The packed powder glistened under the starlit night sky as Jenn Gerard raced through an open field in Cordilleria. The only sound echoing in the Vail Valley, besides her labored breath, was a distant "clip-clop" of others catching up. Gerard's lungs struggled at 9,500 feet, but with one kilometer left, she was too close to quit.
Gerard, junior nutrition and exercise major, was in a group of about 90, in the middle of the night, in deep snow, all running for the same destination and all in snowshoes.
Last Saturday marked the second annual Cordilleria Moonlight 5K run in Edwards. It is the only moonlit snowshoe race in Colorado, which is part of a growing trend in winter recreation and fitness.
"Snowshoeing has come a long way since the tennis rackets they used to wear," Gerard said. "It's totally evolving into a sport of its own."
Adam Lueck, president of Altitude Racing Incorporate and organizer of the Cordilleria Moonlight 5K run, saw an increase in popularity of the sport and decided to add a snowshoe race two years ago to the events that he organizes.
"It is a very popular sport, because anyone who can walk can do the event," Lueck said.
The ever-growing sport of snowshoeing has taken winter recreation to a new level, requiring not only endurance, but also technique and agility. It has transformed the classical 5K/10 K run into a challenging event that is spreading across Colorado.
The Beaver Creek Snowshoe Adventure Series is holding 5K/10K races Feb. 12 and March 5 starting in the Beaver Creek Village.
The Screamin' Snowman 5K/10K snowshoe race will take place Sunday in Nederland.
The Breast Cancer Fund's Winter Snowshoe Challenge will be held Feb. 26 at Keystone resort, and the Tubbs Snowshoes 'Romp to Stomp out Breast Cancer' Winter Walk series is scheduled for March 5 in Frisco.
Registration can be found for all of these at www.active.com.
Gerard plans to compete in some of the upcoming snowshoe races. As an avid runner, currently undergoing physical therapy for a torn ITB band, Gerard uses snowshoeing as a way to stay active and fit.
"Snowshoeing can be used as efficient cross training during the winter months when inclement weather makes outdoor workouts more difficult," Gerard said. "It's good for low impact. It also allows you to get off the beaten path and explore your own territory."
Many other students who have found the sport of snowshoeing to be challenging and fun, are staying active by getting out and hiking around in areas that they wouldn't normally be able to venture into during the winter.
Stephanie Wienecke, sophomore fine arts major, was drawn to snowshoeing after participating with 20 others in an OAP trip up the Poudre Valley last winter.
"There was more than four feet of snow, the perfect kind of day to get out. I was able to go places I would normally be too tired to hike to in all the snow," Wienecke said.
Since then, Wienecke frequents the Poudre Valley and Fairplay with friends and family on her snowshoes. Also a downhill skier, Wienecke sees herself snowshoeing for winter recreation for many years to come.
"It's a good workout anybody can do, and even stay fit into old age," Wienecke said.
The OAP rents snowshoes for $8 per day and coordinates a snowshoe day trip in Rocky Mountain National Park March 5.
Emily Casebeer, sophomore natural resource recreation and tourism major, works at the OAP and sees on some weekends all 38 pairs of snowshoes rented out.
"I see several people going to the Cameron Pass area. It's closest and easiest to get to," Casebeer said.
With all of the opportunities and locations available, anybody can get into the unique sport of snowshoeing both competitively and recreationally.
"I have really enjoyed it since I moved to Colorado," said Brett Bovee, a member of CSU's Outing Club. "I can do anything now in deep snow, and the fact that you're walking on different feet in the snow going 'clip-clop' the whole time. I can see why it's becoming more popular."