Tales of the 2008 ASC Snowshoe Challenge and High Sierra Snowshoe Series

The ASC Snowshoe Challenge had sunshine … definitely the best weather and snow conditions that this race has seen, since it moved from Squaw Creek to the Auburn Ski Club Training Center (ASC) at Donner Summit 3 years ago due to insufficient snow at lower elevations. I’m writing about this 2nd of the 6 snowshoe races making up the 2008 ASC High Sierra Snowshoe Series, while yet another winter storm isolates the Sierra’s from most of Northern California for the 3rd racing event in the Series.

As with the 1st Series event, the JazzTrax Snowshoe Stomp, the snows so necessary for our sport, chose to fall for the Fresh Tracks 5k on race-day. … Just 1 week earlier, I was setting the single-track sections of the 2-loop / 10k (6.45mi.) snowshoe race course under afternoon sunshine making shorts & t-shirts more appropriate than x-c skiwear.

President’s Day weekend is one of the busiest weekends on the Auburn Ski Club (www.auburnskiclub.org) winter calendar. This non-profit winter sports organization dedicated to introducing, encouraging, and training young athletes to participate in winter sports, was hosting the CA State High School X-C Ski Championships (the 2 days before the Snowshoe Challenge) and a Downhill series race, age-group training classes, and the Snowshoe Challenge on SUN/17FEB. Work finally caught up with me this Fall, with the lengthy montage of plane flights, hotel rooms, and lengthy working meetings appearing an endless loop. Fortunately, the ASC Nordic Staff – Sally Jones and Karl Baer – did it all without breaking their stride.

For my part, I managed to pack-up my traveling office and reach the Training Center by noon on FRI. As the first day of the x-c ski racing was coming to a close, I set out to begin setting the single-track sections of the 5k course. Almost 4 hours later, as darkness covered the snow for another below-freezing night, I was back at the lodge, having set the first 5 of 8 single track trails. Come 6:30AM/SAT, still savoring the blueberry muffin and fresh brewed coffee from Wild Cherries in Truckee, I was back on the course with a pack full of pin-flags, to retrace and flag the first 5 single-track sections and set 2 of the 3 longest / highest elevation off-trail sections while the x-c racing continued on lower groomed trails.

With one single-track section within the x-c race course remaining, noon found me snowshoeing back to the lodge for a short drive down from Donner Summit to Rainbow Lodge for a multi-course dining experience – one of the finest restaurants in the Sierra’s housed in a 30’s era stone & beam historic landmark. Back at the ASC Training Center, and moving a little slower, another 3 hours the final section of single-track was set and flagged.

SUN/5:30AM, sans breakfast, pack on back pin-flag filled, flashlight in hand, I was back on the course to pin-flag the groomed trail route. By 7:30AM I’d finished 2/3 of the course and met up with Sally Jones, ASC Nordic Director, who skied the course in reverse finishing the last of the flagging. Time to open registration. Darkness with temperatures in the high teens had already given way to sunshine and above freezing temperatures. As I snowshoed back to the lodge, having spent over 14 hours hiking the steep, technical race course over the past 3 days – my only physical exercise since going to France last AUG for the Paris-Brest-Paris 1200k Brevet cycling event – I remained resolved that I wasn’t running (or walking) in the race.

Something happened during the next 2 hours besides temperatures reaching the mid-40’s. I’m not certain what exactly it was, however I know what it wasn’t. It wasn’t the fact that I was looking at the strongest field of 10k racers to date. It wasn’t that a 70+ year old senior or a 12 year old junior, both familiar with the demanding course, radiated the excitement of participating. And it wasn’t the registration fee – small donation that it was to a unique and important organization that I gladly serve as a Board member. … Come 10AM Start, there I was with 30 other snowshoers, ready to give this course my best – and so were they.

For the first time, sufficient snow allowed for setting the final single-track section parallel to the High Traverse groomed trail (a mirror image of the groomed trail used in 2006 & 2007). This soft powder section, ending with the only steep single-track descent on the course, divides the groomed final third of the 5k loop. The descent is little compensation for the for the over 400ft. of climbing that marks the 5th single track section of the loop indelibly in the hearts and minds of racers.

The ‘Climb’, often likened to the photos of Klondike prospectors on their forced march to the gold fields, begins as an uphill single-track off the Black Hole groomed trail (yes, it’s at the lowest point of the trail system) through a heavily wooded area and plateaus as the course rounds an immense, solitary Ponderosa Pine, for an off-camber rolling traverse onto an exposed, steeply sloping snowfield with spectacular views of the Royal Gorge Nordic Center across the valley. Then the real climbing begins, straight up for almost 300ft. to round an isolated, small pine – a great vantage point for looking across the Interstate at the Castle Peak cliffs – before the long, diagonally descending traverse back to the groomed trail. Is it a challenge? Brian Purcell, the 1988 winner of the Western States 100 miler, was overheard while reviewing the course with his 12 year old daughter, Rita (Junior course record holder / 42:45), “you remember the ‘Climb’.”

As I settled in to my pace (it sounds better than ‘was passed’ and ‘was lapped’), I found myself within conversation distance of 60+ year old Audrey Veirs for most of the first 5k lap – suffering from plantar facitis, she chose to only run the 5k rather than the 10k that she ran the previous year. Surprised that I didn’t get lapped until the start of the last third of the loop at the summit of the course by Peter Fain, shouting something about the course being ‘longer this year’ by way of encouragement – having set this course for 3 years, I knew that the change in distance was negligible at most and by no stretch of the imagination the 1/3 longer necessary to rationalize my pace.

While processing that thought, Ross McMahan passed me as though I was standing still (which apparently I was for the past minute). Both racers finished in that order: Peter Fain, for the 3rd year 10k 1st Overall with a time of 55:02 (Male 10k Course Record 2007 / 53:49) and Ross McMahan, for the 3rd year 10k 2nd Overall with a time of 56:36 (managing to shave 18sec. off of his 2007 time).

For me the surprises came on the final single-track section paralleling the High Traverse groomed trail. The 3rd racer to pass me was Sarah Raitter, who shattered her 2007 Women’s 10k Course Record (1:03:31) by over 3:40min. to become the first women, and only the 3rd snowshoer, to break the 1:00hr. barrier with a time of 59:47. My next surprise was coming upon photographer Keith Facchino, for whom I faked a running stance because I was again walking (Sally and Karl had taken care of yet another event detail).

Only Rob Rusk and Jeff Kurffman managed to lap me in the last few minutes before I reached the Start / Finish area, finishing in that order a very close 4th and 5th Overall (1:08:05 and 1:08:10 respectively). Then less than a minute after I reached the Start / Finish & Water Stop to enjoy my belated GU and water breakfast, 2nd place Women’s 10k finisher, local x-c ski racer and first time snowshoer Emma Garrard, on borrowed snowshoes and plans to ‘compete at Xterra, so why not enter the Snowshoe Nationals the following day’, crossed the Finish Line some 10min. after Sarah in 1:09:49.

New to snowshoeing (just!), and both local athlete familiar with x-c racing on the ASC course and local sports journalist, Emma Garrard’s comments about the event offer an
‘outsiders’ perspective of the sport and the event. From her article in the Sierra Sun:

“I had never competed in a snowshoe race but figured with my running background, it wouldn’t be that hard. Right?”

“I figured 10 kilometers wouldn’t be too bad. Again I was wrong.”

“I sprinted out of the start behind the lead guys. I soon felt like my heart was going to come out of my chest.”

“Running on the single track was challenging because of the uneven surface with lots of foot holes and sinking snowshoes.”

“After lots of ups and downs, including one trail known as “Pink Lung,” we started to make our way back to the stadium. Having already raced for 30 minutes, I began to question whether I could do another lap at the same pace.”

“Snow was flying up from the back of my snowshoes and hitting me in the back, which was kind of refreshing considering the warm weather … By the end of the second lap my hip flexors were getting sore from lifting my snowshoes. I was relieved to get to the top of the last hill and run downhill toward the finish … I was also exhausted. The race was much harder than I anticipated.”

Again this year, although 5k times were impressive – 1st Male, Jim Meskimen, 46:47 / 1st Female, Cathy Scott, 49:35 – they couldn’t match the 2006 5k records held by Brad Lay (36:56), Sara Freitas (32:55), and then 10year old Junior, Rita Purcell (42:45). Rita Purcell was the only Junior competitor this year, running somewhat off of her record time pace to finish in a respectable 51:05. If the Women’s 5k race was close for 1st & 2nd, the Men’s 5k was a real ‘squeeker’ between 1st & 2nd and 3rd & 4th with Jim Meskimen edging out Bill Ely by 2sec. (46:47 and 46:49 respectively) and little distance between 3rd place Luke Castell and 4th place Dan Weiser (50:03 and 50:12 respectively).

CA might be sending one of it’s slowest to this year’s USSSA Nationals, but it’s also sending it’s strongest group of 10k’ers to date. And the ASC Snowshoe Challenge is only the 2nd of 6 events in the ASC High Sierra Snowshoe Series:

For the second year, to further promote Competitive Snowshoeing in Northern CA, ASC is again facilitating a Multi-Event Snowshoe Series for 2008. The 2007 5-Event Series has been expanded to 6 events for 2008. All of these snowshoe races are non-profit / fund raising events with specific details on their respective websites. In addition to the ASC Snowshoe Challenge, the Series consists of the JazzTrax Snowshoe Stomp / Bear Valley / 27JAN2008 (www.jazztraxsnowshoe.com), the Fresh Tracks Snowshoe Race / South Lake Tahoe / 24FEB2008 (www.tahoemtnmilers.org), both the USSSA National Championship / Ogden, Utah / 09MAR2008 (www.snowshoeracing.com ) and the Northstar Snowshoe RWK / Northstar Cross-Country / 09MAR2008 (530-562-2475), and the Billy Dutton Uphill / Squaw Valley / 30MAR2008 (www.farwestnordic.org).

The results from these 6 events will be Age & Course Adjusted so that Men’s and Women’s Cumulative Results are handicapped. Series Awards for the top 3 Men’s and Women’s Individuals will be presented on Squaw Mountain at the finish of the Billy Dutton Uphill. Participants in the Snowshoe Series will be required to Finish in a minimum of 3 of the 6 races, with their Best 3 Performances utilized to calculate their Series Standings. Registration for the Series is automatic with your first race – No Additional Registration Forms / No Additional Entry Fees.

For those of you who missed last year’s 2007 Series Final at Squaw Mountain, you missed an incredible moment in CA snowshoe history. Just imagine 100 Snowshoe Racers toeing-up to the Starting Line – many of whom we hadn’t seen for some time – alongside over 40 X-C Skiers … and imagine the current 2007 Men’s Series leader Peter Fain, despite a recent knee injury, standing next to the other ‘Top 4’ Series hopefuls, USSSA National Team member Bill Raitter, Ross McMahan, and Sylvester Coons … and imagine 60’ish Jim Graupner along with 20’ish Jeff and Melissa Burkhart coming from Minnesota to bolster snowshoer ranks … and imagine Sara Freitas of the Impala Racing Team, whose time of 32:55min. remains the 5k Course Record at the ASC Snowshoe Challenge for both Women and Men, coming out of ‘snowshoe semi-retirement’ for the Uphill ‘just to have some fun’ …

… the results were incredible and definitely beyond everyone’s imaginings. Bill Raitter led the snowshoer / skier field for most of the race to come in 2nd Overall / 1st Snowshoe missing 1st Overall / 1st Skier Tav Streit by just over 2min. (3min closer than Peter Fain last year). And among the Women’s field, 3rd Overall / 1st Snowshoe Sara Freitas followed closely by 4th Overall / 2nd Snowshoe Melissa Burkhart missed 1st Overall / 1st Skier Rory Bosio by only 4min. (with 6 women besting Kathy d’Onofrio’s 2006 time). By gender, the Men’s ‘Top 10’ Overall included 6 Snowshoers and the Women’s ‘Top 10’ Overall included 5 Snowshoers. All of the Top Snowshoers managed handicapped personal bests for the season.

… 2007 Final Series Standings, with the Women’s Standings ‘locked’ after the USSSA Nationals by Sarah Raitter, Sara McMahan, and Kimberly Field finishing the season in 1st thru 3rd Places respectively, only the Men’s Final Standings were too close to call before the outcome of the Billy Dutton Uphill. The Men’s Top 3, Peter Fain, Bill Raitter, and Ross McMahan, were each separated from the next by just over 3min.

And Jim Graupner, with the fastest single handicapped time in a Series event, only needed to finish the Uphill to be included in the Final Standings. When the Uphill was over and the Final Standings calculated, Bill moved into 1st Place by 3.5min, Peter dropped to 2nd Place, and 1min. behind Peter was Jim Graupner – just 3sec. ahead of 4th Place Ross McMahan. So husband and wife, Bill and Sarah Raitter, ran away with 2007 Series First Place Overall. But the biggest winner was Snowshoe Racing itself – 159 Snowshoe Racers participated in at least 1 of the 3 CA Series Races in 2007.

After 2 events, the 2008 ASC High Sierra Snowshoe Series standings have PattyJo Struve, Sarah Raitter, Emma Garrard, Sarah McMahan, and Julie Raymond in 1st through 5th place in the Women’s Division and Jim Meskimen, Luke Castell, Peter Fain, Ross McMahan, and Rob Rusk in 1st through 5th place in the Men’s Division.

Note by Phillip Gary Smith, writer, Snowshoe Magazine:

“The sport of Snowshoeing enjoys a terrific cheerleader with John Stauffer. One of the top snowshoe series in the country is the ASC High Sierra Snowshoe Series whose story is detailed above. Uniquely, the USSSA National Championship Race (this year on March 9th in Snowbasin, Utah) is annually one of their series race events . . . where ever it is held.

And that’s not all!

Their season doesn’t end there . . . it continues on with the ‘Billy Dutton Uphill’ in Squaw Valley on the last Sunday in March. Just saying ‘uphill’ and ‘Squaw Valley’ in the same breath is enough to get one’s heart monitor to max out.

Snowshoe racing has many people, like John, who devote countless hours of energy and time to its success, often without recognition or even appreciation. Snowshoe Magazine exists because of such dedication by Publisher and Founder, Ryan Alford. Through the new feature of race reports for the 2008 Qualifying Season, the 2nd annual Snowshoe Person of the year (awarded in 2007 to Cynthia Brochman, past National Team Member, current BORAD member and 2007 National Championship Race Director), and more local coverage of snowshoe events and products, Snowshoe Magazine is working to bring recognition and gratitude to those individuals and companies whose efforts are so important to our sport.”

United States Snow Shoe Association – http://www.snowshoeracing.com
Phillip Gary Smith – http://www.ultrasuperior.com

About the author

John Stauffer