The weather was perfect, the snow conditions just right, the company an absolute delight, and the organization a bit suspect for the 2017 Grouse Snowshoe Grind Mountain Run. Running for my second consecutive year, I had a lot of expectations for this event, and brought along my own ‘crew’ to share the experience. By and large, the Grouse Snowshoe Grind lived up to its reputation, but there are definitely some areas for improvement. Having said that, let me talk about all the good stuff – because there was lots of it!
At last year’s Grouse Snowshoe Grind, the weather was a bit dodgy – overcast, with some weird snow-rain falling, particularly while we were waiting for the race to start.This year, in contrast, we had the ideal weather conditions – a bit breezy at the start, but with clear, sunny skies. This made for spectacular views, an amazing contrast between the blue skies and the brilliant snow.
Again, I can’t help but compare to last year, when the snow was icy and sharp, crunchy and a bit painful the one time I slipped and fell. This year? Beautiful, fresh, fluffy snow – making for the most spectacular conditions. I loved how the snowshoes were almost silent, muffled by the fresh snowfall.
This made for some challenges, though. On the downhill, the snow didn’t grip…it was slippery and loose. I fell on my ass more than once, sliding down the side of the mountain faster than I had planned. But you know what? The snow was so soft, it didn’t matter!
The Grouse Snowshoe Grind is a tough, challenging course. It wends its way up past the ski lifts, gradually sloping along the wide trail, until things narrow and steepen. All efforts at running give way to just managing to put one foot/snowshoe in front of the other, upward towards a summit blanketed in snow.
Even before the peak of Dam Mountain is in the sight, the lead runners are already bolting down the hill…fast, agile and breathtaking. All I can do is cheer, because that will never be me – I don’t have the stamina or the guts to go that fast.
A few recreational snowshoers stepped aside and encourage me to ‘run’ to the top of the mountain. I struggle by, thanking them – and the view is just awe-inspiring. This is the reason I’m here, again, cursing Dam Mountain but grateful because I’m able to be here.
Downhill is fast, slippery and a bit scary. I’m afraid of twisting an ankle, which results in a few butt-plants. And then there’s another uphill, a bit unexpected – how did the elites do this so fast?? – and finally gravity takes charge. One of the kids on the course, still making his way upwards, asks: “Are we almost there?” and I give him a shrug and a sympathetic, “Not quite”.
I sprint as fast as my legs will carry me to the finish line, happy with my success.
My crew this year were all first time snowshoe grinders. Sam and Lyanna – both stalwart West Van Run Crew members – along with Nobu and Chris. I’m so excited to have this awesome gang with me, and we encourage each other from start to finish. No pictures of Sam, because she whooped my butt at the end, but Lyanna, Chris and Nobu all managed awesome photo finishes!
The ‘Not So Good’
Last year, Debra and I arrived at the foot of Grouse. There was a table outdoors, with quick and friendly bib pickup taking (as I recall) just a few minutes. In striking contrast, we were met this year with a surprisingly long lineup out the door at Guest Services. After waiting nearly 30 minutes, we discovered just one person manning the desk, handing out bibs, and requiring each Grouse Snowshoe Grind entrant to complete a lengthy handwritten waiver, inclusive of address, phone number and email address. This, despite the fact that all of the information had been provided online.
Unfortunately, no one was available to ‘direct traffic’, which meant that everyone ended up merging into the same line – folks buying day passes, ski school registrants, and Grouse Snowshoe Grind participants.
Once we finally gathered our bibs, we headed for the gondola, which would take us to the top of Grouse. No one was available to provide direction, and we found ourselves in the lineup for the ski school. A member of staff, upon seeing our bibs (doubling as ‘tickets’ to the gondola), brusquely told us we were ‘in the wrong line’.
“Over there,” she gestured angrily.
“Where?” we asked. We were here to participate in a race, not regulars at the mountain.
She sighed audibly. “Go around to the other side.”
On the other side, another long line. Despite the fact that we had a hard start at 10am, no priority was given to the race participants. Two gondolas – which leave once every fifteen minutes – came and went. We started to worry that we would miss the race start. Did anyone even know we were coming?
Finally, and honestly at the last minute, we boarded the gondola, rode to the top of the mountain, picked up our snowshoes, checked our baggage (there was a lot to do!), and made it to the start line with minutes to spare.
The After Party
While I hate to compare, last year was better. We had a separate room, a place to relax, bagels and cream cheese, and an array of door prizes. This year, we were crammed into the lobby of the chalet – lovely around the fireplace, but drafty by the doors – with a few bananas and bottles of water. A little less impressive than the ‘buffet’ I had promised my invited guests. Nevertheless, we cheered on the winners – how could they finish so fast?? – before squeezing back onto the gondola for our trip back down the mountain.
This race is one of my favourites. It’s unique, challenging and – as far as I know – the only snowshoe race in Metro Vancouver. I highly recommend it. However, a few tips…first, for participants:
- Show up early or – if you can swing it – pick up your bib the day before. Despite the fact that we arrived at 8:15am (with pickup hours from 8am to 9am), the wait was intolerable and stressful
- Bring your own snowshoes. The process of picking up snowshoes was slow and manual – and almost made us miss the race start. In addition, it’s great to know your own snowshoes, and how they work!
- Bring friends! Having my crew with me made all of the challenges really minor – and we were there to cheer each other on. Totally worth it!
And a few suggestions for Grouse Mountain:
- Find a way to automate your waivers – make it part of race registration, or allow participants to print out/complete the waivers ahead of time.
- Allow ‘priority boarding’ on the gondola for race participants. Honestly, it’s just 100 people! A lot of us are not regulars, we don’t know the routine, we’re just here for the race. At least acknowledge our presence!
- Prep your staff. The individuals I dealt with were dismissive, unfriendly, and borderline rude. I understand there’s a lot of pressure, especially on snowy weekend mornings, but this is a special event! I felt like your folks were unprepared, and left us feeling a bit neglected.
But while there is room for improvement, I still think this is an awesome event, and plan to attend again next year. Heck, maybe I’ll even invest in my own snowshoes!
Chip Time: 52:01
Place Overall: 53/99
Age Category Place: 8/10
Quick Recap – Grouse Snowshoe Grind Mountain Run
Social Media: Everything is managed by Grouse Mountain – who you can follow on Twitter (@grousemountain). A couple of days before the race, we received an ‘event day info’ email, with all the relevant information.
Packet Pickup: Bib pickup was probably one of the least efficient I’ve experienced at a race – long lineups, just one person manning the desk, and lengthy handwritten waivers. Poorly run.
T-Shirt/Swag: Nothing to speak of, except a cool bib.
Course: Incredibly tough, and strikingly beautiful. It’s the snowshoe grind – what do you expect?? One of the best snowshoe trails on the North Shore!
Post-Race: There were bananas, cookies and energy bars at the finish line, and a few more items at the after party. Unlike the previous year, however, there were no bagels and we didn’t have a separate room in which to celebrate, so it was a bit disappointing.
Would I Run It Again? Because I love this event, I’ll be there again. I hope the organizers make a few adjustments for next year – I’ll do the same – but regardless I’ll give it another run!