Snowshoe Running What You Want to Know

Snowshoe Running

By Mark Rosenblum (guest blogger for OmniRunner)

When old man winter blows in hard and furious, creating icy roads and huge snowbanks narrowing Brooksby Snowshoe classic, snowshoe raceroadways, what can you do (besides treadmill running)?  Running on roads with less traffic still has risks.  Seeking out well plowed streets offers limited choices.  Well, there’s another choice which is safer, more fun, and gives you a more forgiving surface than running on the roads: snowshoeing!

 

Snowshoe models

If you want to get into snowshoeing, you’ll first need to decide which type and model of snowshoe to Tubbs 6000 snowshoes, snowshoe running, snowshoesbuy. The majority of snowshoes on the market are designed for either mountain hiking or trail walking.  Running in the former is possible but challenging.  The latter is fine for starting out.  These will cost $100-$200.

However, if you want snowshoes primarily for running training and possibly snowshoe racing, you are better off getting running or racing snowshoes.  These will cost $200-$300 for better models.

Atlas racing snowshoes, snowshoe running

The good news is that companies are starting to offer more choices every year as this sport catches on.  The bad news is that most outdoors specialty retail stores do not carry this type of snowshoe, so you will most likely have to buy online and read up on different options, vs. having an in-store salesperson help you.

 

Try before you buy

If you have never been snowshoeing before, you will probably want to try it before buying snowshoes.  REI rents snowshoes, or you may find a small local retailer that does.  Rentals typically will run $10-$20/day.  Many XC ski touring centers will also rent snowshoes.  A great opportunity to try out different models of snowshoes for free every winter is “Winter Trails Day”, held in several states on different dates in January. Go to www.wintertrails.org  for more info.  There you can try 3-4 different models in an hour or two and get questions answered.

You are not likely to find racing snowshoe models at these stores or events.  However, many races will provide an opportunity to use a racing model provided by a sponsor for an extra $5 – $10.  The numbers are often limited so you may need to register early.

Technology

If you were buying snowshoes for hiking, you would want to learn about “flotation” and get a snowshoe size based on your weight and type of snow conditions you will encounter.

For snowshoe running and racing, you will want a narrower and lighter snowshoe.  The following webpage lists 35 models of racing snowshoes which are ‘legal’ per racing snowshoe regulations: http://www.snowshoeracing.com/legal_size.htm

Here in New England, Dion dominates the market, with their Model 121 being most popular.

One thing you will want to consider is how easy and comfortable it is to fasten your hiking or running Dion snowshoesshoes to the snowshoes via the bindings, which typically involve some type of leather, rubber, or plastic straps. Dion’s ‘Quick Fit’ binding comprised of flexible VELCRO®-type straps is one of the easier types available.

Other details to consider when trying snowshoes for running is how closely the snowshoe snaps back to your foot, kick back of snow, and weight.

Lastly, while most snowshoe hikers also get a pair of ski or trekking poles, for both balance and leverage, they are not needed for snowshoe running, and are not used for racing.

Footwear

Asics Gel Arctic 4, winter running shoeIf just looking looking to get into snowshoeing as cross-training for hiking, hiking shoes are your best option.  For running training, consider getting a GORE-TEX® running shoe, especially if you are prone to getting cold feet.  See “The best way to enjoy winter running” for some suggestions.  Another advantage of these shoes is that they will offer better forefoot protection against binding straps, which may otherwise provide uncomfortable pressure points.

Such shoes are also fine for racing, where you might not mind trading off some extra weight for comfort.  At the other end of the spectrum, some racers looking for the lightest weight and comfort have found ways to custom mount a pair of racing flats directly to the webbing of the snowshoe, eliminating the need for bindings.

Gaiters are especially helpful for snowshoe running.  This topic was also covered in the blog post Altra Gaiters, snowshoe gearmentioned earlier.  For most conditions, ankle height gaiters will be your best option.  Most models will attach via clips to your laces, and laces or straps under your arch to secure the gaiter.  Instead of the latter, some models attach to your heel with a strip of VELCRO®.

 

Clothing

You will quickly find out when you do snowshoe running workouts that you will generate more heat than for a corresponding road workout.  Thus, an initial guide for what to wear is to dress for about 10 degrees warmer than what you would wear for running.  You will quickly find what works best for you.  The only other special consideration for snowshoeing is that there is just no avoiding kicking up snow behind you, which can leave a mass of ice crystals clinging to the back of your pants.  Slicker materials such as running tights or rain pants will minimize this.

Where to go

Mt Hood golf course, snowshoe hikingIf your local golf course is available for winter recreation, you can run with as little as 2” of snow if the ground is well frozen.  Avoid running over the greens.  A similarly good location is around playing fields at local schools.  Rail trails and some woods trails will be fine with about 4-5” of snow, whereas rocky woods trails may need 8” or more before you can get out without risk of damaging your snowshoe crampons or twisting an ankle.

If you go on trails and find cross-country ski tracks present, proper trail etiquette requests snowshoers to avoid stepping in the tracks.

Racing and Race opportunities

If you are a competitive runner and get into snowshoeing, you will probably want to try snowshoe Katherine Kulig, Granite State Snowshoe Championshipsracing at some point.  The quality of the snow at the time of the race will be the biggest variable that you will encounter, from very hard to very soft, very smooth to ‘choppy’, and from well packed to fluffy fresh powder.

The conditions obviously will affect how fast you can go.  As a result, times are not comparable even for the same race from year-to-year.  Under typical racing conditions, expect your times to be anywhere from 50% to 2x (or more) greater than your times for a road race of the same distance.

All that being said, snowshoe races offer runners a fun and interesting experience for racing, quite different from other races.  You’ll generally find other runners at snowshoe races, typically those who enjoy cross-country, trail, and mountain races.

Snowshoe races frequently have ‘single-track’ sections: narrow paths in woods where the snow-packed trail is not wide enough for two people to run side-by-side.  It is very difficult to pass on these sections.  If you sense someone is on your heels and itching to pass you, try to quickly find a good spot to step to the side to let them pass.  You will appreciate the same favor when the situation is reversed!

Here in the Northeast, your best sites to learn about race opportunities are:

http://www.granitestatesnowshoeseries.org (NH races)

http://dionwmacsnowshoe.com  (NY, VT, and western MA).

Nationwide race information can also be found at http://www.snowshoeracing.com/events.htm .

Snowshoeing with others

Lastly, snowshoeing with others is a great way to keep active during the winter.  Having someone guide you through trails, especially at night, is a lot easier than going off by yourself.  Also, when there is deep fresh snow, making tracks is a lot easier with a group.

So, whether you are looking to find a safer alternative to running on the roads during the worst winter days, interested in a growing way to stay competitive during the winter, or looking for a fun way to take advantage of winter’s bounty and enjoy the company of friends out in the woods, consider taking up snowshoeing!

Snowshoe Racing

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 has grown in popularity along with all the other outdoor endurance sports.

As the sport has grown in popularity, snowshoes have evolved as well.

Snowshoe Evolution

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.

snowshoe racing
Photo – snowshoes.com

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.

There are currently more than 24 snowshoe manufacturers in the US and Canada.

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.

Snowshoe Racing

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.

snowshoe racing, 5k race

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!

The United States Snow Shoe Association (USSSA) is a great resource to find races that are qualifying events for the National Championship in Leadville, CO.

As of November 2019, they do not have any races on their list!

The championship is scheduled for February 28th to March 1st, 2020. Let’s hope there is enough snow around the country for qualifying races!

Over the past few years many races have been cancelled due to lack of snow. The USSA and the Dion – Western Massacusetts Athletic Club web sites have not been updated for 2019-2020.

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 for local races and more information on snowshoe racing. Let me know if you know of other races.

United States Snowshoe Association  All of the official races across the USA.

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  They list races, information on snow shoes and are a great resource for all things snowshoe related.

Granite State Snowshoe series  This link no longer works. But I’m hoping it’s only temporary.

Acidotic Racing has listed snow shoe races in the past.

3C Race Productions used to manage the Horse Hill 7K in Merrimack, NH, the Olde Salem Greene Snowshoe Classic in Salem, MA and the Beaver Brook Snowshoe Race in Hollis, NH. I havn’t found any information on these races and 3C no longer lists them.

Trail Monster Running – This link no longer works. But I’m hoping it’s only temporary.

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.

Used to let you look up trails all over the country. You can punch in your city or zip code, or the name of a trail that you want to look up.  They also have tips on equipment, how to snowshoe and be prepared for your adventures. This looks like another great resource for you.

Western Mass Athletic Club  hosts the DION Racing Series and lists the full schedule. They also have tips for beginners.

10 Snowshoe Races to try in 2014 – from PodiumRunner.com. A little dated but you might find a good local race. Some of the links still work.

The National Weather Service has a page where you can get current snow conditions. This will 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!

Andy