Ready, set, snowshoe! | SummitDaily.com

Ready, set, snowshoe!

Melanie Wong
The Vail Daily

VAIL — Bruce Kelly still remembers the first time he saw a snowshoe race. He was driving by Turquoise Lake in Leadville when he spotted a line of men running by in the snow.

He stopped someone to ask what was going on, and they replied, "It's a snowshoe race."

Intrigued, Kelly told his girlfriend (now wife) that he had a pair of snowshoes in the car, and he wanted to try it out.

"She said, 'Sure, how long do you think it will take you?'" remembered Kelly. "I said, 'Oh, it's a 10K, so probably 45 minutes to an hour.'"

He got far more than he bargained for, and not only did the race take him far longer than an hour but the race was incredibly hard. He and a number of other competitors took turns breaking trail through the woods for 6 miles.

"There was barely a trail at all, just some markers," he said.

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He was hooked, and Kelly, who owns Pedal Power bike shop, not only continued snowshoe racing, but he went on to start the Pedal Power Winter Adventure Race Series. The race series has been around for more than 25 years now and also features snow biking and Nordic skiing — but snowshoeing is still the bread and butter of the series.

Signing up for adventure

These days, the regular competitors are a core group of mostly longtime outdoor enthusiasts, but Kelly says there's always room for new racers. You can get your new year off to a healthy start, plus compete knowing that your entry fee is going to a good cause. (The proceeds go to local Lake and Eagle County charities.) Anyone can do it, and in the past the races have attracted mountain bikers, trail runners, adventure racers and triathletes.

Not that the races are easy, says Kelly. (If you haven't tried it, just strap on a pair of snowshoes and try to run and a mile and you'll see what he means.)

"Snowshoeing up a catwalk or just on a flat road doesn't seem to do it justice," said Kelly. "So I decided to make the races more adventuresome. One of the things that drew me to snowshoe racing was that it had a similar mentality to mountain biking. The terrain is always changing."

While Kelly doesn't try to deny that his races are challenging — expect some trail breaking or a few steep hills and powder descents in his races — first-time racers shouldn't despair. The races usually feature a more advanced 10K distance as well as a mellower 5K distance.

"I think there are some people out there who are worried about the competition and how well they will do. That shouldn't stop you from coming, because I guarantee, you'll still have fun," Kelly said.

Upcoming Pedal Power snowshoe races include the Aria Athletic Club and Spa Winter Tri (includes snowshoe, snow bike and skate ski) on Saturday, Jan. 24 in Leadville and the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse 5K/10K on Saturday, Feb. 21 at 10 a.m.

In addition, Beaver Creek holds the Beaver Creek Running Series: Snowshoe Edition, with upcoming races on March 1 and 29. The races are held at different locations on Beaver Creek Mountain and feature slopeside sponsor expos and Atlas snowshoe demos.

Tips for first-time racers

While snowshoe racing is a beginner-friendly sport, here are some tips to make the first race a fun experience, gathered from Kelly and national snowshoe champion Josiah Middaugh.

Practice with snowshoes before the race: They're clunky. They add a couple pounds to your feet, and it's not as easy as you think. Don't let the race be the first time you run on snowshoe. "There's definitely some skill involved," said Kelly.

Be reasonably fit: It sounds obvious, but because snowshoe running is an aerobically taxing sport, you should be in decent running shape before competing.

Use lighter shoes and snowshoes: Don't do it in winter boots or heavy footwear. Middaugh recommends running shoes with neoprene cycling booties or gaitors to keep your feet dry.

Dress light and dry: "Being a little cold when you start is OK," said Middaugh. "Also, wear a shell like a windbreaker and some thin pants that will help you shed snow."

Dig into the cleat: You'll learn quickly that leaning back on snowshoes or trying to walk backward doesn't work so well. When rounding a corner or especially when running downhill, dig into the front part of the snowshoe where the cleat grips the snow. "When you go down something steep, people want to lean back, but you actually want to lean forward and bend at your knees to dig the cleat in," said Middaugh.

Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and mwong@vaildaily.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.