This is it! The week of the USSSA PowerSox Nationals at the Highland Park, Fabulous Fabius, New York. All Qualifying events throughout the country raced over the past lucky 13 weeks — they’re done, results recorded, qualifying spots earned. Qualified Snowshoers are making their way to the snowshoe warrior battleground at all points Tully, using every mode of transportation available. Get there if you dare . . . You dare not get there!
Chary Griffin, the Race Director for this historic tenth year, greets snowshoers with, “I want to welcome all of you to the Tenth PowerSox National Snowshoe Championships. We are fortunate to be competing at Highland Forest Park and enjoying the new Skyline Lodge. We expect the largest snowshoe field of athletes ever! Additionally, welcome to the world of “Lake Effect” snow. Typically, we have enjoyed over 200 inches of snow each winter. I want you to know that the snow has been great on all the trails!”
Now, anxious Snowshoers are making their way to Highland’s Trails using every mode of transportation available, to arrive-or-bust for what promises to be the biggest event in the history of the USSSA. None could be more important, though, than that day ten years ago, February 10, 2001.
Only five hours away from the 2010 Tenth Anniversary National Championship site sits the home of the 2001 Snowshoe Nationals in Plattsburgh, NY. 31 snowshoeing souls from six states lined up on a Saturday, representing the biggest provider, New York, followed by Vermont, then Colorado and Massachusetts tying, Michigan, and finally, Virginia.
And it was a two-country affair with Canada providing 10% of the total, too.
Note the host of this year’s Championship, Chary Griffin, was there for race number one, taking a medal for her efforts, the first of many in the decade.
Nikki Campbell, Montana, began her reign as the most decorated Champion that day. Dave Dunham, Massachusetts, took the men’s 10km victory. It was also the first year — and last — the women raced only a 5km length.
Starting in 2002, Traverse City, Michigan, all Senior Racers completed the now-standard 10km. Josiah Middaugh, Colorado, burned through the course with a 36:31 finish, establishing his presence at the top of the men’s winners list, winning two more Championships over the decade. Women’s winner was Colorado’s Anita Ortiz starting her own medal streak. Ten states supplied 42 entrants.
It wasn’t until 2007’s Minneapolis Championships the men and women’s senior classes separated, each having their own race. A strong leader and visionary, multi-year National Team member and Race Director of the 2007 Nationals, Cindy Brochman, helped push the competition to equal status.
Honoring her, Snowshoe Magazine this year named the Snowshoe Person of the Year Award, first awarded to Cindy at her Nationals, in her memory. Ryan Alford, publisher, said, “We feel this Champion of snowshoe racing was a Champion of life, too. Titling the award after her is our way to memorialize all she meant to the sport and commemorate her family in snow sports.” The award, and its third winner, will be presented at the Victory Banquet, Saturday night. As a registered racer, the banquet is on the house. How can you not be there?
For the 2010 Championship season there have been 1778 athletes participate in qualifying events in 13 lucky states. Can you name them? No, not the athletes, the states! Try it . . . then see how your list stacks up against these Snowshoe States of America: Colorado, Wisconsin, Utah, Minnesota, New York, Michigan, California, Oregon, New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania, plus the Double A’s, Alaska and Arizona. If your state isn’t highlighted in this elite list, work on establishing a qualifier in the future . . . the applications is on the main page of the USSSA’s website (link at end of article).
Out of the 27 states plus Washington, D.C. where card-carrying USSSA members reside, the best in snowshoers have earned a Qualifying slip reading “New York” for the Championships. The states of the early years like New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire are included . But also Michigan, Maine, Idaho, Alaska, Arizona, plus big numbers from Wisconsin, Colorado, and Minnesota. More athletes are eligible to arrive from Tennessee, California, Nevada, Illinois, Iowa, Wyoming, Oregon, District of Columbia (a first?), Washington the state, South Dakota (thanks!, Robert Bolton), Ohio, and of course Ms. Excitement herself, Laurie Lambert representing Texas.
To surpass the big 2009 Championship raced in the land of a very large mountain, Oregon’s Mt. Hood, there will need to be more than 20 states represented — that looks possible. Without including the Juniors Class, which should also have a record turnout, a large late registration pool should yield sufficient finishers establishing the Tenth Anniversary edition as the Association’s biggest ever — an honor held currently by the Bolton Valley Championships of 2006. Sports Director, Mark Elmore, notes, “I expect pre-registration will continue, most likely at a quickening pace. I also expect there to be a huge day-before and day-of registration crush from many athletes from the northeast who will be driving in for the race weekend. The field of this size will make this one of the largest snowshoe events to have ever taken place in the northeastern United States.” From a competitive standpoint, it should be the largest ever in the country.
In addition, here is a fact that should make us all proud: The number of athletes qualified to race in the Syracuse Championships is 99.7% of the total USSSA membership. Active group, these snowshoers of America.
The word is getting out USSSA Sports Director, Mark Elmore, growing up near the first ever Championship, has big time experience in the Highland Forest where the 5km and 10km trails are laid out (see map at race site). He remembered, “I really enjoyed my time at Tully and the community.” His first-hand knowledge of the park can be big time help. If you get clues from him on how best to address the race, kindly let me know first . . . .
Of course, there is going to be plenty of time to tour the Championship courses prior to race time with the best period starting at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, allowing a pace that suits you. Saturday morning is a short hour’s worth of course time. With check-in, Junior racers start, and a myriad of activities, that time is probably best for an early warm-up. Those registering on Saturday morning will only have a chance for a quick see of the layout.
The last Championship Race of the day, the Senior Mens, blasts off at 11:30, so there’s a substantial amount of time in-between the beginning event and the conclusion of the men’s. Then there is a gap until the 3:30 p.m. awards ceremony, which I will predict right now will last longer than the 30 minutes planned on the schedule.
Who is going to win the Senior Championship Events on Saturday? Here are some clues about the men’s overall that is going to make this a startling year: Champions who have collectively won seven of the nine previous years are all entered! This list has 2009’s victor Peter Fain from California; three-time winner (2008, 2003, 2002), Josiah Middaugh of Colorado; then 2007 and 2006 Champion, Greg Hexum of Minnesota, plus 2001’s Dave Dunham, Massachusetts, who will always be the snowshoer who won the first Senior Men’s Championship.
Interesting note: of the four Continental U.S. Regions, each is represented with this foursome. Sorry, Alaska — you have medalists, just not the overall Championship . . . yet. Then, of course, in the starting grid are some names that can surprise even this quartet of elite ‘runners on frozen water,’ as Coach Ilg is prone to say.
The Women’s Group may yield the biggest surprise of the day as past Champions havn’t yet showed their hands . . . on race day the Senior Championship is open to a new name capturing the prestigious Tenth Anniversary title. This race is definitely going to sizzle the snow, sure to be exciting. The women and men Senior events are contested separately so the race to the finish in both groups will be visible to all spectators.
The kid and citizen race occur in this early afternoon gap. Remember, there are the prize drawings at 3:00 p.m. so one has to be there — there are rumored to be some big deal gifts to show off at home.
The Championship Banquet commences at 6:00 p.m., hardly enough time to get the gown and tux on . . . just kidding about the formal wear, but casual-nice sounds like proper attire. I bet the event shirts will be on display in hearty abundance, which will be great, too. The top in U.S.A. snowshoeing will be there — don’t miss this celebration! A special highlight, Snowshoe Magazine will present “The Cindy Brochman 2010 Snowshoe Person of the Year Award,” renamed this year in honor of this true ambassador of the sport.
If you have looked at the map of the racecourse profile, available on the information page for the 2010 USSSA Championships, it is possible you have made the conclusions that:
1. The first half is tough, going up in a sawtooth pattern.
2. Mile 3-4 is going to have some interesting consequences with the big dipper and then the zipper right back up again, sure to call on all the Quad Choirs singing in those pained legs like the screaming orchestra featured in the Infinity and Beyond closing of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Do not be surprised if the race champion and many of the medals are earned and lost in this one-mile piece of snow.
3. Then the 2.2-mile race to the finish with the requisite ups and downs to boil one’s spirit. The races that start and end at the same point theoretically have the same altitude gains and losses; however, it never feels this way, and this course promises that.
4. Of course, the sled hill will be a landmark factor with which to contend.
Chary’s love of this forest reflects as she describes, “Highland Park is located south of the City of Syracuse within a ridge of glacially formed terrain with elevations ranging 1500 feet to 1940. The park is 2,759 acres of forest with three nearby ski areas, state lands, and many trails. It is Onondaga County’s largest and oldest park formally dedicated in 1932 by President Roosevelt as a WPA work project, planting millions of trees. Timber harvesting is an on-going forest management program with revenues from sales supporting park operations and improvements highlighted by Skyline Lodge.”
“The racecourses will take advantage of elevation changes and will wind through hardwood and evergreen forests. It will view the expansive countryside vista, the historic logging area, mountain bike, horse, ski, hiking, and North Country Trails — part of the Appalachian Trail! — As well as a complete tour of the sledding hill. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did creating it.” Experience with sledding hills makes me think this one will be a good test for hardy snowshoers. Chary’s description of “a complete tour” of it seems to indicate a devilish amount of time spent there, singeing the quads.
What about her benign phrase, “racecourses will take advantage of elevation changes?” So easy to read over, hardly paying attention, but what I read into that, and see on the course profile, is where there’s a chance to go up, we go up. If you notice something that looks tough, figure on climbing it. Watch for some tricky parts, too, a realistic guess after viewing the rambling, circular 10km loop on the terrain map.
Hey, that’s what we came for, right? Of course, what makes a Championship Race and worthy Champions is a true test of snowshoeing ability, demonstrated by lots of conditions, terrain, and single-track layouts. But isn’t that the fun? Who would want to come here and celebrate such a significant year with no challenges, no competition, no pain?
There is a lot of fun to be had at these Championships. You can sense it already, like in the cool colorful entry form, best yet, which doubles almost as an event poster. And the title sponsor, PowerSox, is very generous to the entrants, and besides, they make some terrific socks for snowshoeing. Big supporters of the sport, Atlas and Dion Snowshoe companies, are major sponsors, and you are sure to see many of those yellow Atlas and white Dions in the races. Then there is Fleet Feet Sports making a big step with their sponsorship in the sport. Fleet Feet is a national chain of stores addressing all athletic needs. If you wear it, they want to fit it for you. Conveniently, one of their national stores is in Syracuse. Go to their website, if you’re looking for opportunity, and franchise a territory — have some fun, after all.
While in the area, Chary offered these interests to note: “There are many things to do like watching Syracuse Crunch Hockey (American Hockey League’s most popular team), Finger Lake Wine Tours, quaint lakeside villages and shops, nearby alpine skiing plus Highland has over 20 miles of cross-country skiing trails open to all — rentals available! Then there are horse drawn sleigh rides, too!”
Friday, a Meet and Greet hosted by the Syracuse Convention & Visitors Bureau will be held for athletes looking over the course, and registering. An athlete panel discussion is scheduled, too; the competitor’s reception opens at six pm. Paul Smith’s College will be hosting the Kidz Zone play area from 10-3 pm on Saturday. There is a 5km citizen’s race open to all, sponsored by Dion snowshoes, and a Kids Kilo, sponsored by 54 Freedom, for the children as well the open 4 x 2.5k relay race on Sunday. Something for everyone. Oh, and by the way, did I mention a million dollar view on the sledding hill? Bring your snowshoes and a smile!”
Plenty more racing with the team thing relay on Sunday as she mentions, which everyone who has ever participated thinks is the most fun ever. Hammer Nutrition Products sponsors these races, which include four separate classes of all combinations. Be sure and enter your team or make yourself available to join someone else’s. Many foursomes will be formed over the weekend — for the race, that is — so one should find themselves a slot.
Some can’t stay and will say good-bye to the 2010 National Championships early Sunday or Saturday night. After the awards for the Team Day, closing ceremonies will mark the end of this Tenth Championship year. There is an incredible amount of effort going into these championships through Chary’s very capable team and the diligent USSSA. As participants, we need to be sure to provide some kind words to the people involved in the weekend.
Then what? Easy! All should be prepared for more good times in the sport of snowshoeing in the 2011 season. Read about the location of the National Championship location and the requisite Qualifiers coming soon in Snowshoe Magazine.
Now, though, get your gear in your official snowshoe-mobile, and hurry to the Nationals.
“There is a lot of snow at the park and it continues to snow here! See you soon,” as Chary Griffin, Mark Elmore, and many people can hardly wait to say, “Welcome!”
Photo credit: Top and Last, Eric Willis
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