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January 10, 2005

It means "snowshoe" in Italian

We got back from Italy last night. It took us about an hour to unload the car and find places to stow to the olives and biscotti and other treats we’d bought at a supermarket near the Austrian border.

Even the drive home was amazing. We drove through Sudtirol, crossing the Dolomites. This part of Europe is filthy with castles, as though someone has scattered a box of them across the lower granite peaks and plateaus and neglected to sweep up. There’s a medieval fortress around every third bend. There’s a village that looks like it’s been ripped from a Breugel painting at every river crossing. Okay, there’s a lot of odd industry interjected along the river banks, but it’s easy to ignore that yellow factory by looking past the stacks to the vineyard clinging to a tiny patch of land up high on the mountainside.

We spent last week in Tuscany where we walked on the beach and in the villages, drank café lattes, and ate too much pasta. Then we drove up to the Valle di Non in Trentino where we attended La Ciaspolada – the snowshoe races.

We ended up there because I write for a snowshoeing website. I write little bits and pieces that fall outside the realm of gear heads and competitors – book reviews, profiles of interesting folks who do stuff related to snowshoeing, lifestyle stuff. Since I’m here in Europe, my editor wanted me to go to the Ciaspolada. I should say that I am not in to competitive sports and I don’t like crowds. Yet here we were at a huge – 6000 participants! – race in a tiny village on the edge of the mountains. But I’m game for just about anything. What the hell.

We stayed at the same little hotel as the American team. Because the hotel thought, at first, that we were all together, they put us all at the same table so we got to share our meals with four snowshoe runners (Nathaniel, Charlie, Jessie, Tim) and their organizer (Mark). Nice guys, all of them, friendly and funny and interesting and entertaining company. By the time the races started, I really wanted them to win. It was personal.

At 8:30, we headed to the startline to scope out a good place to take pictures. An hour and a half before the gun, the area was dense with people, and when the front pack took off, the crunch of hundreds of snowshoes filled the air. The front runners passed us in a blur, snow flying, the runner from Ghana way out in front, and then, as the pack thinned, the non competitors headed down the hill, thousands of them, in funny hats and headbands and gaiters and costumes and shorts and tank tops, pulling sleds, walking dogs, carrying kids in backpacks, talking and singing and joking and laughing and mugging it up for us as we pointed the camera at them from our spot on the sidelines.

Our guys came in before we did - and we arrived by shuttle bus. They’d crossed the line, right up front in the top 100. We watched runners struggle up the hill on the snow that had been trucked in for the race, we watched the top 3 women spray the news crew with champagne, we watched number 188 – hey, didn’t we see him taking a shortcut through town?! – come up the hill with a surprisingly revitalized stride.

I loved it. I want to go back. I want to do the race. I haven’t a chance in hell of placing, or even having the numbers to qualify to compete. I’m no runner. But it was so fun to watch and it was such a festival atmosphere, all those people of all ages and sizes and shapes out for a walk through this beautiful valley, why would you not want to be a part of it?! Back at the hotel that afternoon, my team – they’re my team now – offered me nothing but encouragement. “You can totally do it, you SHOULD totally do it!” It’s going to be great fun to see them again next year.

Anyone want to sponsor an amateur?

Posted by pam at January 10, 2005 10:46 PM | TrackBack
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Thank you for sharing! We fell in love with snowshoeing after the first try and are looking forward to christening our new shoes this coming Monday.

Posted by: Annett on January 12, 2005 03:02 PM
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