On Saturday Feb. 27, 2010, a field of elite athletes from eight countries gathered on Vancouver’s Grouse Mountain for the World Snowshoe Invitational. Held during the closing days of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, the race represented an incredible opportunity to showcase the sport of snowshoe racing to the world. Over 30 international athletes joined Canadian snowshoers to send a loud and clear message that snowshoe racing should be an Olympic event.
The World Snowshoe Invitational was part of Canada’s popular Yeti snowshoe series and doubled as the Canadian National Championships. The day consisted of two races. Snowshoers could register for the 5 kilometre sport course or the longer course of approximately 8.5 kilometres, but only the longer course qualified for the Canadian National Championship or the Worlds.
Wet, foggy weather didn’t prevent race technical director Dave Howells from setting a tough course to challenge this gathering of the world’s best snowshoers. The level of excitement and anticipation grew as 5-kilometre racers set off at 10:00 am sharp to test themselves against Grouse Mountain’s wildly undulating terrain. Several local Yeti veterans and a few first-time snowshoe racers were there for fun, comradery, and the sheer love of the sport. First across the finish line was Port Moody, BC racer Darrin Penner who declared the course an “insane incline,” a sentiment that would be echoed by many others throughout the day. Lisa Brougham of Bowen Island, BC was the first female finisher.
As the final 5-kilometre racers finished, athletes started to gather for the 12:00 noon start of the World Snowshoe Invitational. In a moving precursor to the race, a Squamish First Nations group performed a traditional welcome song and blessed the race by calling on the spirits of several west coast birds and animals. It was a fitting welcome to Canada and consistent with the spirit of cooperation and inclusion that was at the forefront of all of Saturday’s proceedings.
Mark Elmore, Sports Director for the U.S. Snowshoe Association and a strong advocate for the sport internationally described Saturday’s roster as possibly the most competitive international field of snowshoe racers ever. A very strong European contingent, many with extensive experience at Italy’s mother of all snowshoe races La Ciaspolada, came ready to take on top Canadian runners like Jason Loutitt and Syl Corbett. Racers from Japan, New Zealand, Finland, Switzerland, Italy, France, the U.S. and Canada moved towards the start gate. And finally, the moment everyone travelled from all over the world to experience … they are off and running.
A short loop early in the race circled back towards the start gate before taking a rigorous course up Dam Mountain. Italy’s Antoni Santi took the lead early and battled it out with Swiss racer Tarcis Ancay, finally beating Ancay by a few seconds for first place. Jonathan Wyatt from New Zealand was third to cross the finish line. Italy topped the podium for the women as well, with Maria Grazia Roberti placing first, followed by American Keri Nelson and Canadian Syl Corbett in third place.
Mark Elmore noted that “international interest in this event is incredible and I think it is important that people are here, not only to race, but also to make connections and develop relationships.” One of the most telling aspects of the event was that in many cases athletes were accompanied by coaches, race organizers and executives from international snowshoe federations. They came ready to share ideas to propel the sport forward.
Alessandra Ramella Pairin, organizer of
Racchettinvalle (one of the
Torino 2006 Olympic venues), was present on Saturday to support the Italian racers and meet other international snowshoe advocates. She was happy with the performance of her athletes and spoke about what was at the forefront of everyone’s minds, inclusion of snowshoe racing as an Olympic discipline. “It was a long trip to bring our athletes to Vancouver for this race, but we felt it important to support the initiative to move snowshoeing forward as an Olympic sport.” Likewise, Katsuhiko Harada, President of the Japan Snowshoeing Federation came to make connections and attract international racers to a major snowshoe race that is held annually in Japan.
After the race, participants praised the efforts by organizers of the World Snowshoe Invitational for creating a great race and for their efforts to help move the sport to Olympic competition. Third place finisher, six-time World Mountain Running Champion Jonathan Wyatt pointed out that it could easily be incorporated into Olympic Nordic venues. As a two-time Olympic runner himself, he feels that snowshoe racing meets all the criteria of an Olympic sport including great athleticism. Despite a very respectable finish at Saturday’s race, former Canadian Olympic mountain biker Andreas Hestler says he doesn’t really consider himself a snowshoer. However he also strongly feels that snowshoeing would be a great Olympic sport. Like Wyatt, Hestler points out the high level of athleticism required to excel at snowshoe racing.
Wyatt, Hestler and other participants consistently advocated the need to create awareness for the sport of snowshoeing by participating in Saturday’s World Snowshoe Invitational on Grouse Mountain. Although most recognize that it could be a long and rigorous process to elevate snowshoeing to Olympic competition, with Saturday’s heavy-hitters on board, one can only feel optimistic that it has become more a question of “when” rather than “if”.
Snowshoe Magazine would like to congratulate the winners, participants, organizers, volunteers and sponsors for making the World Snowshoe Invitational such a successful event.
For full race results and more information about the World Snowshoe Invitational and Yeti snowshoe race series, please see www.theyeti.ca.
Thomas Gray, father of World Snowshoe Invitational 5th place finisher Joseph Gray has kindly given Snowshoe Magazine permission to share with our readers the following link to a video he created featuring race highlights: