Snowshoe Racing; What are those people thinking?

by “Dr. Daddyo”

They returned as they had left – in a fury. Snow flew from their oddly shod feet, grunts of semi-verbal communication noted both pain and pleasure as the multicolored herd rounded a final curve. It was a sight not likely to be forgotten. This mass of muscle, determination and sweat had finished five miles of what some might consider a form of self abuse on a day worthy of hot toddies and warm fires.

Welcome to the world of snowshoe racing.

Out here at our middle and high schools, Fall is cross-country running season. Yes, there are some other sports you might have of heard of more often but for many they are not, shall we say, their cup ‘o tea. Not all are enamored with ‘gang’ sports where a cup and a mouth guard are standard attire. Some prefer solitary success or failure.

Photo courtesy of Ty Hall, Tennesee Pass Nordic Center.

A result of this trail running is the trained, fit young men and women in need of a different winter venue. The trails get a little fluffy this time of year. Snow and ice and their resulting slippage are unkind to the ankles and knees. So what’s a buff bod to do? A buff bod, of any age, needs to layer up and hit the trail on their snowshoes.

But what about hunkering down by a fire, wrapped in a leopard print snuggie sipping a warm toddy? That’s all good, but it’s even better after a day of vigorous physical activity out with Ma Nature.

Several years back my eldest son, a seasoned cross country trail runner with the local high school, decided to run, or rather snowshoe, the race up at Leadville’s Turquoise Lake. He’d only run on snowshoes once or twice, but with the enthusiasm of youth felt this was “no big deal.” Enthusiasm seldom is the best qualifier.

Snowshoeing has evolved considerably in the last dozen or so years. No longer are winter lovers destined to lug huge wooden and leather snowshoes around walking bowlegged until one’s hip flexor screams. These days snowshoes come in a variety of styles and sizes. Like just about any sport-specific footwear, it really depends on what you want to do and at what intensity.

The two real differences in snowshoe styles are size. The bigger the ‘footprint’ the less likely one will sink in off-trail powder and the more weight you can put on the shoe. The smaller snowshoes will hold less weight in the fluff but are much easier to run in on trails. Runners – snowshoe runners, use gear with less float but more natural mobility. Snowshoeing competitively in the races around Colorado requires, like running shoes, a good proper fit.

My son, brave and tough as he was, used modestly acceptable gear not fit to his feet. The end result was mixed.

Having never been to such an event I didn’t really know what to expect. It was a cold, blustery day, although the racers seemed underdressed. Bundled up for the weather, my son never questioned my paternal suggestions. Back then he seldom questioned his father. Parents: as you know, things change.

Off he sprinted at the gun, dressed to survive. Some fifty other curious folk joined in, most much less quilted. As the herd stormed out of sight, I hunkered down with the other non-runners by a fire, sipping hot chocolate. It was cozy as the wind began howling outside. Out there where “they” were.

Soon one of the hardy – standing out in that thoroughly nasty weather – yelled that runners were coming in. Waiting, thinking my kid would be rounding that last turn soon, I bundled up and headed outside, cheering each runner as they staggered in.

As the leaders bundled up, several supporters stood patiently waiting. It seemed hours, but soon a gaggle of runners thundered to the finish line. Sweat, steam and relief streaked their happily exhausted faces. They had made it, survived, even reveled in the day, the event. Yet my son was nowhere to be seen.

As I waited, worried as parents worry when their child is late, I could see this was no modest challenge. As he rounded the final corner with several other tired runners, exhausted as he was, he smiled. His excessive gear tied around his waist, the hat and gloves off, soggy from the effort, he looked to me with one of the first signs of manhood I’d noticed.

When life gets chilly and we want to run and hide, it’s not always best to follow those feelings. Challenge grows a soul. Consider the opportunities that surround us and play with them. Do something different, something challenging. Go run in the snow. It’ll do you good.

“Dr. Daddyo” is not a doctor but is a daddyo. He can be found farming dirt in the SLV or at