The second annual State of Maine Championship Snowshoe Race, scheduled for Jan. 20, presents an opportunity for adventurous runners across the state to test their speed on the hills of Great Pond Mountain Wildlands in Orland.
“It can be challenging and technical,” said Bar Harbor resident Peter Kenney, the lead organizer of the race. “I enjoy pushing myself, like I do when I’m running. But it’s a little different, too. I think you definitely need to be more patient [on snowshoes] because sometimes the conditions aren’t right and things are a lot more technical. It takes more effort.”
The 4.9-mile race will begin at noon at the Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery. Competitors will travel over snow-covered dirt roads and single-track trails on the slopes of the 1,030-foot Great Pond Mountain. Tricky footing and small stream crossings will add to the challenge.
“This run is only for the type of person who knows what to expect and prepares for an off-road event year-round,” according to the Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust website, greatpondtrust.org, where people can find information about the race and the terrain.
A January snowshoe race has been held in Orland for the past 10 years, but it wasn’t until last year that the race became a state championship and a qualifier for the United States National Snowshoe Championships, which this year will be held March 15-17 in Bend, Ore.
“Last year, we decided that because there’s no sanctioned qualifier snowshoe races in Maine [for the national championship], we’d do it. The nearest one was New Hampshire,” said Cheri Domina, executive director of the Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust.
Since the trust purchased the 4,300-acre Great Pond Mountain Wildlands in 2007, it has been a major supporter of the race, which began in 2002 with only four competitors, Kenney being one of them.
Kenney began snowshoe racing in the mid-’90s in western Massachusetts. When he moved to Maine in 1997, he couldn’t find many racing opportunities, so he started to organize races throughout the state. At the same time, the late Ron Muir of Trenton, a man known for whitewater canoe racing, was also promoting the sport.
“Part of our mission, what we’ve always wanted to do, is make more snowshoers and turn people on to the sport,” Kenney said.
“Being out in the woods, thats what I really love,” he said. “I enjoy getting a snowshoe trail going, breaking trail and just going way out there. You can see a lot of beautiful things, and it’s really good exercise.”
Kenney believes that interest in snowshoe running is growing in Maine, based on the increasing number of races being organized throughout the state.
The Orland snowshoe race has been held every year since 2002, regardless of snow conditions.
Last year, when the race first qualified as the State of Maine Championship Snowshoe Race, only 14 people competed. Due to lack of snow, the course had to be run in sneakers and crampons (metal spikes), not snowshoes. Nevertheless, the icy foot race was still a qualifier for the national championships, said Kenney.
Judging from online registration, attendance will be higher this year, Kenney said.
“If the snow is here and it’s nice out, we could get a good crowd,” Domina said. “There are places you can watch them come across the trail that’s not a long hike in.”
“It would be good to be between 50 and 100 people,” Kenney said. “That would be great because in other state championships and other qualifiers, there are between 50 and 140 competitors.”
Those who aim to compete in the national championships should bring their United States Snowshoe Association membership card or plan on joining the association at the event. They will also need to follow official USSSA guidelines, including legal snowshoes, which can be found at www.snowshoeracing.com/.
Kenney has 15 pairs of Dion snowshoes, which fit USSSA specifications, for competitors to borrow for the race on a first come, first serve basis.
Dion Snowshoes is a race sponsor, as well as Hammer Nutrition, Hannaford of Bar Harbor, Cadillac Mountain Sports, Peacock Builders, David Witham and Sheri Kean Productions.
People who aren’t interested in competing but still want to make the trek on the course will start after the competitors. Awards will be handed out at 2 p.m. in the hatchery building.
Competitors can pre-register by downloading a form at greatpondtrust.org or online at prerace.com. Pre-registration is $10; day-of registration is $15 (10-11:30 a.m.) The race will benefit the Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust. For information, call Kenney at 288-3909 or e-mail email@example.com.
Some other Maine snowshoe races scheduled for this winter:
• Bradbury Mountain Snowshoe Series will be held at Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal for its third year. This year, the series — hosted by Trail Monster Running — will test racers on three separate courses circling and climbing Bradbury Mountain: the 3.5-mile “Bradbury Squall: on Jan. 20; the 4-mile “Bradbury White Out” on Feb. 10; and the 5-mile “Bradbury Blizzard” on March 3. For information and to register for the races, visit trailmonsterrunning.com/bradburysnow.
• The second annual “Tanglewood 5K Snowshoe Race” is scheduled for Feb. 16 at Tanglewood 4-H Camp and Learning Center in Lincolnville. For information, visit umaine.edu/tanglewood/events/snowshoe/.
• For the first year, Cumberland Recreation is sponsoring a snowshoe race called the “Frozen Frolic 3K & Snow Sprint,” which is scheduled for Feb. 9 at Val Halla Golf & Recreation Center in Cumberland. For information, visit www.facebook.com/events/211634298972443/.