BENNINGTON — Temperatures in the area are still regularly approaching 90 degrees but at least one man already has his mind on this winter, and more specifically snowshoeing.
Last week, Tim Van Orden brought before the Bennington Select Board his plan to host the 2023 World Snowshoeing Championships at Prospect Mountain. The accomplished endurance athlete and former Nordic Ski coach at Mount Anthony Union High School said the date would be somewhat flexible but he would aim for the weekend of March 4.
His deadline to submit a package for review to the World Snowshoe Federation was July 31. The winning bid will be announced at this year’s championships, being held in Argentina Sept. 3.
Van Orden cited the success of the National Snowshoe Championships held here in Bennington in both 2014 and 2018.
“Still to this day, they are the most well-attended U.S. Snowshoe Championships. They’re one and two,” Van Orden said to the select board. “They were a huge success. People are still talking about them.”
The success of the National Championships and the favorable reviews they have received speaks to a larger vision that Van Orden has for Bennington. He sees a lot of untapped potential to turn the area into a veritable mecca for outdoor and endurance athletes, and he’s not alone.
Prospect Mountain Association is onboard.
“The Prospect Mountain Association wholeheartedly supports Tim Vanorden’s efforts to bring the Snowshoe World Championships to our area,” said association president David Newell. “We are excited to provide the venue for this prestigious event.”
Prospect worked along with Van Orden to host the 2014 and 2018 National Championship events. “The World Championships would be another great opportunity for us as well as for the Bennington area,” Newell said.
“In 2014, we had eight countries represented at our U.S. Championship. There was such a big draw for the event that it went beyond our borders,” Van Orden said. “So the president of the U.S. Snowshoe Federation approached me and said, ‘’We’d like you to put in a bid for Worlds.’”
Van Orden expressed gratitude for the support of the town in making 2014 and 2018 a success, but also said that Worlds require a bit more in order to meet the standard of an international event.
“It’s not simply a race, but it’s the town putting on somewhat of a party,” he continued. “We’re not talking about the Olympics… this is a light lift. But the International Snowshoe Federation expects the town is going to say, ‘We’re happy to have you.’ And we want to make it look nice. We want to make it look like this is an exciting place to be.”
Van Orden, who has won nine USA Track & Field (USATF) National Trail Running championships across multiple events, said that even though he grew up in Vermont, he specifically returned from Los Angeles to the Bennington area in large part because it was the perfect area to support his athletic endeavors.
Van Orden sees an opportunity for events like the World Snowshoe Championships, which he estimated would bring 6-700 people overall, to be a sustainable economic boon to the town. His long-term goal is to draw elite athletes not only for competition, but to be their place to live and train. He used the town of Bend, Oregon as a possible model for Bennington to follow.
By Van Orden’s account, it was simply a matter of Bend making a commitment to make outdoor athletics part of their identity and submitting a bid for just about every national-level event, and it worked.
“(Bend) is now considered the outdoor center of the United States,” he said. “Athletes from all over the world have moved there. Their economy is through the roof. Bend is the place to be.”
Van Orden suggested that with the same level of commitment, Bennington could easily replicate or even exceed this success, because Bennington has several assets that Bend doesn’t. He cited the population density surrounding the region. Urban centers like New York and Montreal mean there are 24 million people living within a 3.5-hour radius.
Another significant factor that could make Bennington a draw over Western locales like Colorado and Oregon? Air quality.
“I’m regularly in contact with athletes around the country, and they are saying for at least a month every summer… they cannot train outdoors due to the forest fires. And they’re thinking about relocating.”
Van Orden said that it is likely Bennington will win the bid, but that even if it doesn’t, it is important for the town to keep the bigger picture in mind and embrace this strategy of marketing Bennington as a place with the resources elite athletes can put to use.
“There are a lot of different assets that we can leverage,” Van Orden said in closing. “My goal as an individual citizen is to keep doing what I can to keep bringing world and international-level events to Bennington.”