BENNINGTON -- Hundreds of the top snowshoe racers in the world will descend on the Bennington area this weekend as the 14th annual 2014 U.S. Snowshoe Championships will have its feature event at Prospect Mountain in Woodford.
The championship events include a 10K race for both men and women and a 5K race for juniors between 14 and 18 years old.
More than 300 racers have already qualified and signed up for the U.S. Snowshoe Association's signature competition.
The idea for Bennington to bid for the event came last year -- the brainchild of Bob Dion and Tim Van Orden.
Dion is the owner of Dion Snowshoes in North Bennington, and Bennington's Van Orden is a snowshoeing enthuasist and competitor, better known for his "Running Raw" vegan program and his distance-running exploits.
"We decided to put in a bid on the event and they picked us," said event director Dave Newell. "We have a loyal group of volunteers that help us with all the events, including the state cross-country ski championship."
There's an international division, where runners from Canada and even Great Britain are set to challenge, along with a team crown. The third-place finisher at Nationals in 2013, Carolyn Stocker from Westfield, Mass., is scheduled to compete as well.
In the junior ranks, Rachael Jones, 16, of New York, runner-up last season, has qualified and should compete on Saturday.
Along with the three championships decided on Saturday, there will be a 5K citizen's race on Saturday and a Uphill Challenge on Sunday. The citizen's race, starting at 1:30 p.m., is for anyone of any skill level. Loaner snowshoes will be made available. There's also a 2.5K relay on Sunday, where four runners will each tackle the 2.5K course.
"Hopefully we have enough loaner snowshoes and hopefully we get a handful of people to try it," Newell said.
The Challenge is a 200-yard race, a "quick sprint" up the downhill course. It'll cost $5 to do it, and awards will go to the top three men, women and juniors.
Van Orden is the technical director, the person responsible for creating the courses, and ran a qualifying event earlier this year that brought in more than 100 people, Newell said.
Dion Snowshoes is co-sponsoring this year's race with Prospect Mountain Ski Club. Net proceeds will be donated to the Bill Koch Youth Ski League and the Mount Anthony Nordic ski team.
There are two social events as well -- on Friday night, a reception will be held at the Bennington Center for the Arts from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., while a dinner will be at Mount Anthony Union Middle School at 6 p.m. on Saturday after all the awards are given out.
For more information, visit ussnowshoechampionships.com.