Published on November 28th, 2012 | by Phyl Newbeck
Cool Running | Snow and Ice Can’t Slow Down the Growing Interest in Snowshoe Racing
Zeke Zucker organizes the Northern Vermont Snowshoe Challenge and is an avid snowshoer. “As a runner, I get tired of trying to run on the edge of the road in winter,” he says. “You’re dealing with traffic while slipping and sliding.” And snowshoeing provides a real workout. Zucker said that although racing snowshoes have become lighter over the years, they still weigh more than shoes. “Snowshoe racing is a nice break,” he said, “and a chance to get out in the woods without worrying about wet feet or tricky footing.”
While it’s getting more popular, snowshoe racing is not new. In 1998, the Western Massachusetts Athletic Club started a snowshoe race series. Four races have expanded to 18, with spin-off organizations running similar events across New England and the Midwest for a total of roughly 90 races. According to Bob Dion of Vermont-based Dion Snowshoes—which began co-sponsoring the series in 2001—the early races had as few as two or three competitors. Now, the WMAC/Dion series averages 100 people per race with some races topping out at 250 snowshoers. Two races in the series take place in Vermont: I Love Woodford in early January, and Hoot, Toot & Whistle in Readsboro, which takes place later in the month.
Dion said snowshoe races draw a wide variety of people. First and foremost, they appeal to trail runners looking for a competitive winter equivalent, but they also attract a fair amount of people just looking to have a good time in the woods. Under good conditions, a fast racer can keep a 6 minute pace per mile, but finishing times fluctuate wildly based on the quality and quantity of snow. Dion recalls one race he won with a time of 40 minutes. The next year the best time was 25 minutes and the following year, a man Dion describes as faster than him and the 25-minute racer finished first in 50 minutes.
Competitors who excel in the Dion series may want to test their mettle at an event sanctioned by the United States Snowshoe Association. On Feb. 10, the 8K Northern Vermont Snowshoe Challenge will take place at Smugglers’ Notch. Zucker has been in charge of this event since its inception in 2002, and he describes his work on the Northern Vermont Snowshoe Challenge as a labor of love. The course is a challenging one, covering some hilly terrain with approximately one-third on a singletrack trail. It serves as a regional qualifier for the national championship. Attendance has gradually increased over the years, although the gains have not been constant. In 2012, there were 55 racers. Zucker said when conditions are good, the fastest racers can finish in less than 40 minutes.
For those looking for a longer trek through the woods, there is the Pittsfield Snow Marathon on March 2. The 6.5-mile loop is described as rugged and includes an elevation gain of 1,200 feet for each loop. Ultra runners begin the 100-mile race on Friday at 8 a.m. and must finish the course within 36 hours. The marathon, half-marathon and 10 kilometer distances begin on March 3 at 8 a.m. Organizer Andy Weinberg said the number of people racing the marathon and half-marathon distances has been fairly consistent since the race began in 2006 with 25 to 30 for the full and 50 to 75 for the half. The 10 kilometer race, however, gains in popularity every year. This is only the third year for the 100-mile distance. Eight racers showed up the first year and 12 the following year.
Weinberg said folks who do the 10 kilometer race often aren’t really racers but people who want to spend a nice day in the woods on snowshoes. The longer distances are more competitive. The fastest marathoners break the four-hour mark, but most average six and one-half to seven hours on the trail with the slowest athletes completing the course in nine hours. Fast half-marathoners cross the finish line in under two hours. “The fast times are a very small subset,” said Weinberg, noting that last year three marathoners finished in under 4 hours, but the fourth-place finisher was a full 40 minutes behind them.
Tubbs Romp to Stomp at Stratton (Vermont Sports is a sponsor)
Jan. 26, 2013
Stratton Mountain Resort
Northern Vermont Snowshoe Challenge at Smuggler’s Notch
Feb. 10, 2013
Smuggler’s Notch Resort
Pittsfield Snowshoe Marathon
March 2, 2013
Amee Farm, Pittsfield