Yaktrax and Frankenspikes: Gear for Running Uphill on Snow

Steep and snowy, the racecourse jutted almost vertically in front of my face. It was my third day in Vail, Colo., where earlier this month I competed in a variety of events during the Winter Teva Mountain Games.

A few dozen runners, skiers, and snowshoers lined up around me. At the “Go!” the pack took off, a stampede of athletes preparing to move uphill on snow for two miles to a finish line above 10,000 feet.

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Vail Uphill winner Josiah Middaugh cranking near the top; photo © David Clifford

The event, called simply the Vail Uphill, required specialized equipment to move fast and grip the snow. Some racers, including top finishers, wore track-spike shoes or hybrid footwear custom-made for the race. You could also wear skis (with skins on) or snowshoes for the climb.

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Racers start the Vail Uphill at base of the mountain; photo © David Clifford

I laced up a pair of waterproof La Sportiva trail-running shoes and cinched steel coils over the soles. Specifically, the traction add-ons came from Yaktrax LLC, a company that’s long made products for people needing a better grip on ice and snow.

Yaktrak’s Pro model is a simple design, including a rubber shoe harness, a Velcro strap, and the steel wire underfoot. They are easy to get on and off. Once on a shoe, cinched tight with the Velcro strap, the Yaktrax Pro stay firmly in place. On the Vail course, despite 45 minutes of uphill running, my Yaktrax did not move an inch.

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Yaktrax Pro coils

Grip is good with the Pro model, especially on snow. For ice, there is some purchase, though the coils do not dig in like spike-equipped crampons can.

The Yaktrax Pro weigh about 3 ounces apiece. This extra weight is all but unnoticeable connected to your shoe. They cost $30 at www.yaktrax.com.

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Yaktrax Pro on trail-running shoes

So what did the winners of the Vail Uphill wear? First-place racer Josiah Middaugh screwed a snowshoe cleat onto his running shoe. Bolts through the sole attached the aggressive crampon, giving Middaugh insane traction as he ran uphill.

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Middaugh with his hybrid shoe (featuring a snowshoe cleat!)

The second- and third-place racers used similar franken-shoe creations, including adding bolts and spikes to their soles. The metal protruded a couple inches from the base of the shoe, digging in deeply on each step and allowing the racers to literally sprint on snow up a mountain on their way to victories in what has got to be one of the more difficult and unique running events this year.

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Frankenspikes! Highly modified running shoes

For me, the extreme measures were not needed for the race. The Yaktrax Pro grips served as a solid product for me on the event and as all-around grip upgrades this winter for running on snow.

Beyond extreme scenarios like the Teva Games’ Vail Uphill race, Yaktrax are great for winter running and hiking. Shoveling a sidewalk and sledding with kids are other potential settings where the extra grip can be nice.

Caveat: Beware of glare ice. Almost nothing short of mountaineering crampons will grip to pure frozen H2O. But for average slippery winter days — or the occasional run up a mountainside — Yaktrax should have you covered.

—Stephen Regenold is editor of GearJunkie. He reported on the Teva Games’ ski-mountaineering race earlier this month in the post “Big Ups, Big Downs: Welcome to the Sport of ‘SkiMo’.”

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Finish line past 10,000 feet; photo © David Clifford

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