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More modern than you think, snowshoeing provides perfect winter workouts



Dashing through the snow

Get in your winter workout through snowshoe racing

If your image of snowshoeing is traipsing leisurely across a field of snow with huge wooden contraptions strapped to your feet, then you haven't gone snowshoeing in a while --- or at all.

Snowshoe racing has become serious business across the country, including here in the Rochester area. Top-of-the-line aluminum and titanium snowshoes are sleek, lightweight, and pricey, costing more than $200. Top models can be purchased locally at Medved Running and Walking Outfitters (www.medvedrunwalk.com) and at Snow Country Sports (www.snowcountrysports.com), both on Monroe Avenue.

However, as long as you can afford to buy or rent a pair of snowshoes, just about anyone can pick up the sport. "If you can walk or run," says local race organizer Mike McCullough, "you can snowshoe."

Local snowshoe enthusiasts hit the trails at MendonPondsPark, Webster Park, DurandEastmanPark, NorthamptonPark, or just about any other park that has cross-country skiing trails --- or even no trails at all. Snowshoers can also compete in several organized racing events during the winter, including some that serve as qualifiers for the Empire State Games and the United States Specialty Sports Association regionals.

If you show up for one of these events, you should be ready for some serious competition --- and a serious workout.

"It's heavy on the legs," says 63-year-old Webster resident Carolyn Kriesen, who started racing five years ago. "When you start doing it, it's just an incredible cardiovascular workout."

Local endurance-sports guru Mort Nace, who works for Medved, has been one of the key figures in the rapid development of snowshoe racing in the Rochester area by organizing several annual events and teaching new converts the ins and outs of modern snowshoeing.

For a hardcore cross-country runner like Nace, snowshoeing presents an opportunity to be active outdoors when all the park trails are blanketed by snow.

"I just love winter," he says. "I love the crispness of the air. [Snowshoeing] is the most fun when there's fresh snow on the ground."

Snowshoe devotees will gather at MendonPondsPark for the 12th annual Winterfest Weekend. Saturday, January 20, features a 10K for adults and a 5K for juniors, with the race serving as a qualifier for both the Empire State Games and the USSSA regionals. The ESG sprint qualifiers will be held on Sunday, with 100-meter, 200-meter, 400-meter and 1500-meter races slated. For more information or to register, go to www.roadsarepoison.com.

The race season continues on January 28 at Webster Park with the Lake Effect Snowshoe Festival, sponsored by Fleet Feet and Yellowjacket Racing. All sprints at the event will serve as ESG qualifiers, as will the 4K race. For more information or to register, go to www.fleetfeetrochester.com.

Snowshoers will have another chance to compete on February 3 with the Cast-A-Shadow relay at Mendon Ponds, where racers will be challenged to run as far as they can in a certain period of time. (Race time will depend on whether the groundhog sees his shadow on Groundhog Day, hence the event name. If the groundhog sees his shadow, the race will be longer.) Go to www.roadsarepoison.com to register or find out more.

And don't worry if there's no snow for any of the events. If the earth is bare, they'll be strapping 'em on and running anyway.

In addition, opportunities abound for new snowshoers who want to learn the basics of the sport and get together with like-minded lovers of the outdoors. Pack, Paddle, Ski (www.packpaddleski.com) offers several moonlight snowshoe gatherings throughout the winter and provides rental pairs for those without their own, while the Genesee Valley chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club (www.gvc.adk.org) offers snowshoe primers and a recreational hike at Winterfest.

Medved sponsors weekly Snowshoe Sundays at Mendon Ponds at 9 a.m., when Medved staffers offer demonstrations and training for newbies as well as rental pairs of shoes.

Medved'sNace says he's seen huge growth in the local snowshoe scene over the last few years, largely because so many endurance athletes are looking for winter activities. Numerous cyclists and triathletes have gravitated to snowshoeing, and the sport has mushroomed with teens as well.

"We get a very diverse crowd," Nace says, "all looking for some way of staying fit in the winter. Snowshoeing fits that niche. The workout is incredible, and it's a great way to get outside."

Kriesen, who trains at Webster Park and Mendon Ponds, says many new snowshoers are surprised by the challenge it presents. "You're finding a lot of multi-sport athletes who try it," she says. "They come in and they're just shocked by how tough it is. You're going to fall and trip."

Newcomers are also surprised with the level of competition, she adds. "When you watch some of these guys race, you can't believe they're going as fast as they are in showshoes," she says.

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