Tuesday, January 31, 2012

North American Ski Mountaineering Championships

Announcement: Don't forget about the Wasatch Citizens Skimo Race this Thurs night at Brighton.  See citizenseris.wasatchpowderkeg.com and subscribe to get the updates.

Last weekend another high profile ski mountaineering event was held.  The venue this time was Crested Butte, CO.  And, by inviting the Canadian National Team, it was billed as the North American Championships.  Just to make the competition stiffer, Scarpa, one of the events sponsors, brought over the biggest Italian names, who also happen to be some of the best in the world.  

The weekend was split into two days with a sprint race on Saturday and the traditional individual race on Sunday.  A sprint race consists of a very short (200-250ft) climb followed by a short descent and another climb before ripping skins to descend to the finish.  The total time is around 5 minutes and technical proficiency is rewarded.  A mistake is death and a finish well outside the top rankings.  

For the the individual race, the planned course was an attempt to add some European flair with a low 5th class climb up the Guide's Ridge on Mt. Crested Butte.  Never having had such a technical section in a race in North America before, a via ferrata and an ascender (3 pts of contact) were required gear and more than one racer was quite anxious about the climb.  Alternatively, for those with climbing experience or accustomed to exposure, this was a welcome variable.  

Similar to a stage race in cycling, the times for the two day event were added together to declare a NA champion.  Awards were also given to the winners of each event.  

Day I: The Sprint Event

Team Wasatch Skimo again had a strong contingent at the race with 6 present (plus adopted member Luke Nelson...hell, might as well adopt Micah Thatcher too, son of Bryce Thatcher and Rexburg resident).  We made the drive from Gunnison that morning in the dark as the thermometer in the car kept dropping until it read -18 when we pulled into the resort.  Minus 18???

Layering up, we tried to stay warm as we skinned up to Uly's Cabin, where the short sprint course had been pinned the day before.  A mix of puffies and spandex was dashing about, stretching, and looking jittery.  The format called for racers to start every 30 seconds and once the order was posted, everyone was curious who they would be chasing and who would be doing the chasing.  

Initially, I was skeptical of sprint races since I felt they lacked the aesthetic appeal and suffering of the long race.  But, once the women started, it was fantastic to watch them bury themselves for two minutes, try and ski, climb again, and then hang on to the finish.  30 seconds of separation was short enough to watch some women get swallowed up as others tore through the field.  

My start location?  9th position, behind brother Jason and in front of Team Crested Butte speedster, Brian Wickenhauser.  Better not screw up.   

I had a mostly clean race and was able to pass Jason as he stepped out of his bindings.  Wick had some issues too so I was happy not to get passed as well.  Many people had skin failures with the extremely cold weather.  My strategy to bring a second set for the second climb paid off handsomely with a 4th place finish amongst the North Americans (the two Italian professionals and a Slovakian will be factored out of everything in an attempt to make my placing sound more impressive).  

Here are the results (top 10):

1. Manfred Reichegger IT
2. Reiner Thoni CAN
3. Lorenzo Holzknecht IT
4. Andrew McNabb CAN
5. Jan Koles SLOVAKIA
6. Travis Scheefer USA
7. Andrew Dorais USA
8. Marshall Thompson USA
9. Jared Inouye USA
10. Jon Brown USA

Day II: The Individual Race

Sunday, we made the drive and only saw minus 8. Balmy.  We warmed up slowly as a group and eventually found our way out of our big jackets and into the starting corral.  Bracing for the standard drag race up the first climb, I felt this course actually warranted a fast start.  With everyone converging on the Guide's Ridge, position would be key.  
Guide's Ridge, part of the course at the NA Skimo Championships (photo from the awesome site, gooneyriders.typepad.com)
The first few hundred feet passed smoothly, and I settled in around 10th.  The Italians were blasting off the front and impressively dropping Reiner, Luke, and co.  After following low angle cat tracks, we dodged into the woods and followed an unsettled low angle skin track and dozens and made dozens of kick turns as we approached the ridge.  Some were unaccustomed to more technical skinning and I managed to move up a place or two.  

Guide's Ridge (photo from gooneyriders.typepad.com)
At the base of the ridge, out came the via ferrata and ascender, skis went on the pack, and we all donned the required jacket.  I wore a CAMP Anorak and was able to put it on without taking off my pack.  That combined with being more comfortable with rope work than those around me allowed me to get the jump and pass a couple more.  The rule stated that 2 points of contact must be made at all times so passing was difficult but not impossible.  I soon caught Jon Brown and fell into a methodical rhythm, trying to decide if I should pass or not  Once it became clear that the course marshals would allow only one at a time through the crux sections, I asked for the pass and Jon graciously stepped aside.  By that time, Andrew McNabb of Canada and Jared Inouye, my arch nemesis and mentor had caught back up (miraculously and questionably passing multiple racers in the process) and were in hot pursuit.  We scrambled through a couple semi technical sections and then suddenly found ourselves on the summit.  Not looking once at the view, I began a jogging descent through the rotten snow toward the transition zone on the peak's shoulder.  Jared came flying by, sprinting out of control, but was slower getting into his skis as I had taken mine off my pack and readied myself while descending.  

Jason summiting Mount Crested Butte via the Guide's Ridge (photo from gooneyriders.typepad.com)
With the technical climb behind us, the field was splintered into the front group, our chase group, and then a larger main field.  I dropped into the first descent just behind Marshall Thompson and tried to rally to the start of our final two ~1000 ft laps.  Marshall pulled out of the transition as I arrived.  I  left, followed by Jared and Andrew, and it soon became of game of not blowing up in the rarified Colorado air.  My inevitable explosion came 500 vertical later.  Making my first of 4 huge mistakes, I stepped off the track to take in some calories and allowed Jared by.  Asking what I was doing as he passed, my response was, "bonking".  Lame.  

He laughed and then set an easy pace to the transition zone.  I was lucky to arrive as unscathed as I did since my skin was failing and a more aggressive pace would have likely caused it to blow.  I was surprised to find most of the field converging at this point as they were just coming down from the climb of the Guide's Ridge. Apparently there had been a huge cluster with large delays on the fixed lines. 

Making the same descent as before, I arrived as Jared pulled out of the transition.  However, with the infusion of new racers on their first lap, four or five people snuck in between us.  This typically wouldn't be a big deal when there is ample room to pass but with steep switch backs through relatively unconsolidated snow, the skin track was only viable option.  Mistake number two came when I lost my competitve spirit and sat behind a slower skier allowing Jared to escape and McNabb to stay close.  Another friend who was just behind me was livid. 

I finally, managed to pass just before the final transition.  All that was left was a relatively easy descent before a short skate to the finish.  All I needed was a clean conservative run to secure my place (currently 9th overall, 7th North American, 5th American).  Then what ensued was a total junk show. 

I wrecked when at the last minute the course marshal directed me into a hard left hand turn onto a single track through tight trees.  Partway through said single track, my pole (borrowed from Jared) became entangled on some invisible shrubery and it popped off the handle.  I was able to come to a stop 10-15 meters later and contemplated going back to retrieve it. Flashing through my mind was the very real possiblity of a large Canadian by the name of McNabb barrelling through the woods and pulverizing both of us.  In that instant, I left the pole and tried to extricate myself from the woods and get back on course. Mistake number three.  Just as I dropped on to a steep open face of mild bumps, McNabb came tearing by.  I gave chase with one pole and was able to squeeze by on an open groomer.  Giving pause while trying to determine the route, he passed me again and my fate was sealed as I couldn't keep up on 200 meter uphill skate to the finish line.  

Tired of duck walking, I stopped and skinned up which allowed me to stride into the finish some minutes after both McNabb and Jared.  This ultimately turned out to be mistake number four (I could have taken my skis off and run but thought that was against the rules) since I was penalized 1:00 for leaving equipment on the course.  That penalty caused me to drop one more place as Travis Scheefer fnished 51 seconds behind, but in the final standings is 9 seconds ahead.   I was unaware of the ISMF rule and penalty and an unyielding Canadian with slavish adherence to rules decided to make an example of me, even though various other rules were broken by dozens of other racers. 

Regardless, I thought the 2 day event was fantastic and actually played into our (Team Wasatch Skimo) strengths with the long technical climb.  The Wasatch had a wonderful representation with Jason taking home 5th overall in the individual and 3rd in the combined overall (North Americans), Jared was 7th in the individual and 5th in the combined (NAs), I was 9th (really 10th with the penalty) in the individual and 7th (8th) in the combined (NAs).  We also had a strong showing from Tom Goth who was 15th and 12th.  Chad Brackelsberg also raced hard but was handicapped by heavy non-race skis.  (Actually, we also took 2nd out of the NAs with adopted member Luke, and Gemma was 4th out of the women)  The competition was world class up front and Crested Butte is the land of my dreams.  I especially enjoyed hanging out with folks from SLC, CB, Breck, Jackson, Canada, and all around the West.  But, that perfect race eludes me.  Luckily, there are a few more chances this year to get it right. 

Results from the individual race:

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Wasatch vs the World Citizens Race

Friday morning 33 folks of varying racing backgrounds once again toed the crooked start line for another race in our Wasatch Citizens Series.  The unusual start time was to accommodate some out of town racers who were attending the Outdoor Retailer Show.

The format for this race was simple.  The first to complete four laps up a skin track set that morning through the trees, powder groomers, and over a small sub ridge would be the winner.  To add some friendly competition, we decided to score the race like a cross country meet - each place counts (through the top five on each team) as its number of points and the lowest number of total points wins.  The confusing question was on whose team would Luke Nelson count?  He is this years USSMA National Champion and lives in Pocatello, ID.  Since that's basically an extension of the Wasatch and he's going to be seen at times in a Wasatch Skimo speed suit, we claim him.  The problem is so did the "out of towners".

Anyway, the competition was fantastic with 5 out of the top ten at this years national race in attendance and  the former woman's National Champion, Janelle Smiley giving us all a run for our money.  Just a bit back, everyone on more standard gear (extra girth and lacking carbon fiber) waged their own battles.  It was pretty awesome to look down the skin track and see 30 headlamps bobbing as people were making kick turns through the trees on the first lap.  After the first descent, Jared dropped out citing illness and a bloody cough.  I transitioned well and chased Luke through the trees with Wick and Pete following.  Once the course opened up, I could feel Wick on my heels and let him go by as he in turn encouraged me to stick with it.  After the second descent, Luke got out first with Wick chasing and Pete turning in a fast transition and getting out before me.  That's the way things stayed with the gaps widening slightly.
Pete Swenson giving chase (photo by JI)
The final standings (according to Jared who became the default course marshall):
1. Luke Nelson. 56 min
2. Bryan Wickenhauser
3. Pete Swenson
4. Andy Dorais
5.. Tom Goth
6. Janelle Smiley
7. Courtney Phillips
8. Mark Smiley
9. Chad Brackelsberg
10. Layne Caldwell
11. Tim Holmberg
12. Luther Birdzell
13. Matt Hart
14. John Swain
15. Adam OKeefe
16. Nate Kartchner
17. David Morris
And about 15-20 others, before he had to leave.  Sorry to all those that didn't get counted.  

So for the scoring, Team Wasatch Skimo placed 4th, 5th, 7th, 9th, and 10th and Team "Rest of the World" placed 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 8th. That would make the final score 35 to 20 with the out of towners taking the win.  

Except we count Luke.  Ha!  So the real score was 1, 4, 5, 7  vs 2, 3, 6, 8 (only 4 present) or 17 vs 19 giving the Wasatch the W!

Regardless of how we score it, everyone had a great time getting faster and skiing some powder.   Our next race is Feb 2nd with more on the 9th, 23rd, and March 1st.  It all leads up to the Powderkeg and then hopefully to ticking off some of our more adventurous objectives for the year.  So come on out and join the races.  It's free, a good way to meet others and learn how to be efficient, and great training for your own projects.  

Check out citizenseries.wasatchpowderkeg.com and subscribe to get the updates.  

And lastly, a Cannon S100 was left at the lodge and it's owner would desperately like it back.  Please comment below if you have it or know where it went.  

The top three (photo by JI)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Wasatch Citizen Skimo Video

Jared's freshman effort at filming and editing came together nicely.  Check it out.

First Wasatch Citizen Series Skimo Recap

Last night we held the first race of our new Wasatch Citizen Skimo Series.  Brighton was gracious enough to allow us to have the event under the lights even though we are not paying customers (we tried to make up for that at Molly Green's afterward).  The turnout was FANTASTIC with over 40 people racing through the still single digit air.  The format was "vert style", meaning we would try and lap a short course as many times as possible in a predetermined amount of time.  I pushed for 75 minutes but wanted 90.  The masses demanded 60, so 60 minutes of suffering was the name of the game.  After the fact, I wish it had been 45. 

The planned meeting time was 7PM, and at 7:03 I looked around and saw only 5 others.  Thinking the race was a bust or that there may have been an accident in the canyon that was holding up traffic, I decided we should wait.  Then word came that everyone was waiting at the other end of the parking lot.  Running over, I found another 35+ folks, milling about in the cold, wondering why we weren't getting started. 
Warming up
Up the Great Western we skinned, 40+ strong, headlamps bobbing in the darkness.  Insufficiently warmed up, I muttered a few words about the course, rules, and the newly forming Wasatch Skimo Team (custom speed suits being ordered for those interested) and then a sick samurai gave the commands while his studly 10 year old son toed the line for his first race.  We started fast to warm up and eventually completed a varying number of laps depending on gear, experience, fitness, etc. 

Some highlights include everyone yelling and cheering for eachother, the boot track through the woods, and for me seeing others get excited about the sport.  Out of the newcomers, Teague had the most laps - just shy of 7, Emily edged out Emily again for the women's win, and Ethan won the biggest pie for being the youngest participant. 
Ethan Inouye claiming the prize for youngest participant

Teague winning the little pie
The biggest boner move of the night came when I came into the uphill transition zone and went down, sliding into the patroller who came by to make sure we were being safe and staying out of the way of downhill traffic (of which there was very little).  Damn.  I am a total dumb ass.  Period. 

He was a good sport and I apologized profusely.  Instead of assaulting patrol, I was hoping to genuinely thank them, Brandon Dodge in particular, for supporting our shenanigans.  We will be having more races over intermittent Thursday evenings and there is one in the works for Friday morning next week.  Check out http://citizenseries.wasatchpowderkeg.com/ and subscribe to get all the updates. 

Who cares that there is no snow?  We are having a great time getting fit and playing the skimo game.  Spring will come and with it stable snow and coverage for our bigger goals.  But until then, come join us and find out what skinny skis and tights are all about. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

2012 US Skimo Nationals and Grand Targhee Report Card

Special Announcement: Thursday night at 7:00 PM, we will be holding the first Wasatch Citizen's Series Skimo Race.  We will follow different formats, but this first one will be a "Vert Style" race where a short course is set and everyone tries to do as many laps in a certain amount of time, say 60 mins (maybe 90 if we are all feeling spunky).  See here for more details and subscribe as well to get future updates.

U.S Ski Mountaineering National Championships:  (8000 foot race at JHMR)
I went into this race with 4 goals.  They were to go under 2:50, place in the top 10, beat a friend of mine (who doesn't want to earn bragging rights over someone that perennially beats you?), and to have a clean race.  I went 1 for 4.

Blurry fast start
The race started quickly with Scott Simmons and Marshall Thompson taking off in an early break away. I felt good heading up the first steep climb and was in 6-10th place (not really sure).  Then, just ahead, I saw JD start to switch back up the steep groomer.  "What an idiot," I thought.  Then it hit me too.  I'd made a mistake waxing my skins and cutting them too short.  I was passed by a train of people as I alternated slipping and struggling with making my own switch backs.  Now there were two idiots out of the whole field.  Must be genetic.  Finally, topping out the steep first half of the first climb, I was able to make a move.  I caught most of the people that had passed me earlier before dropping in for the first steep icy descent.

For the rest of the race, the places were pretty much settled.  I shuffled back and forth with a couple guys but really felt like I was racing against an inevitable implosion.  Training with a newborn in the house has been somewhat limited and I think while my top end speed is better than last year, my endurance is worse (yep, just pulled the baby card).

On the final descent, I stopped a couple times to try and sooth cramping legs and was utterly relieved to hit the final groomer that runs into the finish line.  I was even more pleased to find out that brother JD earned a podium spot with a third place finish after rallying back from his early mistakes.

Climbing: B (I felt pretty strong on the early climbs)
Skiing: C (I was able to pass probably as many as passed me.)
Transitions: C- (missteps, fumbling with skis on the boot pack, and scraping snow of skins)
Endurance: D-  (near disaster on the last climb)

Overall: C+ (Since the climb weighs the most it buoyed my self given grade)
Can anyone tell who is who?
Getting back to those goals, I barely managed a top ten place thanks to some help from others mistakes.  My time was hurt in large part by my own mistakes (poor endurance and nutrition) that led to a really terrible last climb and descent.  My buddy gave me a clinic in every aspect of the sport except the first climb.  And, as far as having a clean race, I have a long way to go.

In the end though, the main goal is to have fun.  And, while suffering for nearly 3 hours isn't most people's idea of fun, it always seems fun, especially after the fact.
Luke, Scott, and JD (who needs a sponsor btw)
Top Ten:
1. Luke Nelson
2. Scott Simmons
3. Jason Dorais
4. Brian Wick
5. Ben Parsons
6. Cary Smith
7. Pete Swenson
8. Jared Inouye
9. Jon Brown
10. Andy Dorais

Grand Targhee Ski Mountaineering Classic:  (5000 foot race at Targhee and surrounding backcountry)
Team Wasatch up front (Luke is an adopted member)
For the second race, most of the same characters were present minus Simmons and Wick (out of the top 10 from the day before).  Every single person claimed or faked feeling tired and sore from the day before while chatting before the start, but at the gun, the usual fast pace ensued.   I tucked in behind Cary Smith and topped out the first 2000 foot climb just as the leaders were pulling out of the transition.

Other than a minor crash (tired legs), I felt like I skied the first descent well until I still saw Jared fly by.  Still hanging onto the same goal to finally beat him fairly (got him by a millisecond when his boot broke last year), I caught back up after the transition but got caught behind once we hit the skin track.  At the top of the second climb, Jared bid the rest of us adieu as he skied a blistering leg, solidifying a solid 4th place finish.  To my surprise, I past a couple guys on the descent but transitioned slowly and allowed Kroger to slot in front of me for the final climb.  While I ate better during this race, I still lacked the usual endurance and turned my attention to keeping Jon Brown, Pete, and Michael from swallowing me up.

Dropping into the final descent, Kroger was still mine if he made a mistake, but I was still vulnerable to those just behind me if I made one.  I made five.  Basically rolling down the final chute in poor visibility, legs cramping, I watched Kroger ski away as he skied fast and clean.  Again, I felt relief once I hit the final runout to the finish line where I found Jason and Jared waiting to celebrate being done.  It was only after pictures and walking inside that I heard second hand that Jason actually won the whole damn thing.   I'll take credit for that as while warming up, I told him half joking, half serious, to quit screwing around and go for the win.

Climbing: B+ (Could mix it up with some competitive guys)
Skiing: C- (Como se dice junk show?)
Transitions: C- (Getting passed in transitions shouldn't happen)
Endurance C-  (Better than the day before but could use some work)

Overall: B- (Again buoyed by the climbing but room for improvement)

Happy to be done with 13,000 feet of racing

Again, I had a blast and it seemed everyone else had a great time as the mood was light hearted both before and after the racing.  I'm still chasing that perfect race where I feel like I put together all aspects of this sport to the best of my ability.  That chase and the really cool group of people that are involved make it a really addicting game to play.

Ample evidence of recent crashes

JD sponsored by Outerlocal.com???  Check it out.
Top Ten:
1. Jason Dorais
2. Luke Nelson
3. Ben Parsons
4. Jared Inouye
5. Cary Smith
6. Chris Kroger
7. Andy Dorais
8. Jon Brown
9. Michael Hagen
10. Pete Swenson

Some notes from the weekend:

We are all recovering now from back to back ski mountaineering races this weekend.  There was a great showing from the Wasatch, which will hopefully continue to grow over the years.

I think Jason was the surprise of the weekend (to everyone but us), taking third in Jackson and winning the Targhee race.  Once he gets race specific boots and has a clean race...

A few notable players were absent, specifically a couple Colorado fast guys and last years National Champion, Brandon French, from Montana.  However, some new names appeared and the field seemed competitive as always.

The Jackson race was slightly longer due to the poor snow conditions and a new route around Corbett's

The Targhee race was slightly more difficult than last year due to more variable snow conditions.

Some final grades:

The Wasatch: B+
Solid turnout both in number and in the standings with a dozen or so in attendance and 3 in the top ten both days.

JHMR and Grand Targhee: A
Both resorts put on great unique races that were challenging in different ways.  The Jackson race is LONG, with 7500-8000 ft of vertical depending on whose watch you believe.  And, the skiing is steep, icy, bumps.  Targhee has more of a backcountry feel, is shorter, but also had challenging skiing with the variable conditions.

Outdoor Research: A
The tittle sponsor for this years event, OR did a fantastic job providing shirts to all and prizes to the winners and for the raffle.  Since OR is paying more attention to this sport, I'll have to start paying more attention to them.

Jason Dorais: A-
The minus comes from him spotting the field a couple minutes on the first climb at Jackson when he found his skins too slippery and stopped to switch them for a set with better coverage.  The switch came after he looked like a fool (the only other idiot that did this was me), switch backing up the climb while the rest of the field skinned straight up.  He also had skin issues the second day but lost a less significant amount of time, maybe 30 seconds.  The A comes from rallying to a 3rd place finish at Jackson and winning the whole thing at Targhee.

Winter 2011/2012: F-