Churney Gurney snowshoe race report written by ATRA contributor Laura Clark. Laura is an avid mountain, trail and snowshoe runner who lives in Saratoga Springs, NY, where she is a children’s librarian. Photos by Jen Ferriss.
I’m on my way…off Northway Exit 20 and up onto Gurney Lane Recreation Area to the Churney Gurney 5K Snowshoe and Fat Tire Bike Races in Queensbury, New York. At first glance, the multi-layered parking lots, playing field, swimming pool and recreation center resemble any other such facility. But directly behind it you step into a Beatlesque take on Penny Lane—convoluted forest circles weaving in and out, up and down, sometimes with the roar of the highway in the distance. All compact, meticulously planned-out and designed to provide a maximum amount of trail in what might otherwise have been a postage stamp sort of place. Within its flowing layout on the edge of the Adirondack Mountains, Gurney Lane encompasses 13 miles of trail and is ranked the #1 Mountain Bike Trail System in New York State.
Heidi and Bob Underwood and Underdog Race Timing have been hosting a winter and a summer version of this festival for three year now. As local mountain bikers they are intimately familiar with the trails and are able to make last minute adjustments when this snow is sketchy. But this year it was perfect—a crunchy base topped off with two inches of fresh snow the day before made for a speedy and pleasant trek.
Looking at the course from a race director’s eye, I admire Bob’s skill in marking it. With all the intersecting lanes, this route could easily require a troop of course marshals. But instead, he has just one, making generous use of caution tape to define routes, divide lanes, and keep the flow smooth and effortless. The only dicey section was at the end in the playing field where Chief Dog, Uncas, insisted on running around with the cones and rearranging them to suit his stylistic preferences.
Weirdly in this COVID era, registration was held indoors in a nod to the early morning 10-degree temperatures. This is the first race we have had all year where we could go indoors to get warm (besides hanging out in the bathroom), and we were careful not to crowd or linger. As we finished our snowshoe event, the mountain bikers were arriving, the temps were climbing and the sun was brilliant—a fire by the open-air pavilion didn’t hurt either! And, another first, we even had a socially distanced raffle. I had forgotten how much I had missed these little touches. Some of us browsed the outdoor market set up by Grey Ghost Bicycles –another pre-COVID, Penny Lane sort of touch.
When all was said and done, we experienced the best of Penny Lane—a glimpse into the past, a valiant present effort and a hint of things to come.
The Gurney Lane Snowshoe Race took place on January 24, 2021. Race results can be found on the Underdog Race Timing website.