Tag Archives: hiking

Doing the Old Soft Shoe at Altitude: The Turquoise Lake 20 Mile Snowshoe Race

By Adam W. Chase, Atlas Team Captain

Whenever I had any complaints as a child, my father would respond that whatever I was complaining about was good for me and would put hair on my chest.  He also used that saying on my sisters.

That was my introduction to the notion of: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  While this machismo saying has some genuine validity and applies quite aptly to my experience with distance snowshoe racing, I must confess that I have yet to sprout hair one on my chest.

I have learned from my mistakes as a snowshoe competitor and want to share those mistakes so that others may limit the amount of unnecessary suffering they experience with the sport. I say “unnecessary suffering” because there is always an element of pain that should accompany distance pursuits, whether on running shoes or snowshoes.  Nevertheless, the following account of my first Turquoise Lake 20-mile Snowshoe Race — which occurred on the first weekend in 1996, outside Leadville, Colorado — should serve to assist those planning snowshoe adventures by providing some insight into what not to do.

Tapped To Try Snowshoe Racing

I was coming off a relatively successful late summer and fall running season when I decided to get into snowshoe racing while the sport was in its relative toddler phase.  My racing season had included the Telluride Get High, a Colorado event that offers more than 10,000 vertical feet of altitude gain and breathtaking views from the three peaks over the 13,000 foot mark that line the course of approximately 30 miles.  I had also run the wet Seattle Marathon in late November.

My first snowshoe race came three weeks after the Seattle marathon.  It was a 10-K event and I was clueless about what I was doing.  I used snowshoes that had been express mailed to me the day before the race from a snowshoe manufacturer that wanted me to test their product under race conditions.  It was only my second time on modern snowshoes.  My first time was the day I proposed to my wife near the summit of a blustery Mount Elbert, the second highest peak in the Continental U.S.  She said yes, but we all wonder if the altitude that effected her judgment.

My introduction to snowshoe racing was relatively uneventful because it took place on a groomed course at a Nordic ski center and the weather was good. Running on pre-packed snow felt natural and left me with the impression that the snowshoes were mere window dressing that hindered one’s forward progress.  It was that naive sense of ease that moved me to register for the Turquoise Lake 20 Mile race.  Why not take advantage of my solid distance running base and jump into this event, which was highly regarded by local trail and ultra-runners?

Start Your Day with an Avalanche

Race day morning started in the dark. It had snowed more than two feet in the high country and not long into the drive to the race our packed car that carried my wife, our two friends, three dogs, and yours truly was stopped at a high pass that separated us from Leadville.  All traffic had been halted as a helicopter flew near the summit of an overlooking peak to shoot an explosive into the slope to start an avalanche.  Experiencing an avalanche up close is not something that many live to talk about, but those who do are sure to wonder at the magnitude of the power released in the chain reaction of rushing snow.  It was tremendous and exhilarating, and cast an ominous spell over the day.

The avalanche delay made it a close call getting to the start on time and forced me to change clothes in the car and guess as to the conditions.  As we neared Leadville, located over 10,000 feet above sea level, it became clear that the heavens had been generous the night before, depositing about 28 inches of fresh snow on the mountainous terrain.  The temperature was creeping up to about 5°F without accounting for the wind chill factor.  To warm our thoughts and raise our spirits, we blasted a Phish tape and sang along.

When we arrived at the race start I jumped out of the car and quickly registered for the race.  I did not have time to look at the course map, but figured I could always backtrack or follow the leader if I got lost.  With only moments left before race start, I grabbed a couple of PowerBars and stuffed them in a fanny pack that held a single water bottle.  I then strapped on my prototype snowshoes and waddled up for the pre-race briefing.

Shuffle Off the Buffalo

The Turquoise Lake race is organized by Tom and Melissa Lee Sobal, two Leadville residents who have helped shape the face of modern snowshoe racing. Tom has only failed to win a handful of the one hundred plus snowshoe events that he has competed in his years of racing.  Needless to say, he has won the Turquoise race every year since the first annual in 1989.  The Sobals races are designed to be low-key, with an emphasis on physical exertion without any glitz.  As testimony to that approach, the Turquoise Lake event is free to those racers who bring a healthy, homemade dish to share for the post-race feed.

The pre-race announcements included mention of the course conditions and the mandatory fluid and calorie aspects of the race: all participants were required to start with a minimum of 20 oz. of fluids and 350 calories of food. There were to be two aid stations, assuming the new snow did not prevent the volunteers from getting to the seven and thirteen mile marks.  There were cut-off points because of the danger of having racers on the course after dark, which fell around five in the evening at that time of year.  The goal was to have everyone in by 5 P.M., which was seven hours from the 10 A.M. start; just over 20-minute miles.

The race began with a nonchalant, “ready, set, go” from Tom Sobal, who assumed the lead that would be his throughout the race.  The bright and flashy colors of the athletic apparel surrounding contrasted nicely against the snow.  It was, however, a bit daunting to note the number of team uniforms and racers donning mounted shoes — racing flats that were riveted to snowshoe frames to eliminate the binding weight and the loosening that often haunts snowshoe straps.  These were some serious, sponsored athletes who really knew what they were doing and I had to swallow hard and wonder if I had gotten in over my head.

As we all started moving, the racers kicked snow into the cold morning sunrise, resulting in a playful cascade of sparkles.  As the group advanced, the continuous spray of snow made me wonder if some eye protection might have been a good idea.

Because of the heavy dump of fresh snow we were forced to tramp away from the starting line in single file. I fell into pace at about one third back from the lead in the line of approximately sixty competitors.  Like a bicycle peloton, we took turns at the lead where breaking trail was grueling enough that after only a few minutes the leader needed to be relieved.  It was common to hear happy chatter amongst the racers as the mass cooperated and repressed a sense of competitiveness, fighting the shortness of breath concomitant to racing at altitude.

After climbing through woods and clearing a wood rail fence with snowshoers’ gracelessness, the pack made its way to the crossing of the frozen surface of Turquoise Lake, which came approximately two miles into the race. The wind from the lake was dramatic and I could feel the chill bite.  I was wearing a pair of pants I had volunteered to test for snowshoe worthiness and, much to my chagrin, I discovered an unexpected defect.  The pockets, which opened at the hip for easy access, had filled with snow that I had kicked from behind as I pushed forward.  My pockets soon began to swell and the weight caused the pants to pull down.  To avoid embarrassment and melting, I had to constantly empty the pockets.

As the group progressed across Turquoise Lake, our turns at the lead grew shorter and the wind filled the tracks with snow in a matter of moments. I was only slightly amused at being forced to break trail when directly behind Tom Sobal’s lead.  This was the result of the difference in his six-foot-something tall stride and my double-step.  To further complicate matters, there were parts of the frozen lake that were slushy, causing the watery snow to stick to the cold aluminum shoes and freeze from the cold winds.  The result was a heavy load of caked up, clinging snow.  The fact that I was not wearing gaiters did not help matters and soon my wool socks were dangling with icy balls.  Woe is me.

 

The race really began when the lead group of 15 racers finally reached the far side of the lake. The pack broke apart as soon as we climbed up the steep bank into the woods and turned onto a wind-packed trail.  At about five miles into the event, I was feeling fine as we started a long and steady climb to Uncle Bud’s Cabin, the first check point of the course.  I was maintaining a consistent pace and became frustrated when I was passed by two snowshoers who were wearing some ultralight snowshoes and seemed to float on the snow.  This caused me to ponder the weight of my test shoes.  I knew that they were heavier than some of other makes, but I figured that the new design would compensate with added performance and durability.  Its a good thing that I did not know then that I would finish the race with both shoes broken due to design defects and welding failures.

At about mile six we started a steep climb on an out-and-back section of the course. I was running in the top fifth of the field, but was far enough back that the tracks were well cut in the fresh snow.  At times it seemed as though I was ascending a very long, white flight of stairs.  Perpetual motion was once defined to me as a Slinky on an escalator and I had to wonder if that applied in such cold and snowy conditions.

As I neared the turnaround point I was passed by Tom Sobal followed by a pack of four in hot pursuit. At the top of the climb, it was quite cold but the gorgeous views at the over 12,000 feet and the thought of a descent was comforting.  What was not comforting was the fact that there was no aid station.  When I reached the cabin and shuffled around until it became obvious that there would be no warm drink or cookies that my friend had told me about from a previous Turquoise race, I must say I was rather disappointed.

Tapping Out Or, Shuffle Ball Bonk

Instead of consuming the treats from the aid station, I made due with a rock-hard PowerBar.  Unlike some other, more natural food energy bars, which do not tend to freeze or harden in the cold, PowerBars get rather brittle when chilled.  Chewing was only half the battle.  Before I could chew, I first had to complete the Hudini-like task of unwrapping the thing, which is damned near impossible when your hands are in mittens and frozen numb.  The other blow to my sustenance plans was the fact that my water bottle had frozen up on  me because I had placed it right side up in the holster.  Little did I know, as a snowshoe rookie, that the squirt nozzle would freeze unless I placed it upside down to prevent the top from freezing.  I was reminded of an infant trying to get milk from a spent bottle as I only semi-succeeded in warming the nozzle to allow for some passage of liquid.

After dropping down a quick mile from the turn-around point, the course turned on to a cold straightaway stretch that was fraught with headwinds and no direct sunlight. The winds made for slow going as they blew fresh powder into the tracks of the racer ahead.  By this point my face was numb and my hands had lost almost all feeling.  I had consumed fewer than 250 calories and had drunk almost nothing.  I was, however, having a good time in such a beautiful place and in such fine company.

At about mile 13, just when my spirits began to take a turn for the worse, I reached a corner and saw aid station number one (which was supposed to be number two). I gladly accepted a cup of hot Tang from a kind gentleman who had ridden his snowmobile up a trail and built some shelter to protect him and his gas stove.  The hot fluids got my blood flowing again and I braved the adventure of opening another PowerBar as I strode away from the station.  I had to remove my mitten to help remove my wrapper and to make sure I stored it in a pocket (I have a pet peeve about people who leave energy bar and gel wrappers on trails and refuse to break my own rules).  It took me about a quarter of a mile to get my mitten back on my hand and I wondered whether the temperature had dropped or was I just losing dexterity due to the exertion and lack of nourishment.

The Tang and PowerBar probably fueled my progress another three or four miles and then I experienced my first bonk.  I started to get numb and disoriented and even went off course when I thought I say some tracks go into the woods and down a snow bank back to the lake.  When I discovered that I had made a wrong turn, I literally had to crawl back up the bank to get back on track.  My legs were barely responding to my mind’s commands and I can recall not really caring . . . about much of anything.  It was a rather existential experience, but not one I wish to repeat.

Mention Jack London’s “To Build A Fire.”

I was running on autopilot and had been out in the cold for more than five hours. By this time the temperature was hovering around zero, and was in the sub-teens with the wind chill factor.  I think it was the natural beauty that surrounded me that inspired me to finish the race.  All I had to do was to traverse a short portion of the lake and then descend the final mile down to the finish area.  The final miles came rather easy because I was too bushed to feel much of anything and my numb legs had stopped registering pain or exhaustion.  I would even say that I was enjoying myself, in some demented sort of way, at that point in the race.

The Finish and Hypothermia

When I reached the finish line I found my lovely wife and friends waiting patiently for me. They were cold and our dogs were frozen, but when they saw me, they probably felt balmy in comparison.  They led me into the warming hut where I took in warm drink to try to reduce my uncontrollable shivers.  It took about fifteen minutes and a close relationship with a space heater before I was able to feel good enough to think about replacing my wet clothes with a dry outfit.

It was at that point that I realized both snowshoes were broken. That explained the funny sound I had been hearing for the last five miles of the race.  I also became aware that my wool gray socks were now pink from a couple spots where my feet had been worn raw.  One advantage with numbness is that you do not have to deal with pain.

The potluck was delicious and the hut began to get warmer as finishers started to congregate and recount their day’s adventure. As it turned out a number of racers had turned back early because of the cut-off times.  I just sat there fighting off shivers feeling very content to be finished, warm, well fed, and in such good company.

Although my father was wrong about the chest hair, he was right about it being good for me. I went back to do the race again in 1997 and cut off almost two hours.  I brought two water bottles, put them in upside down, carried Boulder Bars that do not freeze, wore lighter snowshoes that I had run on many times before the race, and made sure that my pants did not have open side pockets.

Stay Healthy, Stay Active

Working at a snowsports company has its perks–fun people who love getting outside, equipment testing, time in the mountains, and getting our hands on the latest and greatest technologies. But with great fun comes great responsibility (that’s the saying, right?). In order to enjoy all of these things, we have to stay healthy!

We recently had the pleasure of hosting a foam rolling and stretching clinic from Seattle-based Kinetic Sports Rehab. They came in to show us how we can stay healthy at work (aka desk sitting) and on our way out the door to our hike, ski, snowboard activity.

Here is some advice on how to keep your body prepped for your snowshoe hike.  If you’d like to see video of these exercises, please go to their blog. Thanks Kinetic!

Transitioning from hiking to snowshoeing is a natural progression for those looking to take outdoor adventures and sightseeing through the wintery months. And while there are definite similarities between the two outdoor activities, there are also some innate differences which call for attention.

The most impactful and obvious difference between hiking and snowshoeing is (surprise!) you wear snowshoes! But, this is actually a pretty big deal, as the platform is significantly larger in length, and more importantly width, which has big implications in terms of gait and walking mechanics.

The wider platform forces you to take wide, somewhat unbalanced steps, which forces your lateral stabilizers and core to work much harder to keep its center of gravity. Additionally, the nature of a snowshoe stride is much more of a push into hip extension with the hamstrings and glutes compared to the quadriceps-driven motion that tends to be more prevalent in hiking.

What does this mean? Well, you should consider preparing differently for snowshoeing than you might train for hiking. Don’t worry though, we’re here to help. Check out the videos below for preparation and recovery to make your snowshoeing endeavors more pleasurable.

TRAINING EXERCISES FOR SNOWSHOEING

Monster Walks – 2 x 20ft x Medium Resistance Band

Why’s It’s Important: The wide snowshoe platform forces one to take wider steps than usually taken with normal footwear. Monster Walks simulate this wide-step pattern and strengthen the lateral hip stabilizer muscles that are needed to support the less natural gait pattern.

Hip Thruster – 3 x 15

Many runners and hikers tend to rely on their quadriceps to dominate their stride, which means many under-utilize the strong muscles on the back of the leg (glutes and hamstrings) that can really drive a snowshoe step. The Hip Thruster is a great movement to ignite those powerful posterior chain muscles that will be dominating your snowshoe strides. Not only that, but they are great for learning how to push into full hip extension efficiently.

Single Leg Deadlift – 2 x 10

The snowshoe step is a series of controlled single-leg pushing motions. To best simulate the stability needed to control such a motion, the single-leg deadlift will challenge the glutes, hamstrings, and lateral hip stabilizers to drive into hip extension so you can power up any trail on the map.

Bear Crawl – 5 x 10 Steps Forward & Back

The wide snowshoe platform forces requires the rotational stabilizers (think core) to work much harder to keep center of gravity on every step. Especially on a challenging snowshoe endeavor, efficiency is the name of the game and eliminating as much side-to-side swaying motion as possible is important. The Bear Crawl is a great way to challenge your rotational stabilizers and increase trunk/pelvis awareness, so you can power forward and not waste energy in the wrong direction.

Spring Skills: Tips for Hiking on Late-Season Snow

It may be spring, but there’s still snow in many places across the globe! If you have the luxury of late season snow access, you should take advantage of it, but know that there are factors you need to consider to stay safe.

Thank you to our friends at the Washington Trails Association for highlighting this list from Mountaineering Educator Mike Zawaski.

Snow travel: a good skill to add to your backpack

  • A snowy pass can provide a significant and dangerous obstacle for the unprepared hiker traveling in the high country. Even if you don’t aspire to climbing peaks, it is definitely worth your time to learn how to kick good steps and travel with an ice ax.

Hiking on snow can reduce your impact

  • Having the confidence to travel on snow allows you reduce your impact by walking on snow instead of around it, a practice which can create additional trails and destroy vegetation.

Travel on firm snow reduces risk from avalanches

  • Late spring and early summer can be a great time to climb snowy routes on peaks, but avalanches are still a hazard. Reduce your chances of getting caught in an avalanche by climbing and descending your route while the snow is still firm. For east-facing routes, this may mean completing much of your ascent before sunrise.

Look ahead to spot hazardous transition zones

  • Common places where falls occur are transition zones. These are places where the terrain or characteristics of the snow changes and climbers fall because they fail to adjust their equipment or technique. Avoid these hazards by looking ahead and preparing for changes before you encounter them. For example it may be much easier to put on your crampons on a low angle section instead of waiting until you are starting to slip because the snow is too steep or too firm.

How to kick steps in snow

  • Learn all about safe snow travel with Mike Zawaski's award-winning book. Photo courtesy National Outdoor Book Awards. Kicking steps with your feet is more complex than most books make it seem. The two tips I commonly offer are to 1.) choose the step that gets the most of your boot’s sole in contact with the snow (if you’re worried about falling) and 2.) not to tiptoe around when kicking hard-firm snow.

Old footsteps can be icy: you may be better kicking your own steps

  • Beware of following an old set of footsteps across a snowy slope. These may be very icy, especially on a cold morning. If you are proficient kicking steps you are much more likely to find a better route or travel more safely across pre-existing steps.

Getting technical: crampons, ice axes and rope teams

  • While ski poles or trekking poles may help you maintain balance while kicking steps across a slope, an ice ax is superior for helping you self-arrest if you fall. Self-arresting with ski poles is possible, but it is much more difficult and you will slide further than if you are using an ice ax.

Crampons: only to be used on firm snow and ice

  • Crampons are an amazing tool that give your feet traction, but they should only be used on very firm snow and ice. The danger on soft snow is that snow will build up under your boot so that your points fail to stick which may cause you to fall.

To learn more about kicking steps, using crampons, and using an ice ax for going up, traversing, resting, and descending on snow, check out Mike Zawaski’s Snow Travel: Climbing, Hiking, and Crossing Over Snow.

Making an Impact

 

In a recent post we discussed our impressions of the Outdoor Retailer tradeshow; mainly one of inspiration at how the industry is working together to get more people outside (to put it simply).

Atlas Snow-Shoe Company has always been driven to get snowshoes into more hands, and get others out enjoying their winter playground. We partner with incredible non-profits, events, and resorts, who share our passion for the outdoors.

Here, we’re highlighting our Atlas Athletes, aka our ambassadors, and all the good they do for their communities. It takes a village to achieve our goals, and we’re thankful that we have these ambassadors not just to our brand or the sport, but to serving those in need.

Adam Chase, Atlas Team Captain

adam and nancy hobbs

I’ve served as the President of the American Trail Running Association for just over 20 years and, in that capacity, have worked on a number of snowshoe-related matters, access to trails, trail safety and etiquette, and how the mountain, ultra and trail running communities may be best served. ATRA deals with maximizing the quantity and quality of trails in the US and reaches out to like minded organizations for cooperative alliances that nuture environmental protection, education, recreational participation, and supports elite trail runners and snowshoers.

For example, ATRA works closely with the US Snowshoe Associaton (USSSA) where I’m a volunteer of the governing body-and trail running-related businesses. ATRA’s race calendar, which includes many snowshoes races, is likely the most visited event page for trail runners.

Geoff Roes, Atlas Athlete

team alaska snowshoe running

The Arctic Winter Games, which began in 1970 and takes place every two years, are a collection of athletic competitions for northern nations and cultures from around the world. This year’s games will be taking place next month in Hay River, YT, Canada. This is essentially the Junior Olympics for people of the far north.

For the last couple months I have been working with a group of athletes who will be representing Team Alaska in the snowshoe events. We have largely been focusing on improving their overall speed and fitness, but many of the kids have never really done much snowshoeing before so a lot of the focus is simply on getting them comfortable on the shoes. This is especially challenging considering that for the competitions at the games they are required to wear traditional wooden snowshoes with fully natural fiber bindings and footwear. Lamp wicking and Mukluks being the gear of choice.

More than anything though we encourage them to get out and simply enjoy being outside moving their bodies in a healthy and encouraging environment. With this in mind, many of our practices lately have consisted of strapping on our snowshoes and going out into the mountains for several hours simply to share this time together and see what we see. Do these outings make them stronger athletes even though they are very different than what they will be doing at the games and there’s not much focus on pace or distance or technique? Absolutely. More importantly though, they teach them how satisfying and worthwhile it can be to get out and have fun doing something healthy, while really just playing around in the snow with friends. This isn’t something I quite understood when I was their age (13-17), but in being a firm believer in the value of this now, it feels really exciting to me to be able to pass this on to them.

Sarah McMahan, Atlas Athlete

When I was in elementary school I had physical education class every day.  Kids need exercise to get their wiggles out, refocus, and prepare the brain to learn.  So it’s shocking to me that today many elementary schools don’t get funding for a PE teacher, which is the case at the elementary school where my kids go.

In 2016 myself and other concerned parents created the Physical Education and Wellness non-profit organization for Incline Elementary School.  Our goal is to raise funds to support a full-time PE teach and wellness programs at the school.  Fundraising efforts include and annual jogathon, 5k color run, raffles, and anything needed to pay for various programs.  In addition to the PE teacher, we provide a Harvest of the Month program introducing fruits and vegetables and healthy eating, free fluoride dental treatments, and before and after school athletic activities.  Winter acitivities include snowshoeing and nordic skiing for the kids.

Teaching kids at a young age to be active and healthy is both fun and rewarding.

Thank you to all of our Atlas fans for supporting outdoor and health initiatives. If you volunteer, support, or are involved in an important non-profit, make sure you share it with us!

Let’s Rock 2018

Now that we’re fairly settled into the new year, snow is (hopefully) falling for most of you, and we’ve gotten past the “resolution rush”, now is a great time to start thinking about, or remind ourselves of, what we want to accomplish in 2018.

For a little bit of inspiration, we’ve turned to our incredible Atlas Athletes, who are sharing their stories, their motivations, and their goals this year.

Brandy

I use snowshoe running to get in shape for my summer of mountain/trail running! If I get the opportunity to travel to Snowshoe Nationals, my goal will be to make the National Snowshoe Team by placing in the top 5 and also finish as the 1st master’s runner.

As for my summer racing goals, they are a work in progress. My two main focuses right now are the Mt. Washington Road Race & trying to make the US Long Distance Mountain Running team to compete at the Long Distance World Championships in Poland in June. If selected, my goal will be to place in the top 10.

My goals for Mt. Washington are:

1) Finish in the top 3 women.

2) Run a post-baby PR.

3) Break the Master’s record.

To obtain these goals, I am currently working on weaning Zeke, getting him to sleep through the night and build a huge aerobic base. Lack of sleep definitely affects one’s training.  We moved to Summit County this past summer. I live near Keystone resort which allows uphill running/snowshoe access. I’ve been using this “hill” to build my strength and endurance. My goal is to run up the mountain at least 3 times a week!

Other goals I have for this summer,

1) Compete in at least one new race.

2) I’d also like to compete in one new or longer distance race this fall.

A few general tips I have for goal setting:

1) Be specific and make your goals measurable.

2) Be realistic with where you are at right now and set smaller goals to help you reach your ultimate goals.

3) Use your goals as motivation on the days you struggle to get out of bed or out the door.

4) Enjoy the process/journey of training for your goals regardless of the outcome.

5) Be grateful for the gift of health!

Colleen

My entire focus for this year is being able to show up at the start line in Silverton Colorado for the Hard Rock 100.  I am fortunate to get a second chance at a  race I’ve been gunning for for years. It certainly will not be a podium finish.     I made it in last year and tore my ACL and Meniscus in a training race.  It’s been a difficult journey back.  It’s a hard injury to come back from at  any age and even more so at my age.  I struggle with doubt and uncertainty but mostly the unknown.  I hope I am doing what I should be doing.  I’ll be pushing to the max when technically I should ” just about be back to normal”   I question when to push when to rest.  I lack trust in my body which is a new sensation and scary.  I am tentative which I deplore, but this is a new journey and goal is to continue to learn and grow and finish!!

Emily

My goals for 2018 all focus around training smarter. As an injury-prone athlete, I want to make the most of each run and minimize the risk factors leading towards overuse injuries. In order to train smarter, I have significantly decreased my mileage during the winter. This allows for harder, more goal-oriented workouts, more time and energy for snowshoeing, and several cross-training classes a week to equalize any muscle imbalances. Once marathon training rolls around in the spring, I will slowly amp up mileage with the added benefit of a solid base of speed and strength. I think making it through a training season without injury is 75% of the battle in reaching your goals. If I can make it to the start line uninjured, my other goals will follow.

Geoffrey

Over the past few years my goals have moved somewhat away from my personal experiences in the outdoors, and closer to a desire to find as many ways as possible to help others experience the pleasure and nourishment from moving their bodies through wild and scenic places. This winter I have begun to work more closely with a group of kids here in Juneau, Alaska who are trying out for the upcoming Arctic Winter Games snowshoe events. For the remainder of this winter, and for years to come I hope to be able to continue to work with others to teach them any skills, tips, and experiences that I have gathered along the way in my athletic career. These experiences working with others have become the most satisfying part of being an athlete, and the thing I most look forward to going forward.

geoffrey kids snowshoe

Jake

Personally, I am not motivated by a single race, event or activity on a fixed day or even over a specific period of time, as my main goal for my athletic pursuits is to continue to become a better all around endurance athlete through diversity in a variety of sports and more integration into my everyday life.  That’s not to say that I don’t want to race or compete, I certainly like to push myself, my focus is just more on competing within and finding new ways to improve and enjoy the outdoors in unique ways through multi-sport endeavors.  An example that comes to mind from the past was about 7 years ago, when I couldn’t even legitimately swim a single freestyle lap in the pool, and now I occasionally, and confidently, participate in 2+ mile open water swim events for fun.  I’m also attempting to pickup skate skiing this winter, which seems much harder than the classic skiing I’m used to from the couple times I’ve been out briefly, but the lack of snow this year has not been very helpful in supporting that effort.

Most front of mind for me in the coming months and year, is to mitigate running related injuries by continuing to integrate more strength and mobility work, and being smarter about identifying potential issues and addressing them before it’s too late. 

Additionally, I’d like to do more on the bikes this coming year, including a gravel event (signed up for one in April), a CX race and generally just becoming a better mountain biker, and maybe trying to do some climbing and bouldering outside of the gym.  Beyond the athletic related pursuits, I hope to travel and camp more this coming year and spend more casual time on the water (fly fishing and paddling); ideally also integrating some travel, adventure and racing across the various pursuits, whether it’s on the snowshoes, trail running or on the bikes, just getting outdoors and having self-propelled fun.      

Jake training

 

Karen

At 43, I am not sure I am going to get much faster then the times I ran in early to mid thirties! So this year I will lead a healthier life, give back more and be grateful for each day that I have. My sister had a unexpected double lung transplant this past June which put ideals for our family back in perspective.  Instead of getting frustrated that maybe I didn’t get enough workouts in, or woke up not feeling well the day of the race, I will try and not complain about silly little things  and think about someone who really has a problem, like just being able to breathe. Sometimes its better to not focus on a time or a place in a race but be grateful to physically be able to compete.

Sarah

My New Years resolutions are filled with fitness goals and new challenges, and 2018 is no exception! I plan to enter a fitness body competition, fine tune my diet as my needs are always changing as I age, and travel to more snowshoe races this winter. We love to race as a family and I’m proud that our 7 year old and twin 11 year olds can run a 5k snowshoe race no matter how difficult the course or how nasty the weather. It’s the perfect family day with exercise and well deserved treats after. Besides hot chocolate and pastries. Some races serve homemade soup! And I love the sound of “McMahan” being called to the podium 5 times.

sarah mcmahan family

Stephanie

Below are some of my goals for 2018:

1) Compete in US Skyrunning races:  I love mountain running and have found this to be my strength over the years.  I live in the mountains and do almost all of my training in the mountains, so this year I am more focused on racing to my strengths.  Skyrunning events take place at high altitude with high elevation gain.  In the past I’ve raced with no specific plan in mind, but this year I am really focused on racing challenging courses which get me really excited – not just choosing races for the sake of racing.  Doing mountain racing also allows me to really use snowshoeing in the winter to my advantage.  With snowshoeing, I can still get out on the trails in the winter and work on my uphill strength.

2) Complete the TransSelkirks Stage Race in Canada.  My absolute favorite format of racing is Stage Racing in the mountains  I have been lucky enough to compete in the TransRockies 6 Day Run twice, so I am really excited to head to Canada to the Canadian Rockies for their 5 day run.

3) Gain UTMB points to eventually compete in the CCC.  This is a race that covers challenging mountain terrain through France and Switzerland.  To gain entry, you must complete qualifying races worth certain point amounts.

4) Professionally, my husband and I just purchased a gym in Big Bear Lake, CA – one of my favorite places in the world!  I feel such a connection with the mountains and town there and it has been a dream of ours for years to purchase an existing gym there.  We plan to make the gym a big success!  I have a big goal to start a trail run and snowshoe series in Big Bear!

 

 

Review: Spindrift “Get Up to Get Down”

Courtesy of Outdoor ProLink

Get Up to Get DOWN!
For when those couloirs are finally filled in, you’ve shaken the
summer rust off your ski legs, and you’re ready to really get after it, the Atlas Spindrift snowshoes are there for you. When it’s too steep for skins, and too deep to just pop the ski crampons on, these snowshoes will get you up the big lines. With use in the Chugach Range of Alaska, these snowshoes have been put to the test in temperatures of 0F, and on slopes up to 35.

spindrift skier uphill

Fit/Comfort
Thanks to Atlas’s new PackFlat™ binding the spindrifts stay snug on
the boot, with no adjustment needed throughout the hike. The Z-strap design and light-weight construction make them feel like an extension of your foot; essential in climbing steep coolies.

spindrift closeup

Look/Style
While no one wants to admit it, style is an important component of
our gear. Atlas’s design team updated several features of these snowshoes, style being one of them. The red trim on black is a pretty sleek look, but I appreciate that they aren’t trying to catch anyone’s attention with flashy colors.

Features
The urethane strap bindings are the first thing I appreciated about
these snowshoes, along with the extra utility strap that comes with the Spindrifts. They’re exceptionally easy to replace in the field. That being said, I had no issues with the durability of the straps. Unfortunately, in cold weather the straps are a bit difficult to work with. The heel lifters are the second feature that caught my attention during use. They’re easy to put up and down, and on snowshoes built for steep ascents, efficient lifters are an absolute requirement. If you’ve ever tried toe pointing up a hill, you know how quickly your calves burn out. These heel lifters give a much-needed assist on big climbs.

Weight/Packability
The Spindrift 25’s weigh in at 3.8 pounds per pair, but mind Atlas’s
size chart when buying them. If you and your gear weigh upwards of 180, go for the heavier Spindrift 30’s. Sure, it’s an extra 0.4 pounds, but the extra floatation will help save your energy for when you want it on the descent. When its time to strap them to your pack and charge back down the mountain, they easily attach to your pack, allowing you to keep the weight of your pack close to your body.

spindrift backpack

Function/Performance

According to Atlas, the Spindrifts are designed for speed and performance on technical terrain. To that end, they do exceptionally well. However, (on low density snow) they don’t always provide as much floatation as you need. This is a trade off you have to accept for their lightweight build and small profile, and they’re certainly a better option than boot packing.

Durability/Construction

So far, so good. Though it hasn’t been a full season, the Spindrifts have held up incredibly well and Alaska isn’t known for going easy on its people or their gear.

The final word

The Spindrift’s do exceptionally well in most conditions. Given spring temps on days you’re most likely to be climbing steep couloirs, they are easy to strap on, feel great under foot, and keep you from post-holing up to your waist as you might on a boot pack. When the temps drop, so does the functionality. The Atlas’s urethane straps become harder to adjust with a gloved hand than you might expect.

Bio

Logan spends his summers as a guide (ice climbing, glacier travel, rafting) in the Alaskan wilderness of Wrangell-St. Elias NP. He chases snow and big mountain lines through the winter. If he’s not on skis you’ll likely find him climbing rock or ice.

New to Snowshoeing Series, Part 3: Fuel=Energy

In Part 3 of our “New to Snowshoeing” series (which isn’t just for newbies!) we’ll be discussing fuel, nutrition, and hydration. The third major piece of the goal-conquering puzzle.

If you missed part 1, you’ll find it here

If you missed part 2, get it now

So you’ve got the gear, you’re training your mind and your muscles, and you’re ready to head out for a longer training or even for the big day (hike day, race day, etc). You’ve spent all that time (and money) getting ready, you need to make sure you’re fueling properly. There’s no glory in reaching the peak in record time if you end up fainting on the trail or in the hospital that night.

Proper fuel and hydration is a key component to training in the cold. The common problem is most people think they only need to hydrate when it’s hot out. NOT TRUE! Here are a few reasons why dehydration can sneak up on us in the winter (courtesy of the endurance experts at Fleet Feet):

1)     Cold air contains less moisture than warm air. With each breath we take, our lungs must moisturize the air, which steals moisture from our body. If it’s really cold out, you can try wearing a mask or a balaclava that covers your face which will help to moisture and warm the air before it enters the lungs. The air inside of buildings is also really dry during the winter months. If you are traveling and will be flying, you can add that to the list of dehydrating factors. Think of how dry the air inside of an airplane is.

2)     Sweat evaporates quicker in cold weather. If you are properly layered, your base-layer should wick the moisture away from your body, so you won’t feel like you are sweating that much. Perspiration that does reach your skin is quickly evaporated and you might not even feel that sweaty at the end of your run. You might think, I didn’t sweat that much, so I don’t need to drink that much. Not true! Try weighing yourself before and after your run or hike. You should drink about 20 ounces of fluid for every pound that you sweat out.

3)     Urine production is increased during cold weather. Blood flow is constricted when it’s cold. This constriction causes an increase in blood pressure. The body tries to counteract the higher blood pressure by getting rid of some of the volume of water in the blood. It does this by increasing urine output which contributes to dehydration.

4)     Cold weather does not trigger the thirst response like warm weather does. Blood flow to the extremities is constricted during cold weather. The blood instead is directed towards the internal organs in an attempt to maintain core body temperature. As long as the core has sufficient blood flow, the brain does not detect dehydration, and the thirst response is not activated. This is good for survival, but bad for hydration! The take home point here is, don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink!

Pro Tip: How much and what to drink?

Everybody is different in terms of how much fluid they need. A general rule of thumb is to take in about   6 ounces of fluid for every 20 minutes of exercise. For exercise lasting less than an hour, water typically does the job just fine. When running or hiking for greater than an hour, you should also be replacing electrolytes.

Pro Tip: Nutrition

If you’re going to be out there for longer than an hour (even if there’s a RISK you could get tired or lost and be out longer than expected) bring non-liquid nutrition such as gels, blocks, granola bars, a PB&J–anything with calories to keep your energy up. This is where that hydration pack or small backpack comes into play. No excuses!

Pro Tip: Train with what you plan on eating for race/summit day. Remember your stomach is a muscle; you train it just like you do your legs. You wouldn’t run to the top of Mt Hood without training, would you? Then don’t expect your stomach to handle new foods, especially if they’re jostling around with running. Training with different foods helps you know what your body can handle, and unfortunately what it can’t.

Believe it or not, fuel can be a mental support mechanism as well. It’s okay to reward yourself with proper fuel when you’re out there. If you’ve brought your favorite bar or most epic trail mix, think of it as a reward for reaching certain points in the day. That will remind you to eat and keep you happy and healthy. Again, we’re having fun out there.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our series and stay tuned for more tips and tricks throughout the season!

New to Snowshoeing Series, Part 2: Training Your Way to a Happy Day

This article is the second part in our “New to Snowshoeing” series. (If you missed part 1, you can find it here.) But it isn’t just for people who are new to snowshoeing; these tips are also great for snowshoers who are looking to tackle a new goal such as summiting a major peak or running a race.

In this chapter we’ll be discussing training.

Training

When a lot of us think of “training” we think of logging tons of volume in the end-goal activity: hiking, running, swimming, biking, lifting weights. However, our Atlas Athletes will be the first to tell you that a winter training mentality is very different from a summer training mentality.

With winter comes more obstacles:

  1. Motivation/Commitment: Addressed in Part 1.
  2. That Temperature: Having the right gear to combat extremely cold weather is extremely important.
  3. Safety: Snow and ice are slippery, there are less daylight hours, and much less visibility.
  4. Physical Challenges: It’s harder to work your muscles when they’re cold or when you’re coming from an “off season” regime of eating gingerbread men and watching “A Christmas Story” marathon.

But have no fear, we have tips to address all these obstacles!

First: Mental Training

Pro Tip: When we asked Team Atlas how they train different in the summer versus winter, a lot of them gave mental training tips. First and foremost: HAVE PATIENCE, both long-term and short-term.

First, have patience with your body. It takes longer for muscles to warm up and get used to moving in the cold, on snow, and with shoes that aren’t worn everyday. Cold temperatures can also cause your body to fatigue quicker.

Second, have patience with your mind. It’s hard for the brain to adjust to thoughts of “Oh, I’m going slower,” or “Wow I’m more tired than normal.” Try to stay positive and alert. This is supposed to be fun after all!

Second: Preparing Your Body

Whether you’re training for a snowshoe run or a larger hike, your body will go through some physical changes (we want to challenge ourselves, right?). Snowshoeing is great cross-training if you normally participate in other activities, but you can cross-train for snowshoeing too!

Atlas is an outdoor company, but we understand the gym has a place in our lives. Sometimes the weather is simply too bad to be outside, or we need a mental break, or we don’t have time to drive to the hills. That’s okay!

Pro Tip: If your day involves the gym, make the most of it. Join a class to spice things up. Use the stairclimber to mimic uphills. Use the treadmill for speed workouts or hill repeats. Strength train your WHOLE body, not just your legs. Strengthening your core and upper body help you stay balanced, keep your form, and prevent fatigue.

Additional Pro Tip: You can also use the ramp of a parking garage or the stairs in a tall building to work the climbing muscles in your legs.

Third: Getting On The Snow

Pro Tip: If you are taking it to the snow, make sure you include a longer-than-average warm up. You don’t want to pull a muscle on the way up, or tire yourself out too early.

All of these short bursts of strength and speed indoors will help you obtain your snowshoe goals outside, even if they’re endurance-based. Going uphill, even a small hill, is no joke if your body is already tired.

Pro Tip: Don’t forget that what goes up must come down. If you reach the peak and you’ve completely wiped yourself out, it’s not fun using those same muscles to get back down. Plan for your whole day, not just the peak! That includes saving some muscle and mental energy to get yourself home safely. It also means fueling your body properly, which we’ll discuss in Part 3.

Photo Credit: Tim Hola, Atlas Athlete
Photo Credit: Tim Hola, Atlas Athlete

New to Snowshoeing Series, Part 1: Get Suited Up

Perhaps you received some fancy new Atlas snowshoes as an awesome holiday gift… Maybe you’re making a New Year’s resolution to spend more time outside (even in the winter)… Or you could be trying to win the office step competition for bragging rights… Whatever your reason, snowshoeing is the answer.

And Atlas is here to get you started (and win that competition). Our ambassadors have loads of great advice for all abilities and fitness levels so you can get out on the snow safely to walk or run in potentially cold, wet, weather. Trust us, it’ll be great!

First: Commitment

Sometimes it’s hard to make yourself go outside in the winter. But the first step is making the proactive decision to just do it. Do you need motivation? Join a hiking group or sign up for a snowshoe race. Having something on the calendar will give you the extra motivation to train.

Pro Tip: It’s okay to feel awkward on snowshoes at first, but just commit to it and you’ll love it in no time!

Second: Gear

It’d be really hard to snowshoe without snowshoes, or a good jacket, or the right shoes. Every one of our ambassadors will tell you that the most important thing to them is quality gear. (We don’t pay them to say that, we swear!)

Snowshoes

Consider the type of terrain you will most often be exploring and factor in your weight to get the right amount of float on the snow.

Pro Tip: The filter on our website is a huge help. Simply select the gender with which you identify, where you’ll be using your snowshoes, and your desired terrain for a customized recommendation.

Footwear

Atlas makes great products, but you still need quality footwear to go into the bindings. If you’re using a speed series snowshoe, you can wear normal running shoes (our athletes recommend adding gaiters for extra protection). If you’ll be hiking, pair some thick socks with good hiking boots to keep your feet warm and dry. Nothing will cut your day short faster than cold, wet, toes.

Atlas Snowshoes - How To Dress

Clothing

Every one of our athletes had one word on when asked about clothing: LAYERS. The general rule of thumb is:

  • A high-quality breathable base layer
  • An insulating layer (thermal top, vest, jacket)
  • A waterproof shell

Remove a layer if the weather is warmer or dryer. Some people get cold easier so don’t base your needs on what your friends are wearing.

If you’re running or aggressively hiking, bring layers that are easy to remove and store. You’ll need those clothes to stay dry later on the way back down or if you pause to take a break. It also helps to have a lightweight pack to stash your layers, snacks, and HYDRATION (more to come on that in Part 3).

Pro Tip: If you’re dreading the cold day, Atlas athletes recommend putting your base layers in the dryer (if it’s safe to do so!) for a few minutes to warm them up.

Extras

A face buff is a great extra piece of gear to carry. Use a buff to warm your neck, put over your mouth to warm the air before it gets into your lungs on extremely cold days, or use it as a headband/hat or pirate headpiece (wanted to see if you’re paying attention).

Eye protection is often overlooked when snowshoeing but sunglasses are another great piece of equipment to stash in your bag. You think you’ll be in the woods the whole time or that it will stay cloudy, but if that sun comes out and reflects off the snow, you’ll want to save yourself from the glare; they can also protect your eyes from the wind and cold.

And don’t forget your gloves!

Safety

If you’re going to be running or hiking in low light or darker conditions (we don’t recommend it, but it happens) make sure to wear reflective clothing and bring a light with you. For just a few dollars at running stores, hardware stores, or even larger pharmacies, you can add this to your kit for great piece of mind. If you plan to spend a lot of time on the trail after dark, a reliable headlamp is a must. Make sure you’re seen out there!


Coming Soon, Part 2: Training Your Way to a Happy Day

Getting Off the Beaten Path on Mt. Hood

Photo Credit Jamie Mieras
Photo Credit Jamie Mieras

By Adam Chase, Atlas Team Captain

Even though Mt. Hood is just a 90-minute drive from downtown Portland and considered PDX’s playground, the amount of snow the upper regions of the volcanic and glacial mountain receives keeps the hoards away, leaving its open wilderness and National Forest areas wide open for exploration.

You can gain serious elevation by starting from Timberline Lodge, a beautiful 1937, Depression-era Work Projects Administration structure six miles up the access road from the town of Government Camp. Climber’s Trail is an obvious option for those wanting to head directly toward the rather daunting yet alluring summit. In other words, it goes straight up the mountain. The going isn’t easy but the views earned from ascending with every step are well worth the effort. Timberline Lodge sits at 6,000 feet above sea level while the summit of Mt. Hood is at 11,245 with the terrain getting rather technical above 9,500.

We did a four-mile out-and-back on snowshoes on a mostly sunny yet breezy day with temps in the high 30s and low 40s. It took more than 90 minutes to ascend 2,500 feet and less than 30 minutes to descend on the soft snow. We saw skiers and boarders who took two lifts to get to just above our turnaround point and plenty of climbers who were headed to make a Saturday night high camp before going for an early Sunday summit and the return home.

Unless the temperature is just right, you’ll need snowshoes, skis with skins, crampons or other traction device and maybe an ice axe or poles. It is a great calf workout and for those coming from sea level the altitude is sure to get the heart and lungs pumping hard.

It was tempting to turn around to check out the view of Portland, below, as the views were spectacular. But we were less than 3,000 feet from the top of the peak that is marveled at regularly by Portlanders, the way Seattle residents are in awe of Mt. Rainier. The ridge line of the summit and its snow- and ice-encrusted crown, like a white saw against the blue sky it cut with its teeth, is so compelling.