Amherst snowshoe runner Erik Wight taking advantage of trip to Italy for world championships



Last modified: Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Erik Wight’s wife called him weak.

She was kidding, “ribbing him,” as he calls it.

The longtime endurance runner and Amherst resident had been running exclusively on trails since he was in his mid-40s.

Winter historically hibernated that pursuit until spring’s thaw.

Monica Robelotto suggested snowshoe running as a challenging alternative.

“Once you stop doing downhill (skiing) you complain about winter,” Erik Wight said. “Running, it’s very difficult in the winter. I remember doing my first (snowshoe) race, it was incredibly hard slipping around.”

That was in 2009 in Pittsfield.

“It was a pretty hilly one, so it was a brutal first one. We climbed 1,000 feet in a few miles,” Wight said. “Then I learned to pace myself and actually started loving the winter. It opened the whole trail up to me. It opened me up to the beauty of the woods again.”

He embraced snowshoe racing over the last half decade and competed in last year’s national championships in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Wight, 56, finished second in his age category (55-59) in the half marathon and also ran the 10-kilometer event.

On Saturday, Wight’s snowshoes will take him somewhere entirely new — the 2016 World Snowshoe Championships in Vezza d’Oglio, Italy.

He’ll be a part of a group of roughly 20 Americans traveling to the foothills of the Dolomites near the border of Switzerland and Italy.

The world championships will be contested as part of the Caspolada al Chiarodi Luna. It traditionally is a moonlight community event, but the world championship competition will be during the day.

“In Europe they have a competitive division and a non-competitive division,” U.S. Snowshoe Association sports director Mark Elmore said. “A lot of it’s about tourism, about bringing people to your region, sharing the beauty of the high mountain valleys that these villages reside in.”

Elmore started coordinating trips to Europe for the world championships in 2003.

He began snowshoe running himself in 1989 and helped start the U.S. national championships in 2001.

“Americans don’t go over to dominate these races. It’s not cheap to travel. It’s not like there’s prize money,” Elmore said. “If an athlete is looking for that next challenge to get outside themselves and get outside their comfort zone and challenge themselves in a foreign setting that’s very different from where they come from, these events really kind of fit that bill. They offer that kind of exotic challenge where you’re going over and it’s part sightseeing trip, part athletic challenge.”

Wight is aiming for equal parts of both, which is why he’s staying in Italy for a week after the world championships to run the Ciaspalonga delle Marmarole — a snowshoe marathon through the snowy Italian Alps.

“I’m going to experience the race. To finish it is a landmark thing,” Wight said. “It’s a tough sport. Climbing the height of Mount Washington twice and going 26 miles on snowshoes. I don’t think there’s many humans that can do that.”

The lack of snow hasn’t allowed Wight to train near home, but he’s taken his snowshoes to Pittsfield and New Hampshire to make tracks.

Mixing in five-hour runs in the Seven Sisters mountain range hasn’t hurt, either.

Wight is the building inspector for Agawam and finances his racing himself.

“The sport is not per se expensive,” he said. “If you travel, obviously, it is. It’s really a vacation, too. It’s the experience of a lifetime. It’s going to be incredible. Italian alps, wine, cheese and racing. What more could you ask for?”

Elmore is working to have the sport included in the Winter Olympics program.

He’s been involved with the World Snowshoe Federation since 2010, trying to increase the sport’s profile around the world.

“The sport itself is still in its infancy even though it’s been around since the 1850s because it hasn’t really gained mainstream attention,” he said. “That’s what we’re working toward and hoping to bring it toward eventual Olympic inclusion.”

Wight, more singularly, will be focused on warming huts.

In the longer distances he competes in, there are huts spaced roughly every eight miles to keep racers from freezing.

Wight likes to mentally break down the race into those sections to not get overwhelmed.

“I have the pressure to finish. You can run a little bit, and you’re going to hike the steep stuff. As long as you learn the pacing you’re OK,” he said. “If you red line you’re in trouble, same as anything. You have to have been hiking to know it’s a multiple hour thing. It’s not just a little jog around the block.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com.


 


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