Even from the early stages of the races, Colorado's top snowshoers were in control. All photos by Jim Lewis.
Mitch Kasyon (left) and Sam Lewis (right), Colorado's own national snowshoe champions for 2012.
The largest junior field in the history of the US Snowshoe Association National Championship 5K toed the line on February 25th, 2012 at Summit High School in Frisco, CO. A majority of the racers were Coloradans with 17 out of the 29 racers coming from the Centennial State. New York, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Michigan, and California comprised the rest of the entries. The day was Colorado’s, though, with nine spots on the boys’ side coming from the seasoned Colorado junior snowshoe racing boys.
Cheyenne Mountain was well represented with six boys racing at their first national championship, most notably Josh Fowler who just narrowly lost to Smoky Hill High School’s Kyle Ames at the Colorado State Snowshoe Championship. Ames, who was looking to crack into the top 3 for a spot on the national team after his Colorado State Championship title two weeks earlier, came in his traditional ski goggles. Evergreen High School brought two runners up: Sam Sahli and Jackson Sayler; both accomplished snowshoe racers. Pomona High School sent snowshoe up-and-comer Mariah Henderson to Frisco to take on the course a second time too. Summit Middle School in Frisco sent the Ramsay Twins, boy Logan and girl McKenna, down the 3 mile drive to SHS for the race. Representing Boulder High School two-time defending champion, Samantha Lewis, donning her cheetah print pink tights and was ready to mix it up with the boys. Wisconsin’s Melissa Tekippe made it all the way up too, ready to breathe deep in the rarified air surrounding Summit County, and also looking for a podium finish.
Collegiate freshman racers were also present in this field: CMHS alums Postyn Smith from Williams College and Mitch Kasyon from CU-Boulder, and a duo of boys from Paul Smiths College in upstate New York: Jack Mulvihill and David Kucia.
The race started out in the sugary snow 200 meters north of the SHS on the Summit County Rec-Path. Racers lined up as the bright morning sun pierced over the southwestern Front Range Mountains. The shadows of the 11,000 and 12,000 foot peaks that surround SHS were still long at this early hour, and the racers faced a flat course with one minor climb and a sharp spike near the end called Heartbreak Hill.
The start of the race was a bit clumsy at first; the sugary snow made the racers sink and slide in the quicksand that racers were not accustomed too. This 200 meter stretch was soon over and the race turned into a track meet. Kasyon, Sahli, Ames, and Lewis were out quickly, while Smith started in 8th. Smith was coming up from sea level and chose to start conservatively and see how far his legs would carry him towards the end. The course was extremely hard packed heading southeast away from SHS. Course preview-ers from the previous day and a grooming machine made a lot of the course super fast; it showed.
Kasyon was spotted climbing Heartbreak Hill at nearly 19 minutes in. He cruised home to win his second straight national title with a blazing time of 23:24, a time that ended up standing as the fastest all day. The real race was taking place only a minute behind him. Sahli was second to hit Heartbreak Hill with Smith right on his tail. They both climbed the steep 25 degree pitch and dropped down the hill on the other side. With Sahli in front he looked strong and seemed to have the edge with his altitude trained body. Smith looked like he was gassed from the altitude and hill, but he made his move with 300 meters to go. He passed Sahli and sprinted home to finish second, gapping Sahli by 11 seconds. His time was 24:54, and Sahli brought it home with a 25:05. Smith took second on guts alone, and the race was an extremely close battle. Ames fought tooth and nail towards the finish, and came in 12 seconds off of Sahli to claim fourth with a 25:17. This SHHS senior wanted to crack the top three, and his season was great considering he trains in Aurora, sometimes considered the furthest place from snow in the Denver Metro Area. Fowler from CMHS rounded out the top five with an impressive run, for just his second race in snowshoes. The first non-Colorado runner to cross the finish line was in 10th place: Mulvihill from Paul Smiths.
Colorado pride was swelling at this moment, and 56 seconds after the sixth place boy crossed the line Boulder High School’s snowshoe racing legend, Samantha Lewis, came in to win her third consecutive national title. Lewis broke her snowshoe running PR and cracked 27 minutes for the first time in snowshoes with an impressive time of 26:50. Her fastest time ever came on the final 5K race she will race at her storied course in Frisco, CO. Lewis will still be able to snowshoe race next year, as she dons the orange of the Oregon State Beavers, and heads southeast out of Corvallis to Bend, OR, home of the 2013 USSSA National Championships. It isn’t over yet USA; watch out for the Colorado snowshoe racing legend to continue her success next year!
Now it was time to see if Colorado could sweep the podium on the girls’ side. SMS’s McKenna Ramsay flew across the finish line in a time of 32:53, and she could very well be the next Samantha Lewis in snowshoes. Only time will tell if she chooses Nordic skiing over snowshoe racing the next four years as she moves up to SHS next year, but she could go for the sweep at the USSSA nationals for next four years. It was a battle between Henderson and Tekippe for that final podium spot. Could the rest of the nation’s only hope of breaking up a sweep on both sides of the field be with a Wisconsin winter warrior, or would Henderson complete the sweep? Tekippe did manage to break up the Colorado sweep with a time of 34:49, a time not too far off of Ramsay’s. She will be a fierce competitor with Ramsay next year, and a Ski-Kid vs. a Cheesehead rivalry could ensue. Henderson finished in fourth with a sub-forty minute time of 37:25, and her senior year next year will prove to be her best as a snowshoe racer as she becomes even more experienced in the sport.
The race track of a course became increasingly gusty as the day wore on, and the junior field escaped the bitterly cold biting wind that the senior field was to face the rest of the day. One note to make was in the Citizen’s 5K race at 1:15 PM that day: Liam Meirow, an SHS sophomore, won the race with a time of 24:48. This was Liam’s first race in snowshoes, and only time will tell if he continues to snowshoe race. Liam would have finished second in the junior race with that time, just edging out Smith. Meirrow could contend for the national title for the next few years, but his desire to take on Colorado the next 2.5 years in track and cross country will be something to watch for. Look for him this season as SHS makes the turns around the track at a stadium near you.