There is more to shovel racing than simply climbing on the business end of a snow shovel, pointing the nose downhill, then careening down the slope.
“You have to master the technique,” said Sam Wilson. “Some people catch on pretty quickly, and some people have tried for 20 years and still can’t do it right.”
Wilson ought to know a thing or two about it – he’s won the Snow Shovel World Championships nine times in his 30-some attempts.
This year’s event is set for Saturday at Angel Fire Resort, with practice runs today beginning at noon.
And Wilson will be there again, even if he considers himself “too old to be doing this.”
A member of the ski patrol at Angel Fire, Wilson has seen shovel racing from its infancy when it started as something of lark with a few lift operators who were grooming the slopes and decided to ride their shovels to the bottom of the hill.
For a while, it gained zany appeal, even being televised on ESPN as a new class was introduced with “modified” snow shovels in which anything goes.
“They could be just about anything,” Wilson recalled. “A lot of them looked like bobsleds that had a shovel, technically speaking. But they were machines.”
That category fell by the wayside because of liability concerns.
And for a time there was even something of a miscellaneous category as characters took to the slopes in what amounted to floats mounted on shovels.
“One that I recall was a group of people sitting on a couch watching a TV, flying down the hill,” Wilson said with a chuckle.
Although these days, shovel racing has returned to its roots with folks riding the scoops, there’s still plenty of entertainment value in watching newcomers trying to master the right technique.
“Beginners sometimes have a pinball effect,” he said. “They spin around, go backwards.”
And when they reach the bottom, look out.
“People who don’t do it right spin around and go tumbling,” Wilson said. “It’s especially kind of amusing to watch people who don’t know how to stop. But there’s a catch net and inner tubes, so you can hit something rubbery to stop.”
So a little advice for newbies from a guy with a winning pedigree, what exactly does it take to be competitive in this thing?
“Good wax,” he said.
“Once you get the technique down, it’s mostly about being aerodynamic, making yourself as small as possible and don’t drag on the snow.”
But it’s really about “having good wax,” Wilson said, adding he prefers a teflon wax.
At the top of the hill, the veterans also know to dig in little handholds that will give them better leverage as they push off.
“Then you lean back and make yourself small until you get to the bottom,” Wilson said. “Most of the slope is pretty steep. At the bottom before the finish line, it flattens and there’s a fairly long run out area.”
That’s important because speeds can reach up to 70 mph.
But that’s also the fun of it, Wilson said.
“You want the slope to be as icy and hard as possible,” he said. “You go a lot faster and it’s a lot more fun.”
And once you’re soaring down the hill, the focus should be on the experience, Wilson said.
“You get kind of tunnel vision once you start going really fast and you can’t focus on anything peripheral because it’s loud,” he said. “Depending on the conditions of the snow, you can’t hear anything else.”