Saratoga Winterfest Snowshoe Race actually features…Snow!

Saratoga Winterfest 5K Snowshoe race report written by ATRA contributor Laura Clark. Laura is an avid mountain, trail and snowshoe runner who lives in Saratoga Springs, NY, where she is a children’s librarian. Photos by Jen Ferriss.

This may seem like a no-brainer but for the first time in many years, Saratoga Winterfest Snowshoe 5K in the Saratoga Spa New York State Park on February 7, 2021, featured snow rather than its usual ice/mud combination. Even better, it snowed day-of, so the trails were frosted with a soft coating of fluffy white. Standing on the threshold of an almost solid year of COVID restrictions, it was uplifting to think that at least something had gone right. All of us have cycled through the 5 Stages of Grief: from March denial (this will only be for a few weeks), to anger at canceled races, to Virtual Race bargaining with the fitness gods, through fatigue-inducing depression. Hopefully, we have catapulted into the final phase – accepting a new normal.

Races have cautiously tiptoed around restrictions with limited fields, outdoor-only venues, no after-event partying, stacks of compliance paperwork and huge bottles of hand sanitizer. Although it was sobering to forego our usual raffle prizes and pot luck party, folks were just grateful to do something semi-normal once more and wave at each other from a distance. Anything to get out of the house.

Saratoga Winterfest

To reduce the number of volunteers who would be counted in our 50-person State Park limit, for the first time in twenty-two years, I hired a timing company, Underdog Race Timing, which also insured that runners could maintain 15-second interval individualized starts. I was probably the last race director in New York State to enter the 21st century. The week before I was beset with anxiety, feeling that I just wasn’t doing enough. Granted, there was no food or raffles to organize and no alternate routes to map out due to scanty snow, but still the feeling was unsettling. Now I finally get why timing companies are so popular. I am not sure I would revert back to pre-COVID in this respect. I have gotten spoiled.

As have the rest of us, perhaps. With a starting time bordering more on suggestion, runners are now accustomed to pulling up late (after all, why would you want to stand around waiting in 7 degree cold?), grabbing their bib and taking off. Jamie Howard took this to new levels with a recorded finish time of 11 hours. He was delighted as he got in a long run and could log in a hero’s snowshoe mileage on our weekly Dion WMAC Snowshoe mileage competition—and still make it home in time for the Super Bowl. While this didn’t actually happen, it could have. Jamie was busy distributing loaner snowshoes and by the time he shed his heavy clothes and made it to the start, Timer Bob had already moved on to the finish. I for one, appreciate this flexibility.

Saratoga Winterfest

Back in the day* when Edward Alizobek founded our snowshoe series, folks who were distraught at having to spoil their perfect record because of a wedding or other unavoidable event, were permitted to race after the fact, as long as they had another person to accompany them for safety concerns. Everyone knew everyone else (and still do) and would have an idea of a reasonable time for that person.

As for me, my main concern on race day was staying warm during the interval between set up and registration, and the snow, while adding atmosphere, was nevertheless cold and wet. But with the staggered start, I had enough time to remove my husband Jeff’s roomy parka and make it to the start. Both of us founded the Winterfest race 22 years ago after enjoying Edward’s series, and even though Jeff is no longer here, I had the good fortune to randomly draw his favorite number in memory of his Vietnam call sign—Bulldog 33. Whenever I felt myself falter and lapse into the easy way out, I patted his number and felt the force of his presence with me once more. It was a good day.

*ATRA’s Richard Bolt chasing Leigh Schmitt at the 2002 Saratoga Winterfest.

22nd Annual Saratoga Winterfest snowshoe race results can be found on the Underdog Race Timing website.

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