photo by Tim Van Orden
Within the space of two weeks we have completed two championship snowshoe races—Worlds in Saranac Lake, NY and the Northeast Snowshoe Championship at Prospect Mountain, VT. While balmy temperatures at Worlds encouraged shorts and tee shirts, we plunged right back into winter again at Prospect. Temperatures hovered just above zero, with an aggressive wind chill bringing out the neck gaiters and jackets once more. While the sketchy snow conditions at Saranac went hand in hand with the warm weather, this prolonged dose of spring pretty much destroyed Prospect Ski Center’s base layer, leaving us with icy remnants—but at least no mud!
In truth, the real champions of both events were the race directors who refused to fold but boldly played the cards they were dealt. For it is one thing to postpone a local event, but not good form to delay a championship where elite athletes put in serious training and travel mileage.
Prospect Mountain Race Director Tim Van Orden was relentless, facebooking snow-covered trails, pairing himself alongside local celebrities like Bob Dion to add a touch of credibility to his persistent enthusiasm. Behind the scenes, however, certain sections owed their viability to discrete shoveling, an operation that took place without the help of an entire town as was the case at Saranac. A toast to Vermont self-reliance!
Still, despite our faith in New England ingenuity, unease set in when well past Bennington, Karen Provencher and I spotted only occasional snow patches as we ascended the mountain road. It was truly eerie—no breath-catching icy ascent, no semis jackknifed in front of us. We pulled into a naked dust-brown parking lot, populated by a mere smattering of cars. No XC skiers were in competition for prime real estate—they apparently had more sense. Trust in your RD notwithstanding, we wondered how Tim had managed to pull off those facebook shots. Coming from someone who not only packs the requisite shovel in his car but also an ax to chop down small trees, you just never know.
Once inside the lodge, the main topic of conversation was—Big Surprise—“What should I wear?” Normally, we are pretty good at dressing but the conditions were weird. It was really cold and really windy and we had no idea if the revised course would position us mostly in or mostly out of the woods. Then too, the start was something akin to the Antarctic Marathon—thin snow cover whipping across solid ice. It is difficult for common sense to prevail over visual impact.
Dave Dunham, having just returned from one of his legendary pre-race excursions said he was sweating out there. But then how many of us run as fast as Dave? Jamie Howard who braved ran the Citizen’s 5K before his main event, returned to add more clothes, grumbling that he never really got warm. My arms could barely keep pace with my mind. I listened to Dave and subtracted a layer. Then I quizzed Jamie and added a different layer. Eventually I compromised by pulling off my long sleeved tee and substituting my thin Dion vest. That seemed to work fine. I would like to say that was the result of careful planning but it was just dumb luck.
The course was well marked with spray painted arrows in two different colors clearly separating the two-way traffic on the wider trails. But really I had no idea where I was going. To me, the affair was a haphazard maze where folks of different speeds intersected each other in carefully regulated traffic patterns. It was handled so skillfully that I never got lost, but I never really knew where I was either. I kept hoping for the zigzag downhill leading to the finish, which of course didn’t happen, as the steep slopes were more suitable to sledding than snowshoeing.
As this was our final race, we had a great collection of practical awards and I walked away with an orange Dion hat and a prized bottle of Shagbark Hickory Syrup—maple syrup with a pedigree.
As we pulled out of the parking lot, we were caught in the vortex of a dust storm, reminding us that a brown spring, or perhaps a climate-change desert was in store. Then, two days later, Saratoga was gifted with two feet of snow and Woodford double that amount. Just like the snow that fell after Worlds, but a lot more. Is this a pattern? Should the advertised date of a race be merely a ploy with the real event scheduled a few days later? At any rate it seems like we should somehow take advantage of all this snow with another event. All we need is an adventurous race director with a real date and an alternative.
By laura clark