Snowshoe Racing

An overview of snowshoe racing.

By on January 15, 2010 | Comments

Fresh on the powder covered heels of his snowshoe running basics article, Atlas Racing Team captain Adam Chase is back to fill us in snowshoe racing. If you agree that snowshoe running is fun and enjoy occasional competition, keep reading to find out why snowshoe racing might be for you. Adam covers snowshoe racing generally, race strategy, preparation, proper attire, and basic equipment. If you enjoy snowshoe racing, leave a comment letting folks know why? If you’re considering snowshoe racing, please ask any questions you may have.

Snowshoe Racing
By Adam W. Chase

Just because there is snow on the same trails that you run and ride in the summer doesn’t mean you should shun them in the winter. Snowshoe running and racing will help you keep up your fitness and even altitude training while throwing in some zip into the chill and darkness of winter. Jump into a 5K, 10K, or 15K event and feel your muscles burn as you push your anaerobic threshold and experience the thrill of joining a diverse collection of athletes and recreational types who enjoy one of the fastest growing winter sport at a rapid pace.

Atlas snowshoe raceSnowshoe racing is now commonplace throughout the US and Canada, with races throughout the winter. Most events are fun for the whole family and many are held at winter resorts that offer convenience and some fast-paced action. You can take your pick among courses that vary in packed versus untracked snow, hilly versus flat terrain, short versus long, looped versus point-to-point, and some races even segregate the men’s and women’s fields into separate (but equal) tracks. For a comprehensive schedule, go to the United States Snowshoe Association’s calendar. [You can also check out Snowshoe Magazine’s calendar, for a more international schedule.]

Those familiar with swimming in a pack or cycling in a peloton will appreciate the fact that the frontrunners in a snowshoe race must do considerably more work than the rest of the group following in the leader’s tracks. Like road cycling races, snowshoe races on untracked snow end up being highly strategic events. Competitors must work together to form a breakaway pack or suffer the consequences of running in a pack until a final sprint for the finish.

Those entering their first snowshoe race should go into the event with a healthy fitness base, preferably gained from running, triathlon, cycling, or Nordic skiing, all complementary sports that train many of the muscles that are worked when snowshoeing. In addition to a healthy endurance background, preparation for snowshoe racing should include some sport-specific resistance training that works the hip flexors, which are taxed when you step up with a snow-covered snowshoe as you stride, and adductors and abductors, which help support the wider stance required for snowshoe running.

Of course, the best pre-race snowshoe training is to simply get out and snowshoe. Beyond the benefits of sport-specific training, another reason to train on your snowshoes in certain areas in the US and Canada is because you will most likely be doing so at a high elevation. For example, in Colorado most of the races are held higher than 8,500 feet, where it comes as quite a shock to racers’ cardiopulmonary systems if they don’t train that high. Getting into the high country on your snowshoes in the weeks before a race will assist in dealing with the race altitude.

Atlas snowshoe runningAll photos courtesy of Jon Loether/Atlas Snow-Shoe Co.

Proper race attire will help make the experience more enjoyable. One thing that most neosnowphytes neglect when they suit up for snowshoe running is the fact that snowshoeing kicks up a lot of snow. You will actually be flinging snow at yourself from behind as you run, causing what some in the sport call “wet butt syndrome.” While Gore-Tex diapers won’t be necessary, layering with a breathable microfiber shell, an insulating fleece mid layer, thermal tights, and a wicking base layer should do the trick for temperature control and moisture management.

Keep in mind that snowshoe running stokes your oven to burn more calories than almost any other sport. Although you may be shivering as you line up for the race, you will soon be an inferno, so be careful not to overdress. You don’t need to wear waterproof boots when you race on snowshoes. However, using running shoes with a waterproof membrane such as Gore-Tex can help keep your feet drier. Wool socks should help keep your feet warm, even when wet, which will often be the case due to melting snow or splashing slush. Because of the flying snow, you should keep your pockets zipped shut and wear some eye protection, especially if it is a sunny day. Wear a hat that you can pull down to cover your ears and, if it is cold, a pair of mittens rather than gloves will keep your digits warmer.

The equipment requirements for snowshoe racing are relatively basic. If you don’t own snowshoes and want to try those designed for running, consider renting or borrowing a pair for your first race. Many races feature free demos, so be sure to check out race literature and contact the race organizer to reserve a pair. Ski poles are not recommended, unless the racecourse goes through untracked snow and you have some difficulty with balance.

Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.