Saturday the 13th: Another Lucky Day at Camp Saratoga

After seven lucky years of hosting the Camp Saratoga Snowshoe Race, the Saturday, February 13th date didn’t faze us at all.  By this time Jeff and I had so many long time volunteers and participants in place that things ran about as smoothly as could be expected for ‘The Year of No Snow.’  The only confusion arose from the fact that some folks figured the 13th was close enough to Valentine’s Day to warrant the Barbershop Quartet’s love ballads.  I guess that bit of frivolity is forever stuck in folks’ minds and Camp is destined  be the Valentines’ Day Race of choice no matter what the date.

What I could have used, however, was a part-time secretary to answer all the emails I received from far-flung National Snowshoe qualifier hopefuls.   But maybe not—I did get to make some new email buddies and it was fun to put names to faces once everyone took the leap of faith required to pack their duffels and head off to camp. After the conceptual snow at Winterfest 5K the previous week, it was difficult to believe that Camp would be any better.

From farthest away came Anna Gonzalez’s group of nine friends from the Washington DC area, none of whom had ever snowshoed before. In January they had decided to travel up North for a long President’s Day weekend vacation in the snow.  With two major blizzards paralyzing the DC area during the week leading up to the race, you would think they would have just stayed home and played in their own snow.  But who can resist the childhood lure of a day in camp?  Hopefully, they brought some of their good snow karma with them to sprinkle on our drought-ridden snowbelt.

We were also proud to host members of the storied 10th Mountain Division stationed at Ft. Drum, NY.  The 10th Mountain was formed during World War II in anticipation of the need for rugged outdoorsmen who would feel right at home ousting German defenders from their Alpine lairs. Adams, Mass, the home base of our own Dion Snowshoe Series, had the honor of sending twenty-two Thunderbolt skiers to the original unit, the most from any US town.

Many who survived the brutal attack on Riva Ridge initiated the current downhill ski boom by developing ski resorts at Vail and Aspen.  Coach Bill Bowerman, of Nike fame, acquired some of his legendary toughness as a muleskinner in this division, hauling the wounded to medical facilities and supplies back to the troops. As the US Military’s most deployed unit, the 10th is currently engaged in dangerous operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.*

With so many guest athletes making the journey to Camp, registration went by in a blur of activity.  At one point, my brain automatically reverted to librarian mode as I urged registrants to take their name tags (i.e. race bibs), much as I would have spoken to three year-olds before storytime. Luckily Candi Schermerhorn breached the line of runners to give me a much-needed break.

With this unusual flurry of activity, I almost forgot the Awarding of the Target Ceremony.  The Target, designed by Jim Carlson, is a homemade bull’s-eye affixed to a safety vest.  Before each race, one of our regulars is selected to wear the vest, the assumption being that the wearer will be spurred forward to superhuman efforts since all the other racers will be aiming for him, much like Clark Kent donning his symbolic cape.  Most of the time it seems to work out pretty well.

Occasionally, there is a bit of manipulation involved, as when Bob Massaro was purposefully awarded the status symbol last week.  We knew he would naturally hand it over to his twelve year-old protégée, London Niles at Camp.,  Last year Bob and London won our Barnyard Award for Best Snowshoe Duo as Bob mentored London through his first year of racing.  This year London has returned older, faster, wiser and a true WMACer (Western Mass Athletic Club member), preferring challenging slopes to flat and fast routes.  He has totally outstripped all his older buddies, moving his way up in the ranks towards the halfway mark.  But he hasn’t forgotten us — he always heads back on the course to cheer on his last year’s companions.  And despite the solid field of Nationals age-group competitors, all of whom were well into their teens, London achieved his goal of qualifying.

It took a giant leap of faith for this diverse group of runners to ignore the online Winterfest pictures and the brown highway landscape. Through careful management, however, Pieter Litchfield nurtured our limited snow, grooming it just enough to preserve it but not too much to use it up. The combination of Nationals hopefuls and flattish snow produced some extremely fast  times.

So much so that Don Ziegler, our perennial road crossing marshal was almost caught off guard when the first runners blew by a mere fifteen minutes after the start. Edward Alibozek, who founded our snowshoe series and usually places in the top ten at this event, marveled that the top twenty spots were dominated by the younger crowd.  Edward, 47, got bumped to 27th place, exclaiming, “This is what happens when we get what we ask for…more younger people at the events.”

And what is a day at Camp without the customary camp stove?  Local participants brought all manner of chilies and stews to a kitchen ably supervised by Andy, Peggy and Patricia Keefe and Dawn Pallor.  Each year it seems they return with a new addition to the repertoire.  This time it was a state-of-the-art hot dog spit which not only grilled sixty hot dogs but provided entertainment as well.  Many participants also brought nifty raffle items, including Rich Busa with a huge supply of glow-in-the-dark clothing and Michael DellaRocco with enough lighting devices to keep us safe in the woods when darkness ambushes ambition.  After scarfing up raffle prizes at three races in a row, Rich, who still straight-facedly claims that he never wins anything, donated his Hammer Gel product to a 10th Mountain Division trooper.  Rich served as a paratrooper in the Korean War and was touched when the soldier thanked him for his service to his country.

A very lucky day in Camp indeed!

The following day, Jeff and I returned to Camp to police up any stray ribbons and flags.  We figured we needed the exercise.  On the drive home, Jeff shouted, “Ha, Snow, you’re melting and we don’t care anymore!”  Then it began to snow.

*I’m a librarian after all, so here’s your reading list:

Bowerman and the Men of Oregon, by Kenny Moore, 2006.

The Boys of Winter: Life and Death in the U.S. Ski Troops during the Second World

War, by Charles Sanders, 2005.  Learn all about those boys from Adams.

The Last Ridge, by McKay Jenkins, 2003.

The Last Ridge: The Uphill Battles of the 10th Mountain Division, DVD, 2007.

None Left Behind, by Charles Sasser, 2009

For more information about the Dion Snowshoe Series visit and click the snowflake.

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About the author

Laura Clark