Summit County runner-turned-snowshoer wins national junior race
SUMMIT COUNTY — In a winter sports world of ever-evolving gear, Jeremiah Vaille went from casual Sentinel Island, Snake River snowshoer to junior national championship contender — all on his family’s plastic pair of 12×10-inch kid’s snowshoes.
Well, technically he was loaned a pair of 21×7.5-inch Dion snowshoes — the kind meant for high-level snowshoe racing on packed-down trails — in time for his win at last month’s Dion U.S. National Snowshoe Championships in Bennington, Vermont.
The snowshoes propelled the 16-year-old Summit High student to the national championship on the trails of the Prospect Mountain Nordic Ski Center, where Vaille defeated six other snowshoers, ages 15-19, to earn a spot on the U.S. Junior National Snowshoe team for next season.
And the victory came during the same 2017-18 winter season when Vaille decided to give competitive snowshoeing a try. He only made the decision after his high school ski coach Karl Barth recommended in January he sign up for the unofficial Colorado state high school snowshoe championship race in early February in Leadville.
Vaille took the advice and won the race despite heavy snow above tree line, and despite the fact that he was racing on, essentially, toy snowshoes.
“I decided to just use kids snowshoes because they were lighter and smaller,” Vaille said. “To run more efficiently.”
They were the same kind of casual snowshoes found in many garages and sheds around Summit County, leaned up against old skis from powder days of the past. For the Vaille family, like many others here in the county, the family snowshoes were used on those weekend days they chose not to ski. Those days when his mother, Kendal, and father, Troy, would bring he and his younger brother, Miles, 12, and sister, Lexie, 14, out to trails like those on Sentinel Island. There, they’d build mazes in the snow with their fresh tracks.
“Ever since they were little, we’ve had little plastic snowshoes to strap on them,” Kendal said. “Sometimes we’d drive up to Montezuma — it’s a nice good escape by the river. Just drive up a little before town, and pull over there.
“And the kids would always lead the path,” Jeremiah’s mother continued. “With snowshoes, you can make your own path.”
Jeremiah has certainly forged his own path this winter after listening to his coach and trying out the competitive side of the sport. In order to pull off the victory in Vermont, Vaille needed to catch up to and hold off — by six seconds — a racer two years his senior, Andrew LePage, of Morrisonville, New York.
And Vaille would need to do so after the Vermont Nordic center’s singletrack in the powder-filled forest gave way to a wider, groomed trail.
But it was in that singletrack where the High Country distance runner-turned-snowshoer had the same kind of competitive epiphany that mainfiests in cross-country races. It’s the kind of sense you get about your opponent only in a race like a cross-country or snowshoe 5K, where you are around that same racer for an extended amount of time.
He realized not only that he could pass and jump into the lead in the final 200 meters of the 5K course, but that it would take his competitor a whole heck of a lot to mount a comeback.
It was his for the taking.
“Before the race, I looked at the times from last year’s race,” Jeremiah said. “And I thought I could do this. So I went out really hard and I just stayed with the lead person for most of the race. He was ahead of me the whole time, but when I caught up to him in the singletrack I could tell he was slowing down.”
With his mother, Kendal, and his grandfather, Ken, there to greet him, Jeremiah crossed the finish line ahead of the six other competitors behind him, from New York, Massachusettes, New Hampshire and Washington state.
The top three-finish qualified Vaille to be a member of the U.S. Junior National Snowshoe Team, an honor that means he can compete at next January’s World Junior Snowshoe Championships in Fondo, Italy.
If the junior national championship snowshoe trails in Vermont weren’t a world away from his childhood strolls out on Sentinel Island and along the Snake River in Montezuma, the competition in the mountains of Northern Italy certainly will be.
And he’ll have not only his family and Coach Barth to thank, but also a relative stranger who took note of his talent at his win in Leadville. After finishing ahead of the more than two dozen other high school competitors in Leadville, winning the race in 24 minutes, Coach Barth was there at the finish line timing the race. After his coach congratulated him, a member of the U.S. snowshoe senior national team, Nicholas Scalfone, saw something in Vaille.
“We didn’t think it was going to be such a big deal,” Jeremiah said. “I mean, I didn’t know myself because I didn’t expect that much of me. But he came up to me after the race and said I did a great job and encouraged me to go to the national race in Vermont. That was pretty cool to me.”
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American giant slalom stud Ted Ligety won six times at Birds of Prey, be it five World Cups and/or gold in the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, but we have to remember what a struggle it was for him to get there.