Any illusions that the March 24-26 United States National Snowshoe Championship in Bolton, Vt. would turn out as a late season breeze for competitors evaporated on Jan. 8
A USSSA qualifier was held that day at the Bolton Valley Resort, the site of the Nationals. The Jan. 8 event offered competitors a first look at what they’ll face when they return to Bolton in March. The athletes found steep slopes, tricky single track paths, rocks, changeable snow conditions and all the pitfalls a snowshoe racer would find deep in the Vermont woods.
Eight competitors raced in the 5K division and about 50 in the 10K.
“It took a lot of strength to run the single tracks,” said Richard Bolt, 35, of Nashua, N.H, moments after finishing third in the 10K with a time of 49:28 “There was a lot of vertical up and down.” He said snow was soft, especially in the single tracks areas, meaning he, and all the other competitors, had to work harder than usual to complete the course.
Finishing times are highly variable in snowshoe races, as slopes, track conditions, weather and other factors help or vex competitors. The Bolton races were among the slower ones. For instance, Bolt’s time was more than 17 minutes slower than his finish at a 10K race in Essex Junction, Vt. on Jan. 24, 2004. The Essex Junction event was on a nearly flat course, with groomed, packed snow conditions and no single tracks to speak of.
James Pawlicki’s experience was similar to Bolt’s. He finished Jan. 8 in Bolton at 58:11, compared to 35:12 in the 2004 Essex Junction race. For anyone contemplating the March event, he counseled patience, “You have to set the right pace at the beginning,” said Pawlicki, 31, of Beverly, Mass.
Almost all the competitors singled out the extensive single track stretches on the Bolton course as a big challenge. In addition to speed, racers said they had to think more carefully than usual about balance, strength, planning and unpredictable moments while out in the woods.
The course was hard of both the body and the equipment. A binding snapped on one of Greg Hamnet’s snowshoes late in the race, prompting some experimentation and pain. At first, Hamnet, 28, of Chesterfield, N.H. said he tried to run with one foot in a good snowshoe, the other in just a sock. The day was mild, but not exactly springlike, so Hamnet quickly discovered running in socks in the snow was a bad idea. So he put his snowshoe back on, and struggled on. The damaged binding pressed painfully into the ball of his foot, especially every time he ran downhill, which was often in the last stretches of the race.
Even without the shoe snafu, the race was tough, Hamnet said. “This was a real challenge. The climbing was relentless,” he said. Still, Hamnet put in a respectable performance, finishing 11th in 56:23.
Elijah Barrett of Keene, N.H., the fifth place finisher at 52:50 said he was surprised by how hard the ice, the single tracks and the hills were at Bolton, but he said he embraces challenge.. “It suited me well,” Barrett said of the Bolton course.
Zeke Zucker, 61 of Jeffersonville, Vt. concurred with everyone else on the difficult terrain. “I didn’t realize we had to climb all the way to the bottom of the Grand Canyon before we climbed back up,” Zucker said.
“But it was fun, I liked it,” added Zucker’s friend, John Pelton, 66 of West Rupert, Vt.
A shorter race wasn’t necessarily a less difficult one. “It was one of the hardest courses. There were lots of climbs and descents, a high percentage of single tracks,” said Stephan Bibb, who won the 5K division in 27:09.
Junior competitor Dan Jardin, 12, of Mexico, N.Y said the course has him reassessing his training plans for the rest of the winter. “I just had to heave forward and go hard,” he said. He plans to beef up his hill training.
Open-mindedness seemed to help. Casey Enman of Huntington won the womens’ 10K division, finishing in 1:01:48. Though an accomplished runner, this was her first snowshoe race. “I had no idea what to expect. I knew I was in good shape, but this was tough – fun though,” she said.
One thing going for competitors in the Jan. 8 race was the weather. Winds were light, there was no precipitation and temperatures were in the comfortable upper 20s.
No such luck is guaranteed in March. Conditions are notoriously unpredictable in Vermont’s early spring. Dramatic winter storms, torrential rains, springtime warmth, gales and subzero cold are all possible that time of year in Vermont’s mountains. Of course, snowshoe racers are a tough lot, so ultimately that shouldn’t matter.
Even so, expect the unexpected.