also preview the mountain terrain on January 17 with the Greenwood Gallop 5K and on February 27 at the Snow Summit 5K. (runwmac.com)
The Adirondack High Peaks region also hosts a number of races, with the Jingle Bell 5K on December 5, hosted by the Paul Smith’s College Striders on PSC Visitor Interpretative Center trails – the center itself is worth a visit. The Empire State Winter Games on February 6-7 in the Lake Placid area may have 5K and 800, 400 and 100 sprints (empirestatewintergames.com).
On January 17, journey to the Cock-A-Doodle-Shoe 10K and Nicolas Pendl 5K, at New Land Trust in Saranac (near Plattsburgh) – it’s worth the trip. Forever known as “the sock race” to the Saratoga Stryders club contingent, because pretty much everyone leaves with a valuable raffle prize or a new pair of performance socks. Noteworthy is the 1/2-Mile Kids’ Snowshoe Scramble, as very few area races include an offering for younger enthusiasts. (cockadoodleshoe.com)
Stand-alone competitions include the Stone Wall 5K on January 10 at Winona Forest Recreation Area in Mannsville. The Tug Hill location guarantees deep, lake-effect snow and single-track challenges through old growth forests, and it runs alongside 1800s stone-walled pastureland. (winonaforest.org). On February 20 the Empire State Snowshoe Racing Association Championship 10K and 5K will be held at Oak Mountain Ski Center in Speculator – another snow belt in the southern Adirondacks. The 5K is for ages 19 and under. (empirestatesnowshoe.org)
Make this the winter you head outdoors for some low-cost fun and priceless friendships!
Laura Clark (email@example.com) of Saratoga Springs is an avid trail runner and ultramarathoner, snowshoer and cross-country skier. She is a children’s librarian at the Saratoga Springs Public Library.