Hurtin’ in the Yurt

We had our first winter storm in Southern Ontario yesterday, though unfortunately most of it came in the form of ice pellets. Still, some fluffy snow on top has made everything frosted with wintery white today. On our grass trails, we could give the snowshoes an early season whirl to get the feel for them again after a summer of unburdened feet. Two hours north of us, Gatineau Park, Quebec received a lot more snow than we did. Hearing about their ideal snowshoe conditions takes us back to our very first snowshoe run ever, which was there, in January of 2004.

That particular weekend, we decided to rent some snowshoes to see if we liked them. Each winter up until then, we had stubbornly slogged through the deep snow on our beloved trails, just wearing our regular running shoes. It was becoming a mystery to us why we hadn’t tried snowshoe running yet. On our way through Ottawa we picked them up from an outdoor shop, and arrived at the park well after dark. We each donned a light pack, and started out on wide groomed ski trails. The clicking of the shoes against the snow was noisier than we were used to, but soon we got used to the rhythm and it faded to background noise. It was new and exciting getting used to the feel of the shoes, and we alternated hiking and running to make our way into a yurt, where we planned to stay the night.

Arriving at our destination after 10pm, the temperature was a very cold -20C. Inside the shelter, the wind was blocked, but it was still bone chilling. The first priority was to change into dry clothing, and then get a fire going. Derrick was better with the chill, but I’ve never been so cold in my life, and it was hours before the place warmed up enough to really thaw me out. In the meantime, I planted myself about an inch from the woodstove and tried to absorb it from the outside in. It would have been wise to bring a thermos of hot soup, but we pulled our first rookie mistake and hadn’t thought of this. As if snowshoe running for the first time isn’t painful enough!! Somehow, once the yurt did heat up a little, after what seemed like an eternity, our teeth stopped chattering and we were able to get a few hours of sleep.

We were rewarded the next morning for toughing it out the previous night. It was sunny and crisp, the perfect winter day. The plan was to get off the ski trails and find some challenging terrain to run hard without the hindrance of our extra overnight gear. We took a shorter route back to the car, and after a lengthy delay to fix a flat tire, plus a greasy diner breakfast to warm our bellies, we drove to another park access. Here we found an 8 km trail loop exclusively meant for snowshoeing. The heart rate soared immediately as we negotiated the hills and got a greater feel for running with these things strapped to our feet. It was amazing how we could grip our way along the trail with the security of crampons. There were many times we had to look down to make sure we were still wearing snowshoes, as we were surprised how light these running models were. We were, however, reminded of the width of the frame a few times as we kicked ourselves in the ankle. Ouch! The deeper snow, narrower trail, bigger hills, and lateral slants made the snowshoe trail a much better introduction to snowshoe running than the day before.

So, despite a few challenges on our first snowshoe running trip, we went home and promptly ordered our own shoes. Going into our fifth season, we can’t imagine a winter of running without them.


About the author


Sara Montgomery and Derrick Spafford

Derrick and Sara are trail runners from Eastern Ontario who discovered that running on snowshoes in the winter months is a great way to enjoy their favorite trails year-round. They competed in their first snowshoe series (The Mad Trapper Series in Low, Quebec) in 2005, each finishing 2nd in their respective divisions. Plans for 2006 are to return to the Mad Trapper, to take in some races in New York and Vermont, and hopefully cap their season with the U.S. Snowshoe Championships in March, as Canadian guests. Derrick runs a company, Spafford Health and Adventure (, which specializes in coaching and event promotion. He is currently planning an annual snowshoe race to be held in the Kingston area, starting this winter.