On Sunday, Jan. 25, snowshoe racers from across New York State participated in the Empire State Snowshoe Racing Championships at the Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC) in Paul Smiths, N.Y. The competition was a qualifying race for the United States Snowshoe Association National Championships.
The scenic course traversed forested and marshy areas on groomed trails to create a 5K loop, ending after a short hill. Athletes competed in both a 5K and a 10K, held simultaneously with the 10K snowshoers running the circuit twice. With several inches of snowfall the night before, the trails were well-groomed providing good traction, particularly during the first lap. Forty-five athletes braved 5F temperatures and a slight breeze on the clear, crisp morning to compete.
In the women’s 5K race, Jessica Setter of Paul Smiths, N.Y. and Morgan Burd of Lacona, N.Y. finished first and second with times of 31:56 and 32:28 respectively. Elizabeth Trachte finished third overall with 32:55 and first in the 50-59 category. Melissa Sandford took first in the 30-39 category with 42:03.
The men’s 5K garnered participants from only the youngest and oldest age categories. Tyler Dezago of Paul Smiths, N.Y. took first place with a time of 23:47. Ezra Hulbert and Cody Sears took second and third. All three of the top finishers were in the 15-19 age group. Doug Roode of Tupper Lake came in fourth overall and first in the 50-59 category with 30:29. Kirk Peterson finished with 35:34 and first in the 60-69 class.
For the athletes that continued to race, the course became more challenging as some fatigue set in and the groomed trails became more worn and torn up, particularly on hills.
Amy Rusiecki of South Deerfield, Mass., finished the women’s 10k in 56:59, over a minute faster than her closest competitor, Chloe Mattilio. In the 40-49 category, Dawn Leone finished first with 1:10:58, ranking 8th overall. Mattillio, who finished first in the 20-29 group, is a sophomore at Paul Smith’s College. Although experienced as a runner, she started snowshoeing in college but found the two sports to be similar. Regarding the 10K’s two-lap format she told me, “Doing it twice was nice because you kinda knew: I’m exactly halfway done. I’m going to try to do the same thing for the next one.”
Both Eric Sambolec and Jeremy Drowne finished their first lap at 21:59. As Eric, from Ithaca, N.Y. told me, “I ran with Jeremy Drowne on the first loop just to kinda feel it out and then if I felt good I said I was going to push the second loop”. Sambolec’s decision paid off and he ended up taking gold in the race after 43:59, with Drowne less than 30 seconds behind him. Robert Bolton finished shortly after the two front-runners with 45:46, placing first in the 50-59 class. Eric Sambolec is an avid snowshoer who has been racing for eight or nine seasons, is a three-time nationals competitor, and is even putting on his own snowshoe race for the first time this year.
One important factor in the race was the prevalence of Paul Smith’s College students, the bobcats. At the race, 16 students qualified for the U.S. Snowshoe Nationals. Jim Tucker, the school’s athletic director, said that the students frequently train at the VIC and so are familiar with the trails and accustomed to the terrain.
According to Tucker, only several of the Paul Smith’s College snowshoe racers joined the team with snowshoe racing experience. The race gave newer snowshoers the opportunity to compete alongside seasoned racers and the chance to move on to the U.S. Nationals in Eau Claire, Wis.