Gore-Tex Grand Traverse
Crested Butte, Colorado
If you finish this race, you can keep your man-card for a while. The Grand Traverse covers the 40-mile stretch from Crested Butte to Aspen, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Participants cover the distance on skis, and because the race starts at midnight, they do so in the dead of night—and in the cold that comes with it. Did we mention that the Grand Traverse ascends more than 7,800 vertical feet? "Most ski-mountaineering races in North America take place on or next to a ski resort," says race codirector Bryan Wickenhauser. Although the Grand Traverse starts and ends on resort property in both locales, "it's the 39 or so miles in the Elk Mountains between the two that determine if you're tough enough."
Hayward to Cable, Wisconsin
More than 10,000 elite and citizen nordic skiers compete at the largest race of its kind in North America every year, and twice as many come just to watch. For skaters, the race spans 31 miles (33 for classic skiers), between Cable and Hayward. This leg of the Worldloppet circuit of 16 international ski marathons is "one of the most beautiful and challenging courses in the world," says spokesperson Susan Kendrick. "It's known for its hills, and the big ones get names like Bitch and Tourette's."
International Falls, Minnesota
Held in the Lower 48's coldest city, during the coldest part of winter, this ski-run-bike race blasts competitors with average temperatures of 20 below. "If you complete the AH 135, you have bragging rights for life," says race director Ken Krueger. "You literally have a better chance of winning a prize at the pre-race meeting than you do of crossing the finish line." Only a third of starters made it during the race's ten-year anniversary running in 2014, so consider the gauntlet thrown.
Val di Non, Italy
La Ciaspolada is the world's largest snowshoe race, with more than 6,000 runners from 19 countries participating in the 10K event. In 2013, the race was designated as the venue for the International Snowshoeing Federation's World Snowshoe Championships. "In 2014, we had the forty-first edition, so, certainly, the experience is a big plus," says Gianni Holzknecht, the organization's president. "And in our valley—the Non valley—there's a great sense of volunteering. Every year, during the period of Ciaspolada, the runners and tourists take in how well everything's been pulled together, and they go home very happy."
City of Lakes Loppet
Racers can compete in the usual classic and/or freeskiing events, as well as skijoring and fat-tire biking loppets. Also on offer, as ostensible reminders that loppets are equal parts skiing and merriment, are a snow-sculpture contest and a beer garden hosted by the local brewery Surly. "A loppet involves snow, sweat, suffering, and maybe a frozen toe or two," says Piotr Bednarski, head coach for the racing arm of the outfit that organizes the City of Lakes event. "But, in the end, it brings fun, great satisfaction, and good stories to share with your buddies."
USSA National Championships
Location changes annually
Yes, there is such a thing as the United States Snowshoe Association—and, yes, it does host a national championship, for which runners qualify at events around the country. Historic Bennington, Vermont, hosts the 2014 race, a 10K over singletrack and groomed cross-country trails at nearby Prospect Mountain Ski Area. "For the weekend, it'll serve as the epicenter of snowshoe action here in the U.S.," says USSA sports director Mark Elmore, who notes that more than 400 runners have registered. "International athletes from Canada, Australia, Sweden, Great Britain, and Brazil are expected to participate as well. It will be epic!"