It was more of a snow-swim than a snowshoe at Whistler Olympic Park on Saturday (March 2) as people started to arrive for the MEC Yeti Snowshoe Series.
Mother Nature was not being kind, but snowshoers are tough individuals and it was not going to stop the 50 racers who had signed up for either the six-kilometre Sport or 12-km Enduro course.
As I left Whistler and headed out to the Callaghan Valley, I was trying to avoid hydroplaning my way to the start line. It had been raining for two days straight and anyone who has spent time on snowshoes knows that this means soggy and heavy conditions.
Snowshoe racing takes a lot of effort as your whole body is moving to accommodate the shifting snow underfoot. This was my second attempt at the gruelling Yeti race and I knew it was going to be a tough one.
The organizers wisely decided to cut a section of the course where rain had simply washed away snow that had blanketed the ground only days before, meaning the courses had been reduced to 4.5 and 9.5 km. Glancing around, the fun outfits of past years had been given up for serious-looking Gore-Tex, although people tried to lighten the mood with neon toques and headbands.
I went outside to do a few lunges and acclimatize myself to the watery situation. The green Olympic rings stood dramatically in the mist and the Yeti race sign glowed bright orange, stubbornly defying the depressing deluge. When the blower signalled the start of the race it felt like wet snow was coming at me from all angles — flicked from the ground by enthusiastic racers, and of course falling from the grumpy skies. The course starts on a groomed trail arcing up past the Olympic emblem and then out of sight, up and behind the ski jump. The rain made the trail uneven and slick, and the racers ahead quickly cut up the corduroy, creating a snowy quagmire.
I wanted to start strong as I knew the route would quickly reduce to single-file running. I overtook someone on the downhill only for them to catch me on the uphill — apparently I am gravity challenged.
The snow was so heavy and churned up that on the climb to the ski jump I was using my hands as well as my feet. On the down, I tried to pick up speed, but the snow shifted underfoot, making me look like a crazed drunkard. I watched the woman ahead of me slip to the left and throw her body to the right to correct the weight shift — ouch. I wish I could say I hadn’t already done that ten times, each one felt like minor whiplash.
The final section was a lurching and unsteady single track. One of my feet disappeared into a hole up to my knee and I felt my leg muscles engage to haul it out, but took everything I had to lift the heavy snow that had covered my shoe.
I felt someone’s heavy breathing on the back of neck. I could see a soggy looking Yeti mascot only 200 metres away, but it was just too far. My fellow snowshoer unleashed her long legs and made a run for the finish, breezing past my beaten body. I stumbled over the timing mats just managing to keep my breakfast down.
In the first five minutes of the run I had asked myself: Why? Why was I running in the torrential rain and pushing my body to its limits? In that moment of elation at the finish, as I high-fived my fellow racer, I knew.
These challenges make me feel alive. To be out in the elements, to revel in everything Mother Nature has to offer, simply makes me feel good. It also makes the après race beer taste absolutely amazing.
The top men’s and women’s finishers in Saturday’s Yeti:
Enduro men (9.5 km)
Daniel Ribi — 1:04:09
Pavlo Costa Oliveira — 1:06:46
John Dove — 1:07:01
Nicola Gildersleeve — 1:10:27
Deb Poland — 1:16:20
Shannon Thompson — 1:18:29
Sport men (4.5 km)
Cameron Gillis — 40:11
David Little — 43:07
Mike Cater — 44:11
Melanie Gabanna — 39:23
Dee Raffo — 39:31
Barb Sweeney — 40:00
Visit www.racedaytiming.ca for full results.