SENECA FALLS — When Margret Montag headed to Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondacks, she had never donned a pair of snowshoes.
Now, she not only wears them but races in them.
Montag, 19, is the daughter of Sheridan Davenport-Montag and Jeffrey Montag and a 2017 graduate of Romulus Central School. Although she has junior standing, she is in her second year at Paul Smith’s majoring in environmental studies.
A soccer player, her coach suggested she try snowshoeing last year as a way to keep in shape during the off season.
“I had no idea what I was getting into,” said Montag, who joined the snowshoeing team under Coach Jim Tucker (he’s also the athletic director and cross country coach at Paul Smith’s).
And probably no idea she would take as easily to the sport as she has.
Montag recently competed in the national championships in Wisconsin and in January traveled to Val di Non, Italy for the World Snowshoe Championships.
The large, traditional snowshoes she was familiar with before arriving at Paul Smith’s are not what Montag uses to race across the snow. Her Northern Lites snowshoes are short and light for racing purposes.
Paul Smith’s has one of the few collegiate teams so Montag landed in a good place to not only learn — but excel — in the sport. Tucker, who founded the Paul Smith’s College Striders snowshoeing team in 1987, said most of the team members (like Montag) tried the sport for the first time when they arrived at college. Endurance athletes and those who can tolerate the cold make the best candidates.
“For most kids, they’ve never seen a racing snowshoe until we put them on them,” he said.
Tucker said snowshoeing is harder than trail running. The dozen or so team members practice on their own on the 25 miles of groomed trails that Paul Smith’s has; practicing as a team after the academic day is over is not feasible because winter daylight hours are so short, he said.
“I don’t think she realizes she’s quite good,” Tucker said of Montag. “She’s doing very well.”
At the U.S. Snowshoe Championships earlier this month in Wisconsin, Montag ran her first 10K ever and placed fourth in her age group — a performance she was pleased with given it was her inaugural race at that distance and a hilly course. She was also part of the open mixed team in the 4-by-2.5K relay that placed third. The competition also featured a half marathon and marathon — on snowshoes.
“Those people are crazy,” Montag said. “I don’t know if I could ever do that.”
Last year, Montag was named Junior Women’s Athlete of the Day at the 2018 International Snowshoe Championships in Lewiston, Maine. She’s also won gold medals in the 2018 and 2019 Empire State Winter Games.
Montag is glad she took the chance at a sport she never knew existed until she set foot on campus. She said she enjoys pushing her limits.
“I personally like the challenge and it’s made me a better athlete overall,” said Montag, who also just joined the rugby team.
And snowshoeing has also kept her in shape, just like her soccer coach promised.
“It’s like going for a hike except you’re running and it’s kind of hard to breathe,” she said,
The sport has also afforded her the opportunity to travel the country and the world. Last year she went to Spain for the world championships and at this year’s worlds in Italy was able to race in full view of the Alps … even though snow was lacking.
“There was no snow so they had to bring in snow from the mountains to make a trail for us,” Montag said.
After graduation either in May 2020 or December 2020, Montag is considering graduate school in environmental engineering.