Running on Snowshoes
Editor’s Note: Just when you think winter has released its icy grip, it lashes back with March and April snowstorms. Like all good Minnesotans, we know that snow can last late into spring; here’s a fun and different way to enjoy it! This two-part series is written by guest contributor, Jim McDonell, and has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Minneapolis Running.
Did you know that snowshoeing is one of the fastest growing winter sports?
Did you know that it beats running, x-country skiing and fat tire biking for fitness and lower cost and is lower impact than running? And more fun than all 3?
Why would you pound the concrete or blacktop with spikes in winter or even worse use a treadmill (ick!) when you can immerse yourself in nature and float across the snow in snowshoes?
Did you know that there are several dozen snowshoe races in the midwest alone, national and international competition and that snowshoe racing is almost 200 years old?
I have been an avid snowshoe racer for 23 years including 10 years competing in the USSSA snowshoe nationals and planning to compete in Worlds February 25 in upstate NY. You will find me at races in a kilt and warpaint. I have also been a competitive runner for 44 years, a triathlete for 33 years, in-line skater, and x-country skier. But you do not need to look or dress like me to enjoy this sport….in fact, most snowshoe runners are no different than runners from beginners to elites.
Why Snowshoe Run?
There are dozens of reasons to snowshoe run, here are just a few: Cobalt blues skies, crisp cold air, and glistening white snow forces you to acknowledge you are alive! Primal! It clears the cobwebs from your brain and the jelly from your belly! Great exercise, cross-training, camaraderie, low impact, close to nature, freedom to go anywhere, simple, fun! No lift tickets, waxing, trail passes or groomed trails. You can run on snowshoes with no or little snow….unlike x-country skiing. The USA OLYMPIC marathon running team trains on snowshoes in the winter. In a 6-week comparative conditioning study between runners and snowshoe runners at the Human Performance Lab in Vermont, snowshoers showed significantly greater gains in multiple fitness tests.
The History of Snowshoe Running
Running snowshoes are smaller and lighter than traditional snowshoes. Big wooden snowshoes (“woodies”) have been around for thousands of years. In the 1800’s Canadian snowshoe clubs dressed in team uniforms raced each other on wooden snowshoes in days-long festivals. Less than a hundred years ago, in the Northeast USA, people even held hurdle races in wooden snowshoes. Modern urban man (such as minneapolisman and even stpaulman) have less frequent need for the 7 foot (yes Alaskan snowshoes were that long!) or 4-foot wooden snowshoes. Aluminum snowshoes were introduced in the 1960’s, and further developments were later made in plastics, carbon, and composites. Powerful metal crampons on the bottom of snowshoes allowed for quick work up hills without “herringbone,” or traverses, or side stepping. Most racing snowshoes today are made from aluminum, although some are plastic, composites, or even carbon (and a few brave souls still race in woodies). Some snowshoe runners have modified their running shoes with metal crampons to use with woodies. (There are even “mountain man” divisions in some Wisconsin races where you race in 4-foot wooden snowshoes and vests or backpacks with 15 lb of added weights!)
cutemoose.net – Lists all midwest snowshoe races with separate page and info on FREE Braveheart series. Win snowshoes, running shoes, etc.
snowshoeracing.com – Site of the national USSSA (US Snowshoe Association) organization with info on nationals, local races across the US, equipment, membership, articles.
snowshoemag.com – Free online snowshoe running magazine with race summaries and info on equipment, people, place.