Snowshoe running gains ground in Central Oregon

• National qualifiers are on Saturday at Swampy Lakes

By Beau Eastes / The Bulletin / @beastes

Published Feb 21, 2014 at 12:01AM

Upcoming local snowshoe runs

What: WillRace Snowshoe National Qualifier, 5K and 10K

When: Saturday, 10 a.m.

Where: Swampy Lakes Sno-park

Cost: $25 for the 5K and $30 for the 10K

Web: www. trackfitnessbend.com

What: Snow Lover’s Loop, 4K and 8K

When: March 1, 11 a.m.

Where: Odell Lake Resort

Cost: $30

Web: www. eclecticedgeracing.com

Groups: Snowshoe Run with Laura, on Facebook

When Laura Kantor first started her snowshoe running group three years ago, she was lucky to get five or six people to go out on runs with her.

Low turnout numbers are not a problem anymore.

Snowshoe running is taking off in Central Oregon this winter, despite the area’s exceptionally meager snowfall. Kantor’s group has exploded, with more than 30 snowshoe runners having taken part in one of her early-season treks.

Even on Feb. 8, when winter finally arrived and parts of Central Oregon received more than 30 inches of snow, 12 adventurers showed up for Kantor’s weekly Saturday snowshoe run.

“It’s just like trail running, but your trail is the snow,” Kantor says about the allure of snowshoe running.

“And snowshoe running during the winter makes you such a better trail runner in the spring. It really taps into your core power and core muscles — all those little stabilizer muscles in your legs and hips.”

The beauty of snowshoe running, she says, is its simplicity.

“You don’t have to worry about wax, you just grab your snowshoes and go,” Kantor adds. “Running-specific snowshoes (which are smaller and more narrow than standard snowshoes) are around $200 to $300, but it’s a one-time cost that lasts for years and years.”

The sport has gained enough ground in Central Oregon that last March, Virginia Meissner Sno-park hosted the 2013 United States National Snowshoe Championships. (Bend’s Stephanie Howe won the women’s race.) This year’s national championships will be staged in Vermont, but runners at this Saturday’s WillRace Snowshoe National Qualifier event at Swampy Lakes Sno-park can earn berths to the 2014 title race. The national qualifier event is a 10-kilometer race, but a 5K community fun run is also being staged. Seasoned and novice snowshoe runners alike are encouraged to participate in Saturday’s runs, race director Andrew Jensen says.

“Really, what we’re going for is a mix of (experience),” adds Jensen, a longtime trail runner who caught the snowshoe running bug after taking part in last year’s national championships. “The way we designed the course is for all levels. It provides a lot of challenges for those serious runners, but there’s also an opportunity there for runners and walkers to have a fun time.”

As more races are staged in Central Oregon, Jensen expects snowshoe running to continue to grow in the area.

“(Snowshoe running) provides you the opportunity to do a little bit of everything,” Jensen says. “You can be on trails or you can lay your own trails.”

“Just have fun and go with the flow,” Kantor suggests to first-time snowshoe runners. “The first couple of times you go out, don’t worry about your time. Just get a good workout in. … I don’t care if you’re a six-minute miler or a 12-minute miler, you’re not going to do either snowshoe running.”

—Reporter: 541-383-0305; beastes@bendbulletin.com.