Here's the play by play from my vantage point:
Driving in the thermometer in my truck read -18 degrees and everyone knew that keeping skins in good condition would be paramount to a successful race. We warmed up, fighting frost nip, and then sorted ourselves on the starting line with the podium hopefuls taking the front. As always, we started ridiculously and stupidly fast before settling into to a nice rhythm. As the drag race turned vertical, Jason and Tom Goth passed Marshall and set the pace out front, stringing out the field. I felt as strong as I ever have and held position in the top 6-7 until Luke noticed that Jason had led a few people past the turn onto a left trending cat track. I screamed at the top guys to turn down and then we kept motoring.
Quickly, the field sorted itself out again before we turned up a technical ridge for the last 1000 feet of the first climb (this deviated from the traditional upper groomer). I was able to pass a couple guys and was really pleased to find that as we topped out the first 3000 feet I was in fourth with training partners Tom and Jason just in front and Marshall leading by a few meters. I could see Luke, Wick, Simmons, Gaston, Taam, and on and on in hot pursuit.
Slightly botching the transition, the three guys out front got a jump on me and were gone. Dropping into a long mogul field, I found the conditions perfect with chalky snow and the bumps of average size based on past races. I hoped to hold off the strong skiers behind me but skied too conservatively and watched Gaston and Simmons go by.
At the uphill transition Wick was quicker and the order was now Jason Dorais, Marshall, Tom, Gaston, Simmons, Wick, me, then Luke and Max (or something like that). Pretty soon, I found my self in the back as I took some time to take on fluids and calories but we all stayed fairly tight. I looked up and saw Jason pulling away and yelled a shout of encouragement. In the last three weeks, he's had a hell of a schedule. He got married, moved, gotten in two car wrecks, worked everyday (including overnight Wed and Thurs) and came into the race stressed and poorly rested. I was glad that in spite of those set backs (Ok marriage isn't a set back but it's a major life event), he was out front dishing it out to the rest of the field.
The next descent was more of the same with steep bumps down chalky snow. Apparently Jason fell a couple times and was passed on the DH but rallied back to the front on the 3rd uphill. We climbed more technical skin track, increased the cadence on a low angle groomer, and then hit the first boot track of the day. Jason blew off the front and I caught Max with the rest of the lead pack in between.
Next up was a short descent down the Coomb's Couloir and then the famous climb to the base of Corbet's Couloir and the steep boot track to the ladder which spanned the cornice. I looked at my watch and from Jason to me with the other 7 in the top 9 between, the time differential was a little over 3 minutes. Incredible racing after nearly 2 hours!
I knew though that if Jason was going to win, he'd have to ski the thigh destroying 4000 foot descent down bumps, shrubs, and everything else better than he ever had. I also knew that with Max and Wick just in front, I had little chance of moving higher in the standings. I could see Tom in 3rd or 4th and hoped he'd rally all the way to the Podium in this just his second year of racing!
I again played it conservatively and skied to keep my position and not risk injury or gear failure as we have another race tomorrow. Max must have ripped the DH because as I started up for the last time, he was now in front of Wick, Simmons, and Marshall. I asked the course marshall if Jason was in front and he said he was about 15 seconds behind Gaston. It was going to be close!
The last climb and descent were uneventful. Wick was just out of reach. A rec division racer on skinny skis lost a skin so I stopped and gave him a spare. The descent was choking with shrubs but was still skiable. The last section of groomer to the finish was God sent relief for shot legs. And then it was over.
Catching the story at the finish, it sounds like Jason and Gaston were in the final transition together but John used his far superior descending skills to take the win and earn the tittle. Jason thought second was in the bag but turned to check for any surprises and was surprised to see Luke catching him as if in slow motion down the final stretch of groomer. He maintained his spot by the slimmest of margins, basically cutting Luke off entering the finishing chute. Tom thought a podium spot and a berth to World's was his but also was surprised by a recklessly charging Luke, who embodied his inner Jared Inouye, and stunned Tom into a still incredibly strong fourth place. Then the others came in one by one as mentioned above.
Sorry to all the others I didn't mention who joined in the suffering and made this years race the best yet. I know there were many other displays of fine skiing, sportsmanship, spectacular crashes, painful climbs, and laughs at the finish line.
Thinking about the race, it was exceptionally fast. The winning time the last three years was right around 2 hours and 40 minutes. Earlier this month, on a training day in SLC, Jason remarked that he thought we should all be able to go that fast and that time became my quiet goal. Ultimately, I finished in 2:39:44 for 9th place with the winning time some 9 minutes faster. The entire lead pack was approximately as fast or significantly faster than the winning time in years past, with more technical skinning to boot!. I think this is a sign of some new young talent, better training and gear by the old guard, and an overall natural progression of the sport. It's exciting and hopefully leads to more races and eventually recognition as a future olympic sport.
Now, sitting in the Jackson Motel 6, with quivering quads, I'm reluctantly excited to do it all again tomorrow across the range at the Tarhgee race...
Thanks are also in order to Outdoor Research, Gore Tex, and Dynafit for putting on the race and to Scarpa and Ski Trab on a personal level for helping support me and Jason with some of the best ski mountaineering gear on earth.
Now for some pics... (all by Dom Mak)
-18 degrees at the green (look at all the Aliens!) starting line
|Sprinting from the gun|
|Places 1-9 still pretty tight nearly 2 hours into the race|
|Jason out gaining the ladder out of Corbet's in first|
|Gaston, Tom, and Simmons in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th|
|A. Dorais saying hi to Dom, moments after topping out Corbet's|
|Pouring out some drink for those of you who missed the race (Jared, Harder, Kroger, and others...)|
|Jason still happy with his performance|
|The woman's list and the the top 27 from the men's race. My camera wouldn't fit any more.|
Ski Trab Race Aero World Cup Skis
Ski Trab TR Race Bindings
Ski Trab World Cup Race Pack
Ski Trab Dragon Speed Suit
Ski Trab Race Poles
SCARPA Alien 1.0 Boots
Both Jason and I tried Luke Nelson trick of putting some gels/calories into our bottle to simplify things. It worked beautifully and I was able to take in around 600+ calories during the race. I used Gu Roctane mix and 5 Powergels with caffeine in a standard bike bottle.