By Konstantine Fekos
The sight of scoop shovels at the top of a snow-tubing slope and rumors of sledding downhill on said shovels was enough to intrigue Bill Piccuta of Youngstown, Ohio, to the point of taking the plunge down about 900 feet of crisp, white snow at Whispering Pines Golf Course Monday afternoon.
A self-proclaimed first-timer, Piccuta sat on the shovel, put his feet up and proceeded to zig-zag down the slope at AvalancheXpress, the site of this weekend’s Snow Shovel Race to benefit Big Brothers and Sisters of Crawford County.
“That was fun; I definitely recommend the shovel,” he said after returning to the top. “How many people can say they rode a coal shovel down a hill?”
This inaugural event, hosted by Whispering Pines, may be the first exposure to shovel-sledding for many county residents since George Bailey slid down Henry Potter’s hill in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“It’s old-school,” said Bill Kingzett Jr., owner of Whispering Pines. “We were in pursuit of a fun event that would go well with our AvalancheXpress snow-tubing resort.”
The event features a practice day, free and open to the public, on Friday for anyone willing to try their hand at a shovel ride down one of the course’s snowy slopes. The following day, AvalancheXpress will hold its premier shovel race with awards for individual winners and teams in various categories.
Competitors can register with a $15 entry fee, which includes an all-day tubing pass, according to Kingzett.
“We make our own snow, so the race should be on regardless of what the weather does,” Kingzett said. “We’d like to have a good gathering, hopefully between 50 and 100 people spread throughout the different categories.”
A portion of proceeds benefits Big Brothers and Sisters of Crawford County by funding snow-tubing passes for its children and mentors, said Paula Jo Lynch, executive director.
“There are two things our bigs want,” she said, “tickets for Splash Lagoon and AvalancheXpress, so when we saw this opportunity, we seized it.”
The partnership also allows children to participate in an activity they might not be able to afford normally, Lynch explained.
Additionally, the organization benefits from avoiding costs for mentors as an incentive to participate.
“We don’t want mentoring to have a dollar cost to it,” Lynch said. “I think opening the door to having passes is a very generous and benevolent thing to do and (Whispering Pines) will see grateful we are with full use of the passes.”
As much as she wants the organization’s child participants to enjoy the opportunity, Lynch doesn’t believe she’ll be taking a ride down the hill.
“I prefer to keep my feet flat on the ground,” she laughed.
Having taken quite a few trips himself, however, Kingzett is of a different mindset.
Inspired partly by online research and a 50-some-year shovel racing tradition in Beaver County, Kingzett believes the popularity of shovel sledding could be on the upswing.
Some of the earliest records of traveling by shovel can be traced back to miners taking downhill shortcuts in the 1800s, he added.
“It’s fun, it’s a challenge and it’s something different,” Kingzett said. “It’s our first attempt at something other than straight snow-tubing in the wintertime.”
Kingzett even mentioned the possibility of icing down the hill, just to get some extra speed. According to his research, a shovel-sledder may hit speeds up to 40 miles per hour on the tubing hill.
A limited amount of shovels will be available to the public. Anyone willing to purchase their own scoop shovel, as opposed to a plow-shaped shovel, can find one in most hardware stores, although Kingzett recommends the race’s official shovel sponsor, Meadville Farm & Garden Supply.
“You’ve got to have an official sponsor if you’re going to have a race,” Kingzett explained.
In addition to online registration, via golfwhisperingpines.com, he plans to post some how-to videos on the golf course’s Facebook page to give beginner’s tips and general do’s and dont’s regarding shovel-sled safety.
“Hopefully we’ll get some indication that people will want us to hold this again,” he said. “We’ll use it as a foundation for future events.”
You can go
The Snow Shovel Race, hosted by Whispering Pines Golf Course, is Friday from 4 to 10 p.m. and Saturday at 11 a.m. at AvalancheXpress on the course grounds, 15630 Middle Road, Meadville. Friday will feature free, public practice runs, with the official race on Saturday, starting with the racers’ meeting at 10:30.
The entry fee is $15 per person or $40 for a four-person team. Corporate and collegiate teams are encouraged. Awards will be given for best outfit, and overall men and women’s champion “King and Queen of the Hill.”
First- and second-place prizes will also be awarded to winners in each of the four age categories, including 10 and under; 11 to 17; 18 and over; and 55 and older. Team categories include college teams and business/corporate competitions. The three fastest individual times will be used for team totals.
To register or for more information: Visit golfwhisperingpines.com.