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Switchback Challenge Takes Snowshoeing to Extreme Hot

snowshoeSnowshoe photo credit: The Globe and MailSprinting 10-kilometers up a mountain is truly a feat of supreme endurance – racing in the Switchback Challenge is something different altogether.

In the sixth annual edition of the event, held this past Sunday, entrants traversed the snow-covered 5 and 10-kilometer mountain races with something a bit different strapped to their feet: snowshoes. In the process, overcoming what can only be described as brutal race conditions via a most cumbersome method of transportation.

The race is made even more difficult when you consider racers brave the course in the sub-zero temperatures of Collingwood, Ont., clad in only meager running attire.

The 10-kilometer race went to 36-year-old Bob Miller, who completed the track in an impressive 51 minutes.

Miller finished ahead of roughly 200 other runners – impressive when you consider that only 50 people participated in the first Switchback Challenge held in 2005.

The event continues to grow despite the overwhelming rigor of the course. Racers are forced to sprint straight up hill from the base in Craigleith to the apex of the Niagara Escarpment, gaining almost 700-feet of elevation in the process. Other portions of the course require management of dense forest, river crossing and treacherous switchbacks.

To reiterate, it’s all accomplished with snowshoes typically fashioned for more leisurely pursuits in the snow. In a typical weekend, an estimated 700 snowshoers roam the switchbacks of Collingwood – but, in a far different fashion than what is on display during race day.

The Craigleith Ski Club created this extreme snowshoe race, a growing brand of competition, in 2005 and is enjoying incremental success every year.

What started as a unique idea for a bit of winter fun and competition has turned into a big-time race and fundraiser. Sponsorship dollars and entry fees from participants go not only to the event’s execution but also to the benefit of the Canadian Ski Patrol.

This type of racing has caught on all over North America and worldwide. If one is so inclined, there is a 150-kilometer snowshoe race held each year in Northern Finland.

Unlike other extreme snowshoe races, the Switchback Challenge is distinctive due to its grueling uphill sprint portion. As Miller told the Globe and Mail, “It’s crazy going straight up the escarpment. But that’s the uniqueness of the Switchback.”

Besides Miller, triathlete Alison Wiley earned her sixth-straight women’s victory in the 10-kilometer race as she completed the course in roughly an hour.

Ryan O'Leary

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