This March, a national snowshoe race will make its way back to Vermont.
Snowshoe racing may not be in the Olympics (yet), but for one Bennington resident, the spectacle of hundreds of people racing through a winter wonderland on snowshoes just might be ready for primetime.
Tim Van Orden is race director of the 2018 Dion Snowshoes U.S. National Snowshoe Championships, which are being held this year at Prospect Mountain near Bennington.
Van Orden is a pretty serious athlete who competed in the Junior Olympics in Nordic skiing when he was younger, and he runs in marathons and cross-country mountain races. But, he says, snowshoe racing is the bomb.
"It's the kind of sport that seems crazy when you tell somebody about it, like, 'Why on earth would you want to run on snowshoes through the snow?' But then you do it," Van Orden says.
"There's just something about being in the woods. It's quiet. You're just going through places that you can't go on skis. You're winding around trees, through beautiful spruce and hemlock and maple and beech forests. There's something magical about it. It kind of brings you back in time."
While snowshoe racing is big up in Canada and in some European countries, here in the United States — not so much.
Van Orden says he knows the sport still has a little work to do in the public relations department.
"As far as it being kind of a goofy sport, some people think that it is, like 'Oh. That's, you know, a bunch of crazy guys out there with muskets on their back, and ... wearing, you know, leather outfits,'" Van Orden says. "But, it's legit. And you look at the equipment. We're no longer using, you know, bent wood with sinew and leather stockings. This is high-tech equipment."
During the second weekend in March, Van Orden expects hundreds of the fastest snowshoe racers in the country to descend on southwestern Vermont for a weekend of competition at the highest level.
Van Orden says as far as snowshoe racing goes, it's a big deal.
"We'll fill up every room in Bennington, and we'll spill over into Wilmington, and maybe into Arlington or Manchester, and down into Williamstown, Massachusetts," he says. "All the Airbnb's and B&B's, we'll fill them all up. And it's fun."
Watch a video — from Tim Van Orden's YouTube channel — from the start of the men's 10K race at the 2014 championships in Bennington:
The U.S. championships rotates through four regions. It's in the Northeast every four years, and the race was here at Prospect in 2014.
That race broke the previous record when almost 430 athletes registered, and Van Orden says he expects to have even more at the race this year.
And looking even beyond these championships in Vermont, Van Orden says that the sport has its sights set on an international dream.
"The goal of the U.S. Snowshoe Association [is] to make it an Olympic sport," Van Orden says. "And I think now, especially in 2018, this is the era of 'How does it look on TV?' And I think that it would add a really spectator-friendly element, because ... it's not just a bunch of people running on a track that looks exactly the same the entire race. It keeps changing."