Chutes and Ladders at the Gurney Lane Snowshoe Race

Gurney Lane Snowshoe Race report was written by ATRA contributor Laura Clark. Laura is an avid mountain, trail and snowshoe runner who lives in Saratoga Springs, New York, where she is a children’s librarian. Photos: Heidi Underwood.

Gurney Lane Snowshoe Race and its summertime counterpart, Churney Gurney Trail Race must be two of the best marked trail races on the planet. For the wintertime version, race directors Bob and Heidi Underwood produce a morning snowshoe race and an afternoon fat bike event expertly weaving over, under, around and through 13 miles of mountain bike trails at Gurney Lane Recreation Area in Queensbury, NY. With about an hour between the two events, both have to be pretty much ready to go with just a few zip-tie adjustments.

Hence, the Chutes & Ladders effect. The two routes, orange for bike and blue for snowshoe, weave in and out, intertwining and sometimes breaking free. With pie plate arrows and a colored ribbon maze, snowshoers who paid attention were led seamlessly on the correct path. Once the final runner had crossed the line, it was a simple matter for a mountain bike cowboy to remove the snowshoe tape and reveal the bike course—rather like the next level of a PlayStation game. Now, just to prove I occasionally engage in actual Google research: Chutes and Ladders is Milton Bradley’s remake of the original Snakes and Ladders, an ancient game that originated in India to teach moral and religious truths. Not good to get eaten by the snake! Or in the case of Gurney Lane, definitely not good to duck under the ropes.


Gurney Lane Snowshoe Race start.

There is no such thing as a PR at this race, as the route seems to change every year to accommodate the snow and showcase different trails. This year, there was no lack of snow and many of the trails were old friends, but approached from different directions and spinning off at different angles. The switchbacks were a lot of fun as they offered glimpses of those who were up ahead or just behind — something you would not be able to estimate on a standard here-to-there path. It was funny because when I spied folks at the opposite “U” of the switchback it appeared as if I could easily overtake them, but when the trail straightened out they were nowhere to be seen. It took me a while to accept the illusion.

The longest and most exciting chute occurred toward the end and was steep enough to gain significant momentum without an overriding fear of wiping out. As I approached the end, I glimpsed an orange ribbon and I couldn’t tell if it was blocking off a steep hill we sometimes have had to negotiate in previous races or if that was the way we had to travel. Fortunately, the rope directed us away from the hill and onto the finish!

The big news, however, is that Uncas, the Underwoods’ four-footed canine helper now has a sister, Uma. Uma is just six months old, but catching up fast. The picture below was taken after the first round of races. Uncas had been teaching Uma his old trick of rearranging the start/finish cones, but at this point she is more interested in dashing around. Obviously, unlike Uncas, she has yet to learn how to pace herself.


The author warming up after the race with Uma and Uncas.

Complete results for the 2022 Gurney Lane Snowshoe race can be found on the Underdog Timing website [PDF].

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