March 11 may seem far away, but if you are considering taking part in the Echo-to-Kirkwood Race and Tour, that date is looking over your shoulder.
This fun challenge is a 13-mile highcountry adventure on cross-country skis or snowshoes. The route's vistas are spectacular; the event requires endurance.
The race-tour draws serious competitors and day-trekkers. Last year's event, the 32nd annual, drew about 300 participants. Since the day is well organized with cookie stations and staff members along the route, almost anyone in good shape can take part.
Being in good shape is the kicker, and participants need to be acclimated for vigorous activity at high elevations.
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The event will start at 10 a.m. at the Sno-Park on Highway 50 at Echo Summit. In the first hour, participants face the toughest segment, which includes a 1,300-foot climb. After that, there are no more major hills. The sweep for stragglers begins at 5 p.m.
"It's a fun event because everyone is having a good time," said Jeff Faillers, an REI employee who last year placed second in his age group (40-49) and third overall for snowshoes. He said it takes him about four hours to complete the course, which is a packed and marked route, not a groomed trail.
"The event is social, well put on and well supported," Faillers said. "There are plenty of cookie stations staffed by volunteers from the El Dorado Nordic Ski Patrol and the Amador and El Dorado County Search and Rescue teams. "They have homemade cookies."
It's an event for everyone with a good, basic exercise regime, Faillers said. He suggests that newcomers consider the event a tour, not a race, and that they should plan for four to six hours on the trail.
Faillers, who will turn 50 before the race, keeps up his aerobic base by working out daily and training regularly at the Kirkwood Cross Country and Snowshoe Center, which is at 7,500 feet. It is the finish line for the March 11 event.
Faillers likes training on Kirkwood's 80 kilometers of groomed trails. He often recommends the center's meadow for beginners on snowshoes or cross-country skis.
It can be hard to decide whether to take on the event on cross-country skis or snowshoes. For first-timers, Nordic skier Stephen Noble, also an REI employee and regular competitor, recommends snowshoes.
"Snowshoeing will be easier skill-wise (due to the climbing and downhill skiing expertise required) but just as physically demanding as cross-country skiing," Noble wrote in an e-mail. However, he added, avid cross-country skiers with backcountry experience will want to do the event on skis.
Race chairman Jerry Plummer, a member of the Nordic ski patrol, said he expects most people to be on cross-country skis, but he's seen the number on snowshoes grow every year.