Some snowshoers snowshoe for the functional strength training, while others see it as a relaxing pursuit. Personally, I like the way it works my waistline. Whatever the case, we all have an excuse to slap on some shoes and scamper through scenic mountain trails. For champion snowshoer Anita Ortiz, it’s the sheer delight of racing that keeps her in snowshoes.
“Anyone can do it – bikers, hikers, runners and walkers,” says Ortiz. “It’s an activity that is out there in the winter. It doesn’t cost money like skiing. You can do it in groups. You can do it by yourself. The physical exertion of it is great. People like to feel like they work hard; and this is a very pleasant way to feel like you’ve worked hard.”
For someone that has all good things to say about snowshoeing, it seems ironic that Ortiz once hated the activity. In fact, her first race wasn’t anything to write home about.
“I did hate it. I tried it just for grins because people said it was really cool. I had an old, old pair of snowshoes and I was slipping and sliding all over. I had no traction. It was something I wasn’t prepared for and, in the end, I took [off the shoes] and just chucked them. My husband was so embarrassed when I did that.”
Thanks to the persuasion of a close friend and some new equipment, Ortiz tried again. “I went out to a real small race [in Vail, Colo.] where there wasn’t quite so much pressure and I figured it out and just fell in love with it.”
On that day, Ortiz began her three-year affair with snowshoeing. “I had to be strong. I had to be powerful and it wasn’t running so much as it was strength,” Ortiz explained. Toward the end of the 2001 snowshoe season and throughout the 2002 to 2003 season, Ortiz remained an undefeated competitor.
In fact, in 2002 Ortiz was named the U.S. National Snowshoe and North American Snowshoe Champion, stacked up 12 wins last season and 10 trail triumphs, including two U.S. Mountain Team qualifying races. She was also the top U.S. finisher at the World Mountain Trophy Race, placing 11th in the Innsbruck, Austria event.
“My most memorable win was the North American Snowshoe Championships,” she said. “It was the deepest field ever of a snowshoe race. Everybody was there. It was a huge race. It was beautiful.”
Fortunately for Ortiz fans, memories and past achievements aren’t enough. She’s a competitive racer and intends to stay on snow-covered mountains. This season, she plans to win the U.S. National Snowshoe Championship – again.
In the meantime, she continues to stay exceptionally busy. “I teach school. I have four kids. Teaching, being a mom and training is very hard,” Ortiz explained. “My kids are all very active so I’m like the carpool mom. I’m always walking out of school the minute the bell rings to take somebody somewhere.”
Thank goodness this star athlete’s in shape. She also finds time in her busy schedule to encourage everyone to give this sport a shot. “I think everyone should give it a try. It gets you off the sofa and out of the house. Take the kids too. Once in snowshoes, kids will run circles around their parents.”
For someone who hated the sport the first time she tried it, she is able to properly advise soon-to-be shoers on the does and don’ts of the sport. “Make sure you have adequate equipment. Go out the first few times with no expectations. Don’t go out the first time and try to race. Go with some friends and experiment around. Have fun. Fall. Be goofy. And, most importantly, have no expectations.”
A Few Anita Ortiz Achievements:
Winner of the U.S. National Championship
Winner of America’s Uphill Snowshoe Race in Aspen, Colo.
Winner of the Pikes Peak Ascent in Colorado
Winner of the Wolverine Mountain Run in Alaska
Second place in New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington Climb
Winner of the women’s championship and a spot on the Teva U.S. Mountain Running Team