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Grabbing Life by the Snowballs 

A group of Idahoans play the game of summer in the dead of winter.

click to enlarge No need to wait till spring to play softball. - PECKY COX
  • Pecky Cox
  • No need to wait till spring to play softball.

For most people, winter is a time to be cooped up. And when the holidays have come and gone, January hits and we start looking out the windows longing for sun, pining for long summer days and warm nights.

But not Bud Adams and Brick Harris. No, 40 years ago they saw the snow and winter as an opportunity.

In the dead of winter, the two friends called some guys who lived in the Spokane area and wagered a challenge: Would these men dare to come to Priest Lake and compete in a softball tournament during the snowy months of January and February?

Thus, the Snowshoe Softball tournament was born.

Last week The Inlander spoke with Russ Brown, the president of the Priest Lake Snowshoe Softball Association, who gave us some insight about how this North Idaho phenomenon goes down.

They play by the modified pitch rules: no leading off, no stealing bases. Pitchers can throw the ball as fast as they can as long as they don’t wind up. Instead of the standard three outfielders, they play with five. “Running in snowshoes is hard,” Russ Brown says. Two extra men stand by to retrieve any high flyers soaring into the deep outfield snow.

Players, too, have to strain to make it around the bases. But at least there’s red Jell-O marking the first and third baselines. Before the games, a big bag of strawberry Jell-O powder — between five and 10 pounds — is poured out onto the snow like chalk lines are on the dirt on a baseball diamond. “The lines are placed to help the batters find their way to the bases more easily, but after an inning the lines start to disappear,” says Brown.

With only four innings, snowshoe softball games are shorter, usually around 90 minutes, but they’re still intensely competitive. The players hire two umps from Spokane to facilitate the games.

Teams come from farther than Spokane and Northern Idaho. There is a team from Corvallis, Ore. — the Squirrels — that has been coming up for 20 years to compete. Years back, says Brown, there was even a team from San Francisco that competed in a few tournaments.

Regardless of the weather conditions, the teams will be marching awkwardly in for battle. It would go against everything that Snowshoe Softball stands for to cancel a game because of rain or sleet. These are men who shun recognized and sensible sports seasons; they won’t let any form of precipitation stop the competition.

This year marks the 43rd anniversary of the tournament. In the past, a 12-team bracketed tournament has spanned three weekends. The first two weekends each host six of the teams, then the remaining teams battle it out for the championship prize of $1,000 on the third weekend. Brown and his team, RB’s of ML, had competed for thirty years in the tournament, but retired their team last year, leaving a hole in the roster. He says he’s not sure what they’re going to do unless a new team steps into their legendary, albeit clumsy, shoes.

Over the years, they’ve experimented with other activities, like volleyball and relays, but the only tournament that has really stuck is the Snowshoe Softball.

When asked about the best benefits he has gotten from participating in the Snowshoe Softball tournaments, Russ says it’s the friendships he’s made through the years. He’d been able to meet people from across the west side of the country as people from different regions have shown interest in a different kind of sport. “Even as the games have become more and more competitive,” Russ says, he’s still able to look across the field at the opposing teams and call them friends.

Snowshoe-wearing friends.

Welcome to Snowlander, Vol. IV

Here we are, well into the second month of skiing and I feel like we’ve seen it all — big powder, a little rain, and lots of sun. Over the holidays, I ran into many first-time visitors to this area, and my question to them is why the Northwest Rockies for their holiday break? The overwhelming response was, “This is the only region that has snow.”

click to enlarge PECKY COX
  • Pecky Cox

What’s so beautiful about hearing that as a response was that our region has now made an impression on ski tourism that will undoubtedly be favorable over the next several years. Who knows? Instead of booking future trips to their favorite Montana, Utah or Colorado resorts, these snow travelers will remember the fond family vacation of 2011 to our local resorts and make a new tradition out of it.

It is hard to ski day after day, week after week, with no large snow accumulation. As a good friend posted as on Facebook this past Sunday, it’s crazy “when you’re stoked because a centimeter is making all the difference in the world.” Everyone I’ve spoken with remains positive that the snow will come again, and they’re stoked that our corner of the world is still looking a heck of a lot better than most places in regards to snow coverage and conditions.

Now with a successful holiday season in the books, area resorts are not skipping a beat. They’re smoothly transitioning into the most exciting time of the year — event season. All of the local resorts have jam-packed events calendars through the remainder of the season — wife carrying, oyster feeds, torchlight and firework displays, big air shows and competitions, rail jams and a 24-hour ski race. Check out Snowlander.com or keep this Snowlander supplement for quick reference. Both of these are the best resource for a comprehensive event schedule. And all of the events are great reasons to get up to the slopes.

The positive is we still have three months of ski season, with the days getting longer all the time.

See you on the mountain!

Jen Forsyth
Snowlander Editor
[email protected]

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