6 Winter Trail Races on Dirt

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For a lot of us, December through February means we run in the snow and ice. (For an unlucky fewer, that bittersweet period can stretch from November to March.)

While some snow-bound trail races exist for the particularly rugged, for many people, three to five months of the year is too long to go without a race above freezing – or without running on their favorite surface, dirt.

Lucky for us, there are plenty of races in warmer climes. These are a few we’ve chosen to highlight – be sure to add your own favorites in the comments below.

Shut In Ridge Trail Run

A sunset view from the Blue Ridge Parkway outside Asheville. Photo by Flickr user Mr Seb / Creative Commons 2.0

November 7 / Asheville, North Carolina

With 5,000 feet of vertical gain in just 17.8 miles, this point-to-point race is a local favorite for its sheer toughness. With 13 miles on singletrack (and four more on doubletrack) through the Appalachian Mountains, this race is worth the trip, even if it’s not as long as some others.


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McDowell Mountain Frenzy

A section of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve outside Scottsdale, the park in which the McDowell Mountain Frenzy takes place. Photo by Flickr user Andy Blackledge / Creative Commons 2.0

December 5 / Fountain Hills, Arizona

Run in the same park as the popular Javelina Jundred, this race showcases different trails and takes runners to the top of Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve, which offers spectacular desert views. With races from 5 to 50 miles, and some offerings in between, there is a race for everyone; the race is also directed by Jamil Coury’s Aravaipa Running, so it’s almost certain to be well run, stocked and staffed.


More in this area:

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Bandera 100K, 50K and 25K

A view of the Hill Country State Natural Area, just southwest of Bandera, Texas. Photo by Flickr user Mike Fisher / Creative Commons 2.0

January 9 / Bandera, Texas

This race is also all but guaranteed to be well run and user-friendly: it serves as the 2016 USA Track & Field 100K Trail Championship, as it has each year since 2011. Offering rugged desert beauty, the trail is quite technical in spots; sharp rocks have been named a marquee feature in many a past year’s race report. Can you think of a better contrast to slipping on ice?


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Texas’ Hottest 100-Miler: The Habanero 100

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Mill Stone 50K

The hills around Charlotte, just across the North Carolina border from Fort Mill. Photo: iStockPhoto

February 6 / Fort Mill, South Carolina

Featuring three 10.5-mile loops, this race by the Rock Hill Striders highlights some spectacular trails and natural offerings within the greater Charlotte metropolitan area, meaning there will be plenty to do afterward – if, that is, the post-race potluck put on by volunteers doesn’t entice you enough.


Black Canyon 100K and 60K

An aid station at the Black Canyon 100K and 60K. Photo by Melissa Ruse/Sweet M Images

February 13 / Spring Valley, Arizona

Another of Aravaipa Running’s southwestern gems, this race runs point-to-point and carries runners between the arid alpine of the high Sonoran and the vibrant, old west-aesthetic of the lower desert. It features lots of singletrack and, in wet years, some creek crossings.


Sylamore 50K and 25K

Part of the Sylamore course is on dirt …

… and part is on snow and through freezing creeks. Photos courtesy of Sylamore 50K and 25K

February 20 / Allison, Arkansas

With an early-spring race feel while it’s still technically winter, Sylamore has the bare trees and bone-chilling creek crossings to make this event the perfect amount of gritty: you can still feel pretty tough for having braved the elements, even if you were fleeing still harsher weather to do so. But the highlight might be the hospitality; we have it on good authority that if you play your cards right, you might find yourself sampling local moonshine with some new friends after the race.


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