Snowshoe Race Report: The Churney Gurney & First 2019 Doubleheader

The following snowshoe race report from the 2019 Churney Gurney 5k Snowshoe Race in Queensbury, New York and was written by 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 Brian Teague.

It takes approximately 10,000,000 snowflakes to make an average-sized snowman; it is safe to say there is not one standing snowman in the Albany/Saratoga region. What a treat for us to travel to foreign lands this past weekend and remind ourselves that snow does exist!

Our last snowshoe event was on December 15 at the Gore Mountain 5K Snowshoe and for those of us currently living in this snow desert, it was a stretch to contemplate a double-header after a month away. Even though I thought I had my gear close at hand, somehow in the interim items had scattered and I had forgotten the usual drill. To add to the confusion, the temps registered really, really cold so we had to reach back all the way to last winter. For you ladies out there, I have a short commercial break: Athleta Primaloft Ridge Tights are the way to go. At $98 they are pricey but they are so worth it! Not only did they keep me warm on top of Magic Mountain but they repelled water so well that I felt no need to change my bottoms for the drive home. This was a first for me. Sorry guys, but you have all those heavy muscles to power you through.

Photo by Brian Teague.

Back to the races…this was the first time for Churney Gurney’s reincarnation as a snowshoe event and Bob Underwood was so excited to showcase his mountain bike venue with at least 4 miles of snowy trails. Alas! While the midweek rain had erased much of the snow, some fat bikers decided it would be a good idea to go out in it anyway. It couldn’t have been much fun and all they managed to do was to create deep ruts that the scarce snow couldn’t mask. Luckily, Bob knew the trails intimately and was able to cobble together a fun 2.8 mile course, covered in what ski slopes would have euphemistically dubbed “frozen granular.” Luckily, we weren’t skiing. Those of us who sported the new Dion ice cleats were grateful!

By the time we finished, the fat bikers were assembling for their Saturday events and we were invited to take a test spin on the demo bikes. Some of us seized on the offer, but I was a coward. It is one thing to fall in soft snow; quite another to tumble on the hard stuff. And while falling is all part of the learning curve, I think falling on ice would have been too much learning for one day.

On Sunday our carpool arose at 0’dark thirty for the trek to Magic Mountain for the Winter Magic Snowshoe Race. This event is turning out to be a moveable feast. Last year we explored Lowell Lake Park and the previous year we were treated to isolated trails bounded by two porta potties and a hiking lean-to. This year we got to explore the mountain itself, where Mike Owens, Chief Magician, works out. Because of the many ski events in progress we claimed the 9AM slot, an hour earlier than last year. True to its name, Magic was just on the edge of last week’s Big Snow, with at least 16” of powder. Flanked by the big-establishment resorts of Bromley and Stratton, Magic retains an old-timey feel with a cadre of loyal skiers. Known for its challenging terrain, a full 26 percent of its trails are Double Black Diamond.

Laura Clark tearing up the freshies. Photo by Brian Teague.

Our route consisted of the uphill used by the skin skiers, followed by a sharp descent. There were a few stretches of level ground. One was a teaser halfway up the mountain and the other was a stretch on top where we got to look both ways and scurry across one of the downhills before the skiers bombed down. This was actually the only time I have ever seen Tim Van Orden flying out of control. He was hurdling along on his second loop, while I was probing my first after a near disaster moments earlier. As he careened around a corner I heard screams below me from the two ladies slightly ahead. I am pretty sure they opted out of the second loop. One of the neat things about a two loop course, though, was that by the second time around there were more toeholds grooved into the steep uphill and I knew where on the downhill portions I could let go and where I would be courting another disaster. Mike hints that next year he might offer a different venue. Looks like he is trying to beat out Josh Merlis and his endless search for the perfect spot to hold the Brave the Blizzard Snowshoe Race.

What stands out about this weekend for me, though, was the enthusiasm both race directors had for their respective routes and how eager they were to insure that all of us had a good time on the course and meet some new friends. Reminds me of what my husband Jeff used to say every year when we directed our Winterfest and Camp Saratoga Snowshoe Races, “It’s like having a party for one hundred of my closest friends.”