Written by Jim York and originally published in the Winter 2017/18 edition of our Trail Times newsletter. Northern Lites is an American Trail Running Association corporate member. Jim is also event director of the Ripper Race on February 4, 2018 at Afton Alps, WI.
Snowshoes are an easy way to keep running all winter, even when the snow piles up on your favorite trails. If you think of snowshoes as the bent wood and rawhide snowshoes you used to see in old American Frontier movies and pictures, then you haven’t been paying attention! It’s time to take a look at modern running and racing snowshoes and how they allow you to stay in peak running shape all year. There are even options that allow you to mount your favorite running shoes directly to the snowshoe, saving weight, increasing comfort, and preserving the natural stride that is so important to off-season training.
Snowshoe running started with the introduction of modern, aluminum-framed snowshoe. While there are cheap “mass market” aluminum framed snowshoes available, they are not really suitable for any serious use. Search a little deeper and you quickly discover snowshoes for running and racing that are lighter and more durable than you might believe. It truly is a “you get what you pay for” proposition. For performance activities, don’t you gravitate to the lightest and most durable products you can find? You should apply that same logic to your snowshoes.
Founded in 1992, Northern Lites Snowshoes is based in Wisconsin and manufactures the lightest snowshoes in the world – weighing as little as 0.6 kg/pair. Our largest trekking snowshoes still weigh less than 1.4 kg/pair. Compare that to traditional snowshoes that can weigh as much as 2 kg per snowshoe. Our snowshoes also have aggressive, metal cleats that provide extraordinary traction for any terrain.
At Northern Lites, we like to encourage you to “Enjoy the Journey,” because we believe the journey can and should be about the world around you rather than suffering with inferior gear. Northern Lites are extraordinarily light, exceptionally durable, and surprisingly affordable. You will use and enjoy these snowshoes for many winters.
How durable are snowshoes that weigh less than 300 grams per foot? For the past two years, the US National Men’s 10K gold and silver medalists have been running on Northern Lites Snowshoes. Pace times in snowshoe racing are routinely under eight minutes per mile and the best time in the 2017 10K championships was 5:25 per mile! You don’t race at that level with sub-standard, or fragile gear.
Ultra athletes use our snowshoes in extreme events such as the Iditarod (in temperatures as low as -50ºF), backcountry trekking on trails of 1,000 miles or more, and multiple races from 26 to 150 miles.
One example from last season was the first self-supported winter thru-hike of the 1,000-mile Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin by Mike Summers. The unusual weather patterns last year led to Summers “only” using the snowshoes for approximately 650 miles of icy, rutted, rocky trails with exposed branches, rocks, mud and even asphalt. It’s hard to imagine a more abusive test of our snowshoes. Even so, he completed the trek without difficulty.
Northern Lites snowshoes are so light they get a lot more use than “typical” snowshoes. In spite of that constant hard use, annual repair rates average less than half a percent, including warranty and wear and tear repairs on snowshoes up to 25 years old. Even though damage to our snowshoes is unusual, any damage can be easily repaired rather than requiring the expense of replacement.
Snowshoe running keeps you outdoors, in shape, with no limits. Extend your running into the winter months. Join, or consider starting, a local snowshoe running community. You might find yourself at the starting line of a national or world championship event before you know it. Research, ask questions and let the Journey Begin!
Run farther. Run faster. Run.
Susan and Jim York purchased Northern Lites in 2015. As mechanical engineers, they both were drawn to the simplicity and elegance of the product designs. As avid snowshoers, they love the light weight! They continue to refine and evolve the product line and they also support numerous snowshoeing events throughout the country. Their vision is to bring snowshoeing in the mainstream of winter sports.