Upon arrival to the village of Caviahue, in the Andes mountains of Argentina, I felt like we entered into another dimension, another time. The landscape here was unlike anything I had ever seen. Mountains that reminded me of the Flintstones that had everything feel “prehistoric”. From the trees that were around during the dinosaurs, to the crystal clear lake and epic feel, this race was going to be nothing short of awesome.
Our team arrived on a Wednesday evening, giving us Thursday and Friday to prepare for the 12k race on Saturday morning. Our lodge sit at 5,300 or so feet in elevation while the race would crest close to 6,700. Not high altitude in the respect of Colorado and some of the areas we are used to in the US, but the environment was drier than Cocodona, drier than any place I had ever been to which was another challenge along with the altitude coming from my sea level home base in Rhode Island.
It was an incredible venue. The town welcomed us all with open arms and everything from the race check-in, race start, and awards was nothing short of extreme. Here in South America, they do not shy away from going BIG. I have never been to such a production of an event as the race had big theatrics with laser light shows, techno music, and a cutting-edge video crew taking in tons of race footage used for social media and Youtube films immediately. It was really impressive. To paint the picture, check out this race video on the event. Copahue Extremo literally cut the footage and released the video at the awards which I have never heard of doing so quickly.
Thursday was the race check-in and big pick-up. It would be here we would have our snowshoes checked for the proper size requirements as well as get all of our schwag. Just a short walk to our lodging, inside the gym, techno music, flashing lights and a big projector screen show-casing footage from the race in years’ past.
This event was special for the sport of snowshoe being the first Snowshoe World Championship event in South America and only the third world championship event in the history of Argentina, and the only running type of its kind. The check-in was nice and efficient and the fun part was doing some fun videos and photos at the race banner. I was wearing my USA hat so I had some of the local media ask to give a USA chant as they hit record.
Before this, we all hitched a ride up to the race site at the Copahue ski mountain to scout the course. Little did we know that because of the melting of snow up on the peaks, the course would be changed on Friday evening for the race. With the weather supposedly like early March in Argentina, the intense equatorial sun warmed things up quickly as temps hovered in the 40’s and 50’s during the day and as the sun set, into the 30’s at night. As our team had the chance to preview the course, or so what we thought was the course, we were immersed in an environment like the moon or maybe Planet Hoth from Star Wars. It was definitely not Rhode Island. The course would take us up along the ski mountain and chair lifts up to a ledge before nearly summiting one of the volcanos. Eric Hartmark and myself ended up running at the top along a frozen lake and then discovering some cool igloos that we had to “inspect”. Following Eric’s lead on the invisible course since markings were not out, we crossed over another mountain pass to the little hut at the top, cut by some skiers and then bombed down a dicey downhill section. And when I say bombed, I mean like sub 5 minute mile-type of flying. So much so that we ended up into the forests of Patagonia off of where we needed to be. Running out of time, we turned up the hill and wham straight downhill to meet everyone with minutes to spare for our bus ride back. It was about 2:15 minutes of 8 miles of snowshoe running. What we would eventually find out is that the course would deviate from that frozen lake section and cut into the ski hill where Eric and myself bombed down and ended up would eventually become part of the new course.
We hung out in town looking at shops, getting some work done, trying to find places that were open for food as the town had strange hours.
That evening was the Parade of Nations. We had our chance to learn of the new course, mingle with other nations and get some time up on stage. This race group of course had the techno music, laser lights, and a really cool performance of a local indigenous group that happened to be wearing old wooden snowshoes at the race. We had a solid dinner at our cabana and got our last bit of rest before the big day.
Race morning came and we had a nice breakfast and then hit the bus to the ski area. Once we arrived, the music and atmosphere was like that of an 80’s ski movie. Bright colors everywhere, drones flying overhead, and tons of reporters getting footage and asking for interviews. I even was interviewed. I had the chance to quickly tell my story and talk about our US team.
I had a chance to warm-up with Julien from Canada and Stephane from France. We did some loops and took in the atmosphere. It was going to be a fast race. With many top athletes from all over the world, we would get to see just how intense the race would be.
As the biggest Snowshoe race I have ever been a part of, we did our pre-race preparations (taking 2 Ucan Edge gels before) and then headed to the starting line. The Juniors would start first, then a Paralympic athlete and then us. We huddled up in the front of the line as people were bottled up, stepping on snowshoes a little as we huddled into our starting positions. I was nervous about the start as that is by far the scariest part of any snowshoe race.
As the race gun started, we shot out from the line. I was on the far right side and surprisingly had enough space to run out hard. The race starts at around 5,600 feet altitude and man I felt it. I do not know exactly what happened but after the first all uphill mile, my lungs were on fire and my body just could not respond to the ferocious pace. Maybe it was associated with breathing in gasoline emissions from the snowmobiles out on the course? It still remains to be seen. I was probably in 18th place or so as many of the top runners shot out ahead of me. It was tough to feel this gased so early on but I knew that there was much of the race still left to be run. So I took it easy leading into the steep climb up the second chairlift. The first mile was a gradual uphill and I would say the top runners were in the 7’s and I was maybe in the high 8 minute range. As we hit the first major uphill, I caught a few South American runners as we battled up the slope combining both walking and running. I could see teammate Alex Willis out ahead as we started to gain on him. By the time we crested the hill, my heart rate was so high. I survived the next downhill and then picked it up on the short flat section. The pace the athletes were going downhill was incredible. I then pushed things heading into the second climb as we went across the ski area hill that Eric and myself ran by when we scouted the course. This second hill I was able to pick it up more. I had now worked my way into near top 10 range as three runners in front of me were so close I could almost grab hold of them but as they crested the hill and then so did I, I looked at the next ferocious downhill and they were already 30 seconds ahead of me. It was like teleportation. I flew down the mountain as best as I could to maintain my speed but also not lose myself on the off-camber of the trail.
Back to the base lodge and the start/finish I went. I was still hurting but starting to regain my strength and composure. I knew that the next 6k would be solid for me. I hit the turn by the lodge and then headed out to the new loop out by our hotel and back.
This section was more rolling and I was able to really pick up my pace as I finally was able to get my heart rate down enough to a more normal level. I had one runner from Argentina in my sights. I surged in the 6:50-low 7 minute range as I closed on him quickly. He would surge on the downs and I would catch him on the ups. It was after maybe 1 kilometer where I pulled ahead on an uphill. Once I took the lead, I surged ahead but saw him look to rally back as he quickly sped up to me. We battled the next 3 kilometers as we ran the snow roller-coaster around the loop. I enjoyed this section though stayed attention to not miss a turn.
I loved seeing the signs giving us the kilometer markings. Once I hit 10k in 55:00 or so, I knew I needed to pick it up. I surged more all the way to the last aid station where I ran through a tunnel of supporters and then looked back at my Argentina athlete and saw that I was probably 40 seconds ahead so I power hiked the last climb then sprinted into the finish. As I came near the finish shoot, I asked which way to go and was pointed into the chute. I then hit the finish tape and did a ninja kick into the finish. 11th place, 3rd American in 1:10:19. How I rallied the last 6k of the race was awesome.
It was soooo much fun hanging out with our team at the finish and seeing how well everyone did was incredible.
Running Snowshoe Worlds is such a special event and the camaraderie of snowshoe running is truly something special. We then walked back to our room to shower and grab a snack before the Awards ceremony.
Once at the Awards Ceremony, we were treated to one of the longest awards events that I have been a part of but we did have like a 40 minute dance/rave party in the middle of it. Our US team did incredible from multiple Age Group podiums, Jennifer Britz winning overall for the Ladies, Heidi third place and Stacie 4th for the ladies in the world (Ladies team won gold) and Eric Hartmark a solid third place, Alex was 8th and I was 11th. Our US Men’s team came in second to Argentina losing by about 20 seconds. It was close. The link shows the results:
As we departed Caviahue, we were treated to a village that embraced us with open arms and a culture of hospitality, athleticism, and positive energy and dance vibes. At Neuquen again, some of our teammates would be staying here and other would be departing back to the US while others would have a few more days in Buenos Aires like Ashlee and myself.
Back in Buenos Aires, it was wonderful to get to relax, explore the last few things and get to run some more of the different neighborhoods.
The World Snowshoe Running Championships was a trip I never would have imagined. Japan was incredible in 2019 and Argentina and Patagonia in 2022 did not disappoint. If you are a trail runner, you need to try snowshoe running. It is such a wonderful community to be connected with and it is one of those sports that gives you the opportunity to travel to some pretty cool places.
Thank you to the USA Snowshoe Association, Mark Elmore, the WSSF for the organization of this event. Thank you to Caviahue for the warm hospitality and to Lizardo for putting on a World-Class event.
Thank you to our Team supporters:
Thank you Bob Dion and Dion snowshoes for all of your support of myself and to some of our athletes out at Worlds. If you havent tried Dion snowshoes, you should. They are the first pair I have ever run in and continue to find success with them.
Thank you to my brand Partners:
Squirrel’s Nut Butter
The Trails Collective
Finger Lakes and Confluence Running