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Downtown Temple,NH

Monday, January 10, 2011

2011 Turner Trail Snowshoe Race

Starting area at Turner Trail
The Turner Trail race was probably my favorite snowshoe race from last year. In a season where snow was hard to find, the conditions at Turner last year (located in the Pittsfield State Forest) were near perfect. When you add the fact it was a very long and challenging course supported by great volunteers, there was no question I'd be back in 2011. Or would I?
The lack of any significant storms has kept the snow cover thin at best, even out in western Mass. Earlier last week Beth Herder (RD at Turner) indicated the course would be modified due to snow conditions. In fact, it wouldn't even be on the Turner Trail (which climbs Berry Mt via a nearly 3 mile switchback single track). I immediately started making other plans. I wasn't going to drive 333 miles for questionable snow conditions. So, on Friday I decided to head over to the Old Salem Greens Snowshoe Race (Salem, Ma) instead.
Two things happened late on Friday that changed my plans yet again.
  1. Beth updated the conditions and provided a course map of the 'new' Turner Trail Race
  2. The weather forecast indicated western Mass should get 6" of new snow prior to the race
New Turner Trail Course
The course would be a 5.4 mile loop on NEMBA-designed mountain bike trails and had 99% snow cover before the storm even arrived. If I could find someone to ride shotgun with me, Turner Trail would be back in business! A quick check with DoubleJ and I had my victim.
I really thought we'd be driving through a snowstorm early Saturday morning on the drive out. With the exception of a brief snow squall, there was virtually no snow at all, with clear roads for most of the trip. Although it made traveling easy, it did not give me any confidence that Pittsfield actually received the snow that was expected.
This time, the forecasters were right. By the time we reached Pittsfield, 4-6" of  nice, fluffy powder was on the ground. Phew. Snow for a snowshoe race, who would have thunk it?
Jim, John Pajer and myself did a brief warm-up on the finish of the course, to check conditions and to get an idea what the finish of the course looked like. I like to recognize something near the finish to give me an idea how much is left in the race. From what we could tell, the conditions would be ideal: hard packed base with fresh new snow on top, and LOTS of turns. It would be some of the tightest single track I've raced on, with the trail being the width of a single snowshoer.
photo credit -Berkshire Sports
At 10am we lined up for the start. It appeared very few wanted to be up front. Not me, I wanted to get in position on the single track as soon as possible and not worry about passing folks. If they wanted to pass me, fine, but they'd have to work for it. Within the first 50ft my position was set and wouldn't change for the next 5.4 miles. Jim, Tim Van Orden and Ross Krause took off up front, followed by high school xc star Connor Devine, myself and then John Pajer. The 3 of us ran fairly close for the first couple of miles (which generally went gently downhill). The entire course would be on super tight single track, with a gazillion turns. No need to ever look back in this race, just wait for a turn and chances are you'd be nearly running next to the guy behind you. Early on the snowshoeing was pretty fast, with good traction. At the last minute I switched to my ice cleats and early on it seemed like a good choice. However, the middle couple of miles were tough. No real elevation gain/loss, but the trail loosened up a lot, and we were breaking through the hard pack under the powder. The traction all but disappeared and we'd slide around every corner. It was noticeably slower and harder. Now I wished I stuck with my deep cleats!
photo credit - Berkshire Sports
During this section I could sense John was dropping back a bit. He was still in sight but the gap was increasing. I focused on keeping Connor within reach for the next few miles. I'd get really close at times and then he'd pick it up (or I slowed down) and gap me pretty well. I was pretty sure I wasn't going to pass him and was content with him pulling me along. The last 3 miles or so generally worked its way back up. Nothing steep, but enough that you noticed you were climbing. At one point we saw Ross on one of the switch backs but I couldn't tell if he was 10 seconds up or 2 minutes up because of the way the trail snaked around. It was the only time I saw another snowshoer in front besides Connor.
I finally started recognizing the trail as we neared the finish (thanks to our warm up). My position was set. I wasn't catching Connor and I didn't see anyone behind me. 48 minutes and 35 seconds after I started I crossed the finish line in 5th place (results), and second old guy (behind Tim). Some guy named Jim won I think.
Once again, Turner Trail did not disappoint. The course and conditions were some of the best I've snowshoed on in any race. Beth and crew did an outstanding job (at the last minute) putting together a top notch course. It was well worth the trip!

Additional photos by Berkshire Sports can be found here.


Brad Herder said...

Great write up!

Thanks so much Steve!
Brad Herder

Steve Wolfe said...

All I did was show up. You guys do all the hard work! So thank you!