Please read the following article and send us your feedback regarding the following:
1. Do you feel that there should be size restrictions in snowshoe racing? If yes, what size should be the minimum size.

2. Do you feel that a governing body that sets regulations for the sport of snowshoeing is needed?

3. Should race directors take the lead in setting guidelines for size restrictions?

4. Should equipment manufacturers be involved in the rules and regulations? If yes, how should they be involved.
5. Would you like to see snowshoeing as an Olympic event?

6. Should AATRA take a public stand on this issue? If yes, what should that stand be?

7. Provide any additional comments.

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Snowshoe Size Restrictions
by Tom Sobal

first published in The Snowshoer, September/October ’99

Imagine two competitors racing against each other on a smooth, firm, white surface. One wears 8-inch wide by 25-inch long contraptions on his feet that weigh about one pound each, the other racer wears only running shoes. Upon rounding the final turn, both racers pick up the pace in a sprint for the finish. The racer wearing the running shoes easily accelerates ahead to finish first and claim the prize.

You might wonder why the competitor in second would encumber himself with wearing wide, long, and heavy things on his feet. Perhaps he thought that he was running in a snowshoe race.

You might think that the events described above are preposterous. I have seen them take place dozens of times in numerous snowshoe races over the past decade.

This article is an attempt to end such strange events by encouraging snowshoe race directors and race participants to adopt a uniform set of rules. Races should require competitors in snowshoe races to wear snowshoes at least 8 inches wide and 25 inches long on their feet at all times during the race.

Rules are an integral part of every sport. They define a sport and help ensure that competition is somewhat fair, equal and that the competition is between people and their abilities, not just between their equipment. There is a precedent in other larger and more established human powered race sports like cycling and Nordic skiing where the legal equipment must meet certain restrictions to keep the competition fair. It also makes sense that any sport requires the participants to use the equipment that is essential to the sport in order to compete.

This is an issue in snowshoeing for a number of reasons. To begin with, snowshoeing lacks an accepted and recognized international, national, or even regional governing body for developing and establishing rules. There have been and are small regional pockets of snowshoeing rules and regulations, but limited winter travel between regions and races may have prevented the widespread acceptance of these rules. Thus, it is not possible for a newcomer to the sport to reference a written set of snowshoeing rules that have gained worldwide acceptance.

Perhaps many new snowshoers and event directors assume that snowshoe racing is a simple sport that requires no rules. While a race is a fairly simple thing, competitive human nature demands a few simple rules to give everyone an equal chance. Just about every race sport, from running to swimming, has a few basic rules and snowshoeing should not be the exception.

Another problem is those printed rules that do mention the required size of snowshoes conflict. I have seen 10 inches by 34 inches; 9 inches by 30 inches; 8 inches by 25 inches; and 8 inches by 22 inches all listed as the minimum size snowshoe required for racing—along with no restrictions mentioned at all! Of these sizes, 8 by 25 is the most common size restriction mentioned at races, especially in the United States. Many sanctioning organizations such as the US Snowshoe Association, the International Snowshoe Federation, and International Special Olympics state that the minimum size for competitive snowshoes be 8 inches by 25 inches.

Standards are a must for races

Race organizers must notice and enforce shoe sizes to have a fair race. I have seen competitive people trying to gain an edge by wearing small and tiny snowshoes designed for children, carrying their snowshoes in their hands instead of wearing them on their feet or having no snowshoes on at all. Event directors permit this out of ignorance, oversight, or greed—many times because of all of these. When the free snowshoes run out, few race directors are willing to turn away or refund money to paying entrants, and they permit those people to race without snowshoes. This practice is irritating, not only to the competitors who do wear snowshoes, but also to the manufacturers that support the events.

Making this possible is the widespread use of courses that are firm, groomed, set and packed enough so as not to require a true and sizable snowshoe that provides floatation. Significant portions of many snowshoe races exist simply as handicapped running where floatation is not an issue. The racers may still be benefiting from the traction and stability that snowshoes provide, but these obstacles can be overcome with skill by many racers not wearing snowshoes.

Snowshoe races being held entirely on packed snow are, in effect, ignoring the main function and essence of snowshoeing—floatation. These types of events are also poor places for people to the potential value that snowshoes can offer, especially if these racers are newcomers to the sport. I cringe every time I hear a new racer complain that they could have completed a race faster without snowshoes.

This is not to say, however, that these events are not snowshoeing. They are just a different type of snowshoeing. A major component of competitive snowshoeing, on any type of snow, is the ability to maneuver a pair of somewhat awkward, sizable and weighty implements strapped to your feet quickly around a course. It can be difficult in many cases for event directors to set up snowshoe races that contain large sections of deeper snow where floatation becomes important. These events should continue to take place, but is even more important for them to have minimum snowshoe size restrictions to preserve a difficult component of snowshoeing.

I am suggesting 8 inches by 25 inches be the minimum size for snowshoes in snowshoe races for several reasons. As mentioned before, this is the most common size mentioned by those organizations that already are trying to regulate the sport. It is probably the most popular size of snowshoes bought worldwide, and most manufacturers already make a suitable 8-by-25 model. This size seems to offer the right combination of lightweight, maneuverability and adequate flotation in many race situations for the average sized adult. Yes, 8 and 25 are somewhat arbitrary numbers probably dating back to the size of some of the original aluminum production snowshoes developed a few decades ago. The line needs to be drawn somewhere, however, and it makes sense to do it at a place that is already in common use today.

Some would argue that, since we are trying to preserve some of the essential substance of snowshoeing in requiring minimum sizes that can provide floatation, that we should measure these sizes in surface area. Square inches, or perhaps square meters, would be a more accurate measurement of surface than simple length by width dimensions. There are difficulties, however, in adopting a surface area a s the restriction. Few snowshoes on the market come with readily known and available figures for their surface area. This is not an easy thing to determine, especially with some of the strange frame shapes we are seeing today. One can hardly expect race directors to get out their rulers and calculators to determine the surface area of new or prototype designs of snowshoes that show up at their starting lines. Length by width dimensions are simple to determine, and the overall size is what is hard to control and maneuver regardless of surface area.

Keeping it Fair

Other people may claim that it is not fair that lighter, smaller and weaker people be forced to use the same size snowshoe as their larger, stronger, and taller competitors, especially since they do not require the extra floatation that a larger snowshoe provides. Perhaps this is so, but most sports are not fair to all body types. Should 210-pound runners be allowed to run a 22-mile marathon because it is harder for them to cover the 26.2-mile distance than 120-pound runners? Of course not, especially since one of the great things about snowshoeing, like any racing, is that everyone lines up at the start with an equal chance to race against everyone else.

Everyone competing in a snowshoe race should be required to wear snowshoes that are at least 8-by-25 at all times during the event. Event directors should strive to have their races on snow that is unpacked or semi-packed as much as possible, and state this size restriction in their entry form. Participants should demand that this regulation be enforced, and should make event directors aware of it. Perhaps this will lead to the end of finishing sprints between competitors using different shoes in the future.