Snowshoe Origins and Evolution
Snowshoes have been around for about 6,000 years, but snowshoe racing is a fairly recent phenomenon.
According to the United States Snowshoe Association, (USSSA) snowshoeing originated in central Asia and come to North America with the ancestors of the Inuits and Native Americans.
Over the past 30 plus years, snowshoe racing and running have grown in popularity along with all the other outdoor endurance sports.
As the sport has grown in popularity, snowshoes have evolved as well.
Ancient snowshoes were made of modified slabs of wood. In North America, Native Americans adopted white ash frames and raw hide for snowshoe construction. Through the 1960’s and 70’s this design remained relatively unchanged.
I grew up wearing this type of snow shoe. For hiking they were fine, but I never tried to run in them.
In the 1960’s some manufacturers offered neoprene lacing. Neoprene did not stretch when it got wet and was low maintenance. In 1972 Gene and Bill Prater developed the oval-shaped aluminum framed Sherpa snowshoe and steel hinge. In 1989 they replaced neoprene with polypropylene to make the Sherpas even lighter.
In 1990 Redfeather Snowshoe Company introduced an aluminum framed beaver tail snowshoe that became very popular. The company sponsored several snowshoe racing events in Colorado that gained the attention of marathon runners and triathletes. These athletes brought attention and credibility to the sport.
In 1991 Tubbs Snowshoe Company (Est. 1906) introduced the Katahdin and Sierra snowshoes. Tubbs and the entire industry enjoyed strong sales growth of 20-30% over the next 20 years.
In 1994 444,000 pairs of snowshoes were sold in the US. In 1995, 640,000 pairs were sold and in 1996 over a million pairs were sold. Today approximately 5.5 million people participate in snowshoeing in North America alone.
Most snowshoes are now made of aluminum and are either 8″ X 25″ or 9″ X 30″. Other sizes are available for deep snow hiking and other conditions. For officially sanctioned USSSA events, regulations require snowshoes to have at least 120 square inches of functional surface area and dimensions no smaller than 7″ X 20″.
The USSA web site lists the known models that meet these specifications. The website also has their official rule books for Sprint and Distance races.
Cute Moose Snowshoe manufacturer’s list has 13 manufacturer’s of all types of snowshoes including race and hiking snowshoes.
As a kid I was familiar with snowshoes. We always had a few pair around the house and I became proficient at walking in them on trails or in the woods.
With all of the snow in 2016, I began to pay more attention to snowshoe race listings. They seemed to keep popping up while I searched for 5K races. I even ran in snowshoes in the Nutty Irish 5K Cocoa Run.
I wore a pair of Tubbs hiking snowshoes which at 9″ x 30″ were less than ideal to run in. But, it was an adventure that I’ll never forget!
Snowshoe Racing Nationwide
The United States Snow Shoe Association (USSSA) is the governing body and organizer of the Snow Shoe National Championships. They usually list local races also, but as of January 23rd 2022, they only had two races races on their list! See my links below for local race listings.
The two Nationals events are:
Jr and Collegiate Nationals in Leadville, CO January 29, 2022
Open Nationals in Cable, WI March 13, 2022
Over the past few years many races have been cancelled due to lack of snow.
Usually there are non-USSA sanctioned races put on by local running clubs and non-profits. These races have also suffered from the lack of snow the past few years.
Snowshoe Racing in Your Area
I’m a big advocate of racing locally. I like to support local groups and hate to drive two hours to run a 5K. Check out these links to races and to find races in your area.
2023 Snowshoe Festival
Norway, ME |18 February | Saturday | 10:00 AM
Run a 5K or 10K for $10. A 2K race is also available for $5.
Snow Devil Ultra Snowshoe Races
Pittsfield, VT | 3-11 February | Saturday/Sunday | Various times
You have a choice of distances for this evert:
100 Mile or 100K at 6 am or Noon respectively, Friday February 10
Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K start at 8 am Saturday, February 11
The course will be a gorgeous 6.5-mile loop in the Green Mountains of Vermont. Each loop will have 1200 feet of elevation change and sweeping views of the surrounding mountain ranges!
2023 registration was – $175 for the 100 Miler, $120 for the 100K, $85 for the Marathon, $65 for the Half and $55 for the 10K.
Sugarhouse Snowshoe or Trail Run 5K/10K
Shelburne, VT | 26 February | Saturday | 9:00 AM
Run a 5K or 10K for $30.
The Sugarhouse Snowshoe 5K/10K was postponed in 2022 due to weather and I did not see 2023 registration information.
This race appeals to competitive snowshoe runners as well as relaxed fitness walkers.
You’ll be treated to a beautiful run through the sugar grove of Shelburne Sugarworks. If mother nature cooperates, this will be a snowshoe race.
Otherwise, it will be a 5K run/walk or 10K run. You’ll start and finish at Shelburne Sugarworks where there could be some sugaring in the works (depending on Mother Nature).
Just prior to the race, we will be offering a short (200-300 yard) race for kids. This portion of the race will be free. No awards or shirts will be involved with this “fun run” snowshoe event.
22nd Saratoga Winterfest 5k Snowshoe Race
Saratoga Springs, NY | 5 February | Saturday | 11:00 AM
2023 registration was only $20, see you in 2024! Sponsored by Dion.
Selkirk Shores 5K Snowshoe Run/Walk
Pulaski, NY | 5 February | Saturday | 11:00 AM
Race will begin and end at our enclosed shelter that overlooks Lake Ontario. Enjoy our thrilling woodland racecourse with portions of the trail groomed. Finish by warming up around the stone fireplace and enjoying some refreshments. Everyone if welcome to participate. Masks will be required indoors.
2023 registration was $20. See you in 2024!
Millstone Madness Snowshoe Race
Barre, VT | 11 February |Saturday | 10:00 AM
Check back for details on the 2024 race.
These are just a few. Check out the links below for more local listings.
The Dion – Western Massachusetts Athletic Club web site has information on their 2022-2023 snowshoe racing series. These races are all in New England and New York and run through March.
Snowshoe Magazine has product reviews, race information and local club listings. With so few race opportunities, hooking up with a local club may be your best bet if you want to get out and enjoy the sport.
World Snowshoe Federation lists snowshoe races all over the world. You can also find information on the World Snowshoe Championships. The USSA was a founding member in 2010, now there are 14 member organizations.
Cute Moose Has a list of races in the mid-West and is a great resource for information on snow shoes and all things snowshoe related.
Acidotic Racing has listed snow shoe races in the past but I don’t see anything for 2022.
Maine Trail Finder is a great resource. You can search for trails by town or county, difficulty and type of activity. More for hiking than snow shoe racing, but still a cool site.
Western Mass Athletic Club hosts the DION Racing Series and lists the full schedule. They also have tips for beginners.
Northernlites makes snowshoes and their website has some great information on snowshoes, getting out there with the family and races all over the country from New Hampshire to Alaska!
The National Weather Service page provides current snow conditions. This link is for the northeast, but they have the best data nation-wide to help you figure out if a snow shoe race may actually be able to happen!
Have you ever run a snowshoe race? If you find one in your area, would you try it?
Run well my friends!