5. The Pink Yeti
The Pink Yeti was a 37-year-old AV Technician named Bert Hambert. Living in his mother’s basement, Bert discovered snowshoeing through an online dating service. Seeking to impress a potential match, Bert rented a pink ape outfit from a costume shop and showed up at the Moose’s Goose Snowshoe Hoof Race in Bollingham, Maine. Bert was an instant success with the snowshoe crowd who related to the idea of a Pink Yeti.
“To me,” race organizer John Pathands said, “the Pink Yeti represented the vulnerability of the human race. We are all pink on the inside. We all question ourselves. We all have an urge to break free from our self-restraints. It’s just too bad the way the Pink Yeti ended up.” Doing his famous paw clapping dance to the delight of the winter “crazies” who frequented snowshoe events in the greater Maine area, The Pink Yeti received state wide attention; performing on local TV morning shows clad in his traditional pink snowshoes and starring in a paid advertisement for Exaltra Hemorrhoid Cream. “It was all too much for him,” John Pathands added. “We told him, ‘you can’t do this forever, you’ll burn up, your colors will fade’ but he didn’t listen. He just nodded away like he understood us, though he couldn’t because that costume was sound proof.” Pathands was right, for soon after The Pink Yeti’s first and only album, My Paws are Pink and Clappy, came out. People lost interest, especially upon hearing songs like “Clap, Clap, We are Pink and Dancy” and “I’m lonely and Still Live in My Mommy’s Basement.” His image destroyed publicly, The Pink Yeti thought that by actually racing in a snowshoe event, he would regain his position in the ranks of Snowshoe Mascot Lore. “He was terrible,” Pathands bluntly assessed. “His snowshoes kept coming off because he didn’t know how to bind them and plus he had no aerobic capacity. He was sucking wind so fast I thought he was going to inhale that stupid pink costume. We haven’t seen him since.” No one knows what became of Bert Hambert. But what we do know is, for that sweet brief moment, he WAS a pink Yeti, the only Pink Yeti that has ever been.
4. El Scorcho Mendoza and The Dancing Mariachis of 1992
On January 12, 1992, a Greyhound bus from Nogales, Arizona to Fargo, North Dakota made an unscheduled stop en route to the town of Boulder. Unkempt, disheveled and full of vagrancy, a man by the name of El Scorcho Mendoza stepped off that Greyhound bus and into snowshoeing history. In the crisp Boulder sunshine, Mendoza stretched while his entourage, The Dancing Mariachis, joined him beside the bus. Decked out in a blue full-body spandex suit with a lime green cape, Mendoza was on his way to Fargo to join the Barnum and Bailey circus as a Human Cannon Ball before Fate intervened and sent him down a different path. Looking below from the elevated Burger King parking lot, El Scorcho espied a group of fit Coloradoans traversing an open field in snowshoes. Awe struck by the ingenious of the snowshoe, Mendoza motioned for the mariachis to follow him down the hill where they hijacked the snowshoes from their owners and headed back towards town with plan. Billing himself as the greatest pound-for-pound snowshoe racer in the world, Mendoza challenged all comers to a 400 yard snow dash in downtown Boulder’s Ballydag park at high noon for a winner take all 500 dollar purse. News travels fast in this high fitness community and, within a matter of hours, a hardy bunch of veteran “shoers” had gathered to make a mockery of this costumed freak. Backed by his brown polyestered mariachis playing “La Cuca Rocha” repeatedly to annoyance, El Scorcho Mendoza spoke these famous words, “Friends, foes and enemies alike, I have come to your country for the sake of preserving the honor of my people. Today I snowshoe. Today I run with my sinewy muscles rippling, with my heart stout, and beating mightily. Today I run against those who are not worthy to share my breath.” With that, Fernando, the trumpet playing mariachi, blew a D note and sent the racers on their way. El Scorcho, a chain-smoker since age five, finished last and began to cry hysterically. Withering on the ground and muttering loudly about his children’s future and how he was the last hope of his village back in Mexico, the man in blue spandex drew sympathy from the crowd and soon the hat was passed around. Smugly walking back to the Greyhound bus with 4,000 dollars stuffed in his suit, this famous failed mascot and his band of Dancing Mariachis were met by the Boulder Police and four angry snowshoers. He never made it to Fargo and he was never seen wearing snowshoes again.
3. The Idaho Triple Hippos
What many people don’t realize is that the Borzac triplets didn’t get their name from the state but from the potatoes grown in that state. They were big hairy girls; unfit to marry even the coarsest of men. Spurning love at an early age the girls became influenced by their circus performing, Romanian parents and sought out ways to gain the attention they craved. Indistinguishable, expect for the variances in their uni-brows, the sisters began their trek towards snowshoe mascot stardom by performing fight scenes from Romeo and Juliet during local hockey game intermissions. After several poor receptions, Mindy, Marzac, and Marta looked around for other winter sports that would find them the audience they needed. The North Minnesota Winter Sports Festival with its full Olympic track and field style snowshoe events was a prime venue to test out their latest idea. Inspired by a visit to Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo as children, the girls made fleshed out hippo costumes. The athletes that showed up for the North Minnesota Winter Sports Festival were wholly unprepared for the spectacle that the Borzac sisters created. Using a portable blowtorch the night before, the girls melted a 30×30 foot square on the infield of the track. Surrounding the square with tiki torches and paying the PA announcer fifty bucks to play Britney Spears records, Mindy, Marzac and Marta performed back flips, cartwheels and various cheerleading towers in their bulky hippo suits. Although there were some flaws and tribulations- Marzac’s hippo snout catching fire on a tiki torch and the head race starter threatening to call the DNR- the gals were an overwhelming success: especially noticeable when Marta fell from atop the “Hippo Pyramid of Delight” pose and the attendees roared with applause as Marta lay spread eagle on her two suffering sisters. But like many wonderful things in life, this one was to be short lived as Mindy caught the eye of a local snowplow operator and moved to Duluth, leaving her sisters as a dynamic duo, who, in turn, left the cold winters of Minnesota to play their trademark razzle-dazzle gymnastic routine on the Florida Retirement Home Circuit. They’ve left a hole in the snowshoeing world about as big as, well, themselves. (And that’s really incredibly large.)
2. Sumo Steve
At 5’4′ and 115 pounds, Steven “Sumo Steve” Johnson, was not considered much of a threat in the world of sumo wrestling. He performed well at hot dog eating contests, setting a personal best of 18 dogs in 25 minutes, solidifying himself as the Rising Star For the Month of May in the magazine, Stomach Pump. But Steve’s heart lay within the circle of the sumo ring. This obsession, seen through his collection of sumo DVDs, autographed pictures of sumo champion Sanjay Gold of India and his specially made sumo girdle, quickly developed into a problem more complex than a flawed Rubex Cube. Jailed and harassed for wearing his sumo girdle in public, Sumo Steve began challenging random strangers to matches, chest bumping many businessmen to the ground and receiving quick kicks to the groin by a multitude of women. Job relocation sent Steve to Fairbanks, Alaska where wearing his beloved sumo girdle would be considered suicide. Dogged in his quest to keep wrestling in his life, the impish man who dreamed, hoped and wished to be a 400 pound wall of solid flesh, found a Halloween sumo costume on Ebay for 14 bucks. Donning the costume three weeks later, Steve took part in a midnight snowshoe walk celebrating the shortest day of the year. Taking place among the subarctic fir trees north of Fairbanks, the event featured fire ring dancing, frozen apple bobbing and reindeer games. Most everyone involved wore snowshoes, including Sumo Steve, who was seen by many as a quirky side note to a festive evening. That’s not how Steve saw it though. Scoping out for what he would later recall as “the biggest lumberjack looking dude,” Steve sprinted at a man known as “Polecat Pete” and dropped kicked him while fully stretched out in his snowshoes. Standing over Polecat and taunting him, Steven “Sumo Steve” Johnson was grabbed by the scruff of his neck, stripped of his costume and his clothing and sent into town alone and naked. Finding refuge in a warming hut, Sumo Steve vowed never to have anything to do with sumo wrestling again. Snowshoeing lost one of its greatest mascots and the world lost a little more of its hope.
1. Hobo Willy
“What more can be said of Hobo Willy?” Cecil McRoberts, president of the United States Mascot Association once said. “He was only the greatest representation of a sport that the nation has ever seen.” Snowshoe Wisdom Giver. The Yeti Tamer. He of lake and thick swamp acres. He of dark timber bellies and Alberta Clipper fields. These were the titles of snowshoeing’s greatest failure and this is the short story of a man who “ate the last piece of bark to be eaten.”
At the age of 85 Hobo Willy mistook the word Traverse City for Atlantic City at a bus station and inadvertently traveled up the mitt of Michigan. In Traverse City, Willy hitched a ride with a young couple who traveled with snowshoes in their backseat. Mumbling something between, “take me to the Boardwalk and what the hell are these pokey metal things,” The Father of Modern Day Snowshoeing was taken to the site of the Midwestern Regional Snowshoe Qualifier. Confused and angry upon arriving at the race site, Willy left the couple and sought out directions to that “warmer gambling place with that frickin’ boardwalk.” But instead of directions Willy was eagerly accosted by a kindly volunteer who thought Willy was there for the race. Strapping Willy into a pair of snowshoes while the homeless man cried out “help me”, the patient volunteer said “I am” and sent the Soon To Be King of Snowshoes out of the lodge and to the starting line. Hobo Willy, thoroughly confused by the Lycra clad crowd of snowshoers gathered near the starting line, jumped at the sound of the starter pistol; sending a jolt of memory down his back of prison walls and the still outstanding warrant for his arrest. Running with real fear, Willy quickly took the lead, gaining 50 yards on his nearest opponent before becoming lost in the woods. Coming out 45 minutes later and wandering across the finish line, Hobo Willy was declared the winner, solidifying his legendary status. Onlookers and new fans alike began to crowd him, until faces blurred and his knees began to buckle. But he stopped and straightened up. That lonesome whistle was blowing and Willy sobered. Spurring questions and interview requests, the King of Snowshoes parted the crowd and followed the sound of the Saginaw to Mancatucky train engine, his snowshoes spraying tuffs of white crystals behind him; the most natural and gifted representation of snowshoeing the world has ever seen left without even a good-bye.