Dion 121 Racing Snowshoe Review
Isn't it nice when gear works so well you don't even notice it? That's the way I felt today when running for the first time with my new Dion 121 racing snowshoes.
Engineered and built by Bob Dion, a legend of trail running and snowshoe racing, the 121 is a favorite among snowshoe racers. I've been backcountry and trail snowshoeing for years, but never running. An upcoming race was too tempting to pass, so I decided to put on some miles.
Dion snowshoes are a choose-your-own-adventure snowshoe. You choose the frame, the binding, and the cleat separately to get the optimum configuration for your situation. For my run today, I chose the 121 frame, the quick fit binding, and the deep cleat. The frame is the smallest allowable by the USSSA at 7" x 21". The quick fit binding is a hook and loop, super easy, binding system that just plain works. The deep cleat was chosen because the snow conditions at Greenbush State Park in Wisconsin warranted it: about 12" of snow that was only mildly packed down by previous snowshoers.
I was able to wear a pair of light trail running jogging shoes because of the mid-length gaiter that I was also wearing. No clunky boots for me.
Greenbush State Park in the Northern Kettle Moraine Forests of Wisconsin is fantastic for snowshoeing. To keep the skiers happy, snowshoers use the mountain bike trails. But because of that, the snowshoe trails are tight single-track with lots of quick ups and downs. It is certainly a prime location for a trail runner not interested in an easy jog.
The best compliment a pair of snowshoes could ever get is that you forget you are wearing them. Too often snowshoes are too big, clunky, uncomfortable, and heavy for this to ever be the case. Not so with the 121 combo. Honestly, if it weren't for the fact I was magically floating on top of 12" of snow while running, I would have forgotten that I was even snowshoeing. They are really that light, comfortable, and grippy.
It took a while to get used to not using poles, but the grip from the deep cleats along with the sturdiness of the binding didn't make me miss them.
The Long Haul
This first run of the season for me was only about 3 miles, but that's a lot for someone not used to running on snowshoes. Not once did the bindings come loose or feel uncomfortable. Not once did the cleats slip up. Heck, I didn't even twist an ankle as I was sure I was going to do with some of the potholes some folks left on the trail. It was quite interesting to look at the other snowshoer's faces as I came up behind them to pass. I don't think they've ever seen someone running in snowshoes. They must have thought I was nuts.
I wish I had brought my screwdriver to put on the standard cleat and do another small lap to see the difference. I will try that later and report back. I still think the deep cleat was the way to go.
(Update: I went out 1 day later on the same trails with identical snow conditions, but this time with the standard cleat. On flat ground, I couldn't tell much of a difference. However, going up a hill, the difference was certainly noticeable. The standard cleat didn't have the same level of grip going up, so some forward energy was lost to a bit of slip. At one point, I ran over the same section of trail twice and saw evidence to my lost efforts: small divots of snow. Because the standard cleat is shallower, it was getting less of a bite and actually digging up small divots. So, unless the snow is shallow or there are no hills, I'll be using the deep cleats from now on.)
About the only negative I found during the run was that the 121's kick up some snow. The binding is definitely of the fixed variety, so there is quite a lot of springback with each step. While this makes for a very natural running gait, it also kicks up some snow. Not much of an issue with good gaiters or snow-shedding pants, but my exposed wool long underwear become a snow magnet.
If you are a trail runner and are looking for something to do when the white stuff is on the ground, you owe it to yourself to try the Dion 121's. If you are a competitive snowshoe runner, this article is probably a waste of your time because you already own Dion 121's.
The fact that Bob Dion is a competitive racer shines in his product. You will not be disappointed.