It is 6 o’clock in the morning on Saturday, February 14th. I sit at one end of a long pine table, eating my pre-race breakfast (instant oatmeal with banana and raisins). It is pitch black outside. While I begin my race-day preparations, still sleepy and warm, 78 snowshoe racers are starting an epic journey.
The Ciaspalonga della Marmarole course is 42 kilometers (26 miles) long. The route changes each year, winding through the picturesque Marmarole, a group of mountains forming part of the Dolomites in the province of Belluno, Italy. The terrain rages from groomed snow-packed trails to single-track stretches and finishes in the town of Pieve di Cadore, the birthplace of the painter Titian.
This year, the demanding course had a total elevation gain of 2,600 meters (about 8,500 feet). Snowshoe marathoners met a challenge from the beginning. They faced 750 meters (2,460 feet) of altitude gain in about 3km (under 2 miles), followed by about 10km of more gradual incline. Racers then descend 1,000 meters over 7km to the half-way point.
I was one of 50 snowshoe racers to complete the ‘short’ course. We joined marathoners for a distance of 20 kilometers (about 12.5 miles) and for 1,000 meters of elevation gain (about 3,280 feet). The steepest ascent in the short course came between 7 and 10km, where we climbed about 430 meters (1,400 feet).
“I wouldn’t miss this incredible landscape and the great track,” says Marcus Fink, ISSF Secretary who has traveled from Munich to take part in the Ciaspalonga event three times. The course is challenging, but the scenery is unforgettable.
On race day, there are nearly 100 volunteers supporting the event. Volunteers serve hot broth, tea, water and food outside alpine huts (or rifugi) along the way. The organizers – CadorEventi – are ever-present. “Participants see us all the time and everywhere – at the start, at the halfway refreshment point, at the finishing line and at the award ceremony,” says Christian Zandonella, one of five friends who make up the CadorEventi team.
The support and thoughtful nature of the organizers translates into a general feeling of camaraderie. “The essence of the Ciaspalonga is difficult to describe. It is the warmth of the people, also the landscape, the sport and the party,” says Fink.
The first Ciaspalonga della Marmarole was in 2012. The implementation is the work of Christian Zandonella, Stefano Campi, Pierluigi Marengon, Diego Tabacchi and Giacomo Rorato, who form the non-profit group CadorEventi. The team also organized the European DAM CLIMBING championship in 2012 and several ski mountaineering races. Their aim is to use sporting events, and the Ciaspalonga in particular, to promote the Pieve di Cadore area internationally.
Snowshoeing is growing in popularity in the Cadore region. Zandonella explains, “The Ciaspalonga idea, the first snowshoe marathon in the world, came from Cadore Regno delle Ciaspe (Cadore Snowshoe Kingdom – ciaspe is a dialect word for snowshoe).” The project involves grooming roads and high-altitude footpaths leading to rifugi. The alpine huts would normally close in winter, but now give snowshoers and ski mountaineers the chance to go on multi-day trips.
When it comes to planning the Ciaspalonga, the CadorEventi team believes that “all the details of the organization have to be right.” This means checking trails religiously. The CadorEventi team describes how in the weeks before the event, they begin checking trails for avalanche risk and snow. “We’ve had to change the route every year either because there was very little snow or because there was too much.”
This year was no different. For the first time, there were segments of the race that were not snow-covered. Racers stopped at three stations to change into and out of snowshoes and crampons while trying to lose as little time as possible. “Being fast in the changes made a difference,” says Daniele Fornoni, a competitive trail runner who finished second overall in the race.
The race entices top athletes like Fornoni to compete. “In four years we have managed to bring the greatest trail runners in Italy to the Ciaspalonga,” says CadorEventi. This group of top athletes includes this year’s winner Fabio Bonfanti and Fornoni who finished just a minute and a half after Bonfanti. Fornoni competed in the World Trail Running Championships in 2011 and 2013 as a part of the Italian national team.
Ten women completed the full course and Roberta Lorenzi was the women’s champion for the second year running. With a time of just under 6 hours and 25 minutes, Lorenzi crossed the finish line over 23 minutes before the other women racers. Daniel De Battista won the short course with a time of 1:47:49. Antonella Selva was the fastest woman on the short course, coming into the finish in just under two and a half hours.
The Ciaspalonga is the longest snowshoe race in the world, and for many, it is also the most enjoyable racing experience of the season. Zandonella says, “there’s no other race like it in the world and so anyone taking part really feels they’re doing something epic.”
Snowshoe trail maps and information on alpine huts in the Cadore region are available at www.regnodelleciaspe.it.