By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury
UPPER SALFORD >> Crunch, crunch, crunch was the repetitious sound about 60 pairs of feet made as they shuffled up a snow covered mountain for the 11th Annual Pennsylvania Snowshoe Race.
The 5K winter event was held at Spring Mountain Ski Area Saturday morning. Snowshoe racing is very similar to trail running. To help navigate through the snow and ice conditions; participants attach devices that resemble a racket to the bottom of their tennis shoes.
“It’s not too much different than regular running. It’s just getting used it,” said Eric Bofinger of Langhorne. Bofinger came in first place Saturday which was a big accomplishment especially since he started snowshoeing just last year.
“Last year I was looking for something to do in the winter time and I stumbled upon the (Pennsylvania Snowshoe) race,” he said. He came in third place at the 2015 competition then went on to compete at the national championships in Wisconsin where he placed 6th for the half marathon.
Bofinger wasn’t the only returning athlete from the 2015 race. Juli Kmetzo, of Conshohocken, also ran last year and came back for another bout of adventure. Kmetzo was the first woman to cross the finish line Saturday. She started snowshoeing three years ago when she entered a race with her boyfriend at Nescopeck State Park and got second place.
“It just felt like controlled falling,” Kmetzo said of her first snowshoe experience.
She said Saturday’s race was a lot of fun and challenging in a good way because it made her a better runner for other races.
“Hills are kind of your worst enemy so it’s great when you can do something that’s out of your comfort zone and conquer it. Then you get the reward of flying downhill,” Kmetzo said.
Pennsylvania wasn’t the only state represented at the annual race. People travelled from New York, New Jersey, West Virginia and more to run up frozen hills. The Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board partnered with race organizers this year to help spread the word about the winter 5K. Travis Geiser, sales assistant for the board’s sports commission, said participation doubled from last year.
“It definitely seemed like all the bordering states of Pennsylvania were represented today,” he said adding that several of the participants were beginner snowshoe runners.
Friends Kelsey Holden and Jayme Cloninger came from Washington D.C. to give snowshoe racing a try. Holden said the hills made running the course a challenge.
“I think it’s like running in sand almost. It’s hard to pick up your feet and find a solid footing to push off of,” she said.
Cloninger said the race was “very humbling” and the terrain was extremely different from a traditional 5K. Sometimes the ground was flat, sometimes it was hilly and sometimes there was deep snow, she said. Cloninger said the race certainly worked out her legs but the snowshoes helped her run better.
“You kind of feel like superhuman in them,” she said. “I actually felt pretty powerful going up the hills.”
Another duo that tried snowshoe running for the first time Saturday were sisters Nicole Lenz and Lauren Holliday.
“It was a good experience. It was fun. I’m glad I did it,” Holliday said adding that she would have been upset if her sister tried the sport without her.
Lenz said “I think we’ll keep doing it. It’s a nice family tradition.”
Race director Ed Myers was excited that so many people and beginners ran in this year’s snowshoe race. He said the weather was beautiful and clear which made it a great day to run in the snow.
“People get tired of just running and the road beats the heck out of you. This (snowshoe racing) beats you in a soft way because there’s no impact,” he said.