Lying somewhere between torture and triumph
After last month’s snowshoe race, which happened to be the first in my life, I vowed to start spending more than once every three years attempting to run on snowshoes.But when Saturday’s race at Beaver Creek snuck up on me, I was asking myself when I was last on snowshoes. Uh … Let’s see. It was that race last month. Saturday’s event, although I only did the 5-kilometer course, proved to be another reminder of why such things as fitness and training might be beneficial to someone embarking on the sport of snowshoe racing.
The race began and ended at the top of Strawberry Park Express lift at Beaver Creek. That in itself was a troubling sign. Obviously we weren’t going to be doing laps around the lift shack or McCoy’s Warming Hut. We were going straight down the mountain, then straight back up. Although I might have been lacking in cardiovascular training, I feel the multiple days a week I spend on skis or a snowboard – the only activities I do in the winter which might be considered “exercise” – were useful to me on this first portion of the race. Namely, these pastimes have given me the skill of not faltering much after a silly little thing like a face plant. Save the times I break a bone or tear a ligament, I am someone who can get up quickly after I fall. And I am someone who falls a lot. Regardless of whether the contraption attached to my feet is snowshoes, a snowboard, Nordic, alpine or telemark skis, falling is an aspect of winter sports I’ve had almost as much experience with as chairlift riding, and the two have coincided more than once. Thus, when other racers were slipping and sliding onto their knees and elbows in the waist-deep powder down the first section of Saturday’s course and pulling themselves back to their feet before gingerly continuing, I proceeded to take one ungraceful leap after another, barely missing a step even as I teetered onto my knees and flopped recklessly over bushes and stumps. As we all plunged through the powdery glade, somebody echoed my own concern when she called out, “Do we have to come back up this?”
Another voice grimly replied, “Probably.”At the end of the downhill section, having transformed into a human snowball, the marker announcing mile No. 1 came up in what seemed to be five minutes. But, after mile No. 1, the course shot skyward along intermediate ski runs and through some more heavy powder areas and didn’t stop climbing until it reached the finish line. I mentally envisioned marionette strings pulling my right leg then my left during what I would like to think was a powerhike but in reality was a delirious zigzag. In what must have sounded like an incoherent gurgle, I attempted to cheer on the male 10K competitors who began to pass me, which included Mike Kloser, a world-renowned adventure racing champion and the guy responsible for designing Saturday’s course. I wondered if any participants, on the condition that they could still walk after the race, would be going after him with pitchforks.
After what seemed like 300 years, mile marker No. 2 appeared just as a fellow competitor passed me and said, “This is like climbing a fourteener.” I grunted my affirmation, and was amused by all the downhill skiers staring slack-jawed at the hundreds of Lycra-clad lung busters running up the mountain. The looks on their faces said it all. But if I were on my ski holiday from Florida or New York and I suddenly found myself skiing down a run dodging crazy mountain folk attempting to run up it in clown shoes, I might also stare and wonder what sort of masochism was propelling them.After Kloser’s bionic 11-year-old blew by me like I wasn’t moving, I forced my feet into a slog that was the closest thing I could call a run for the final 15 yards to the finish line. I tromped around the finish area trying to catch my breath. I watched other competitors smile exhaustedly amidst a wave of cheers as they also lurched to the end. Then, something strange happened. I lost the sensation that my appendix was in my throat and I started to feel like I had accomplished something. I started to feel that maybe I should keep my snowshoes instead of subjecting them to a ritualistic burning. I started wondering if this wasn’t something I would like to do more often.Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.