Story by Joe Reddy
On January 19th, I went up to the Whitaker Woods Snowshoe Scramble with Scott Mason and Chris Jasparro. With a 10:00 AM start in North Conway, NH, we had to head out early – meeting up at Scott’s house at 5:30 AM. I was especially interested in getting there early enough to get in a little warm-up because I had never set foot in snowshoes before. Scott has an extra pair and was kind enough to loan them to me, so I didn’t have to worry about that part. We got to the race area in plenty of time and got all signed in. Back at the car, Scott ran me through the basics of strapping in. It’s pretty intuitive – a couple of straps across the front and one around the back. We walked over to the start area of the race and started running. It is surprisingly natural, you really are just running along.
There were two things I was most worried about. First, I don’t have a lot of lift to begin with – you’re not going to see too many shots of me with both feet in the air. I thought somehow that would be a problem with the snowshoes. Not at all. Second, I have a tendency to kick my right ankle with my left foot. That was a valid concern. We weren’t far into the warmup when that came into play. I whacked the frame up against my right ankle. First few times weren’t too bad but towards the latter half of the 4 mile race I was full on whining when I’d hit it. The distinctive clack-clack clack-clack sound of the snowshoes would periodically change to clack-clack owwww clack-clack somewhere in early mile three.
The Whitaker Woods course was primarily on groomed XC ski trails. The snow was for the most part neat and flat. Occasionally it got a little rutty, but that was the exception. In prior years there had been one more section of single track than we ran but the race director felt that the snow was a little thin in that area so he routed it out.
The first 1/3rd of a mile was slightly uphill and punctuated by a short steep uphill/downhill combination. About 6 tenths of a mile in, we began about a half mile of climbing. My Garmin had it at 140 rise over the half mile – so a little over 5% grade. No Mt. Washington but on snowshoes it was challenging. Then it rolled through most of the second mile. A few of those nasty hills where you hit a plateau and turn a corner thinking, okay, time for the downhill racing – and you look ahead only to find it’s still going up. Nothing as steep or long as that half mile bit, but you were glad when you started mile three which was pretty much downhill all the way. A little ways into three you popped out of the woods onto the top of a wide open downhill slope with a fantastic view of Mt. Washington. If I’d had a camera, I might have stopped to get a shot of that. Actually, after that 2nd mile if I’d had a camera I might have stopped to snap a shot of a particularly interesting tree branch.
In that 3rd mile, the way Scott and a couple of other guys in my sight took off made me think that there might be more technique difference on downhill snowshoe racing than there was on the flats or uphill. I didn’t feel physically different but that was the only part where I felt like I wasn’t holding my place in the race. Three was not only downhill, it had a little single track and wound a little bit, but again, the trails were really very clear. Four was close to flat, through the woods on the XC trails with a few pot bunker type up and downs, but a relatively low key mile. You came out into the field we started on and did a loop around it to the finish.
I finished 25th in 36:02, following Scott at 21st in 34:59 and Chris at 11th in 32:04. I greatly enjoyed my first attempt at snowshoeing, ankle bruising notwithstanding. I will definitely try it again – maybe the Kingman Farm race in mid-February. As soon as I got home, I started perusing the internet for ankle protection. I might be able to make do with something like baseball players use to protect their ankles from foul balls. I’ll have to check eBay, maybe Barry Bonds is auctioning off some of that body armor he used to wear in his later years.
All in all an enjoyable experience, the race topped off by a visit to Moat Mountain and some good beer along with a surprise appearance by Zart who happened to be spending the weekend up in North Conway.