For most people, snowshoeing isn’t so much a sport as it is a way to get out and enjoy a nature hike in the wintertime. But for competitors like Michelle Lyman, of Breckenridge, Darren Brungardt, of Boulder, and a niche group of summertime runners turned winter athletes, it’s much more than that. It’s another way to quench their year-round competitive thirst.
“I didn’t know anything about it until I moved to Colorado,” said Lyman, a triathlete turned sponsored snowshoe runner. “I think a lot of people just think it’s a hiking activity.”
But for those in the competitive snowshoe world, it’s an organized circuit, complete with sponsors and a national championship. This year’s snowshoeing nationals are in Vermont this weekend.
“It definitely has its pockets of popularity,” Brungardt said, explaining that competitive snowshoeing exists primarily in Colorado, the Midwest around Minnesota and the Northeast.
Here in Colorado, Lyman said, a tightly knit community of athletes compete regularly throughout the winter. “It brings out a certain type of people. I see the same hundred-plus people at every race.”
Earlier this year, Brungardt hosted the annual Powerbar Colorado Cup, one of the qualifiers for nationals. He said that in years past, nationals have been right here in Summit County. Brungardt — a runner through college — came in ninth overall in 2009, but knee injuries have kept him from getting back to racing form in recent years.
Both Brungardt and Lyman found the sport somewhat by chance.
“I needed something to do in winter,” Brungardt said. “I tried it out and I really loved it. I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Lyman found her way to the sport through sponsorship, and enjoyed the added winter activity.
“It’s a way to keep in shape for sure,” she said.
When asked how running compares with snowshoeing, Brungardt explained, “I wouldn’t say it’s a lot different. You definitely feel like you’re working a lot harder than if you were doing a 5K or 10K on the roads.” He added that conditions play a large role in the challenge. In the Northeast, courses often have thicker, heavier snow, whereas courses in Colorado can throw a runner into knee-deep powder.
Lyman said there is a definite strategy to snowshoeing that differs somewhat from running.
“In snowshoeing the technique is to keep your feet high. The stride has to be a little bit longer and a little bit higher.”
She explained that passing on singletrack courses can be especially challenging with deep snow outside of the packed-down trail.
One of Colorado’s largest, longest-running snowshoe-racing series concludes this weekend outside of Vail with the final race in the Beaver Creek Running Series, Sunday, March 2.
Romp to Stomp Returns to Frisco
For those interested in giving snowshoeing a try, the 12th annual Tubbs Romp to Stomp Out Breast Cancer returns to Frisco Saturday with three snowshoe walking or racing options.
“The Romp to Stomp in Frisco is the biggest snowshoe event in the entire country,” Brungardt said. The event raises money for Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast cancer foundation and locally for the Community Care Clinic. Participants can take part in either the 5K or 3K walk or the 5k race. Organizers expect around 2,000 participants, most of whom will take part in the walks.
“We get a lot of first-timers,” Claudine Norden, Colorado regional coordinator for the organization, said. “It’s a fun family event and it raises money not only locally but also nationally for breast cancer.”
Participants of all ages are encouraged to sign up and to dress in pink to support breast cancer survivors and cancer research. In addition to raising money for charity, the event — sponsored by Tubbs Snowshoes — is also intended to promote wintertime activities to those less inclined to participate in more aggressive winter sports.
“It’s easier to get someone who’s not used to the winter lifestyle out and about,” Norden said of snowshoeing. “It’s less intimidating than downhill skiing.
Day-of registration will be available at the Frisco Nordic Center.
More information can be found at www.tubbsromptostomp.com.