Sunday, January 27, 2013

Reasons for Blogging...

I think a lot of folks assume that people keep adventure blogs, or online journals as I prefer, to brag about their escapades in the mountains or in whatever venue they recreate.  This is exactly the reason I started one, but it was to brag to an audience of TWO.  My brother was living in Indiana and my great friend, Lars, lives in Denver and doesn't get out too much.  I wanted to make them jealous, inspire them to train, and get them interested in my newfound passion at the time: ski mountaineering.

It worked.  Jason has been my main partner for the last few years, made the US Skimo team and keeps his own blog at  Lars has been also been doing his best to come off the couch and go as big as he possibly can every chance he gets.  He's skied classics like the Pfeiff, Timp, and Mount Moran, run the Grand Canyon, and climbed all around the West.

Quickly, my posts matured somewhat as I realized that everything I typed was available for all to see.  I quit making fun of my brother and friend and tried to document my training and adventures for my own sake.  The circle of friends who followed along grew and quickly, an occasional stranger would stop me at work or on the street to chat about random stuff like gear choices, approaches to particular peaks, etc.

That was really cool to in a way provide a resource for friends, beginners, and "colleagues" in the mountains.  I had scoured the internet for years, feasting on and receiving inspiration from,,,, and many many more sites.

Also through keeping this journal of sorts, I've met many partners and developed new friendships which have certainly enriched my mountain experiences over the last few years.  This is a great thing for a guy who works odd hours and has random Tuesday mornings to ski.  It seems I always have strong available partners.

Yet another reason to blog is to provide a creative outlet.  Designing a site and practicing writing and photography have all been challenging and thoroughly enjoyable.  I obviously have a lot to learn about these disciplines but I'll hopefully improve throughout the coming years.

The last thing I'd like to mention is the ability to keep personal records.   Memories fade, no matter how brilliant the outing.  So perhaps one of the main reasons I keep doing this, is to create a hard bound copy of everything I publish as a journal for both myself and my family.  I use to create an annual 15x15 coffee table book, complete with all text and pictures from the preceding academic year (this calender seems to be the only one that matters).  It might be quite narcissistic to print a book like this, but it sure beats scribbling on paper and it really is a priceless resource to help jog my memory and smile and laugh, recalling great days in the mountains.

The latest edition
That was a great day in the Tetons 

It's also fun to go back and read some of the rubbish I type out...
A little Lion King
Blurb allows one to customize the layout of both text and photos.  Some of my favorites end up as full page spreads.
There are many downsides to blogging too but I'll leave that discussion for another day.  As for this one, it's snowing outside and the air has finally been swept clean after nearly a month of high pressure.  Maybe it's time to go make some new memories...

Friday, January 25, 2013

Wasatch Ski Mo Race #6: OR Show

Thursday morning we had a special daytime race (although we started in the snowy dark) to accommodate any folks from the OR show who wanted to get some exercise during their 3 day marathon of yapping their jaws and fondling gear.  As expected, attendance was a little down on a work day but 30 people still came out and raced our best course yet!

We started next to the Milly Chalet and ran across the parking lot to the Great Western base.  From there, technical skinning ensued and at least a couple people probably wished for full coverage skins.  Rather than stop at the top of the lift, the course took the racers to the top of Clayton Peak for a full 2000 vertical.  This fragmented the field but from my position as racer/course marshall/race director, I got to see a bunch of close battles within the overall race.

The descent from Clayton was variable up top and icy bumps below the cat track.  I had counseled everyone to ski gingerly through a few rocky sections but instead I saw a little aggression as some of the better skiers tried to make up ground.  Luckily, our safety record is intact!

The second climb ascended on low angle skin track through mature pines before gaining the upper groomed section of the Snake Creek lift.  We exited the gates and then climbed to the summit of Preston Peak, our second of the day.  From there, a short descent back into the resort and down a wind drifted section of trees took us to the base of the final climb.

Again exiting the backcountry gates, we made another short climb to the summit of Pioneer Peak, making it three for the race.  By now the storm was building in character and so were most of the racers left on the course.  It was windy and the visibility poor, but the best part of the course was still ahead.

On the final descent, we enjoyed steep powder through some tight trees.  Quickly though, we were spit out onto a long left traversing groomed section that was somehow punctuated with sporadic moguls and one steep drop that caught more than one person by surprise.  Not quite done, there was a 200 meter flat skate to the finish before everyone could relax, put on some warm clothes, and enjoy some food at the Chalet.  Not quite everyone made it to the finish as I suspected since many people had to get to the show for early appointments or to work like normal civilized human beings.

That was their loss as this race received generous support from Voile and a few nice avy shovels were given away during the awards.  New US Ski Mountaineering member, Tom Goth ran away with the race but bailed early as he is sometimes responsible and had a meeting.  That meant that Chad Brackelsburg won a pumpkin pie for being the top finisher at the awards ceremony.  Christian also took home a pie for being the last finisher (wait until he gets on some light gear and he will tear through the pack!) and Tamara snagged one for coming out for the first time.

Thank you to all who came and participated.  It's great fun to see the Wasatch speeding up and to see the friendships that have developed throughout the races.  We will resume regular Tuesday night action on February 5th and only have three more before the big event: The Wasatch Powderkeg!

Thank you also to our race sponsors (more great prizes to come!):

SCARPA, Ski Trab, La Sportiva, Voile, Outdoor Research, The Sport Loft, the Powderwhores, and especially Brighton Ski Resort!
Gathering around for the pre race briefing

Mike Kloser finishing up 

A few happy people (L-R Mark, Tamara, Andy, Chad, Jared, Janelle, and Everett)
Also, thank you to Noah, Jonah, Tom, and Jared for helping set the course and to Chad, Mark, and Brent for helping tear down!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Afternoon Delight

After working all night, I was deep asleep when Tom and Jason woke me up to get in a quick ski.  Luckily, we live in the best ski town on earth and were able to ski an interesting line with cold sheltered powder and be back home in the time it takes most city folk to go to a matinee.

Mid way through our millionth kick turn en route to a million more

Tom G finding pleasant conditions minus having to cross that damn skin track a million times

#5 with three signatures

Friday, January 18, 2013

Big Questions

Friend, father, ski mountaineer, climber, prolific writer, OR athlete, and editor-n-chief formerly of the Alpinist and now of has put together an awesome video that has me utterly psyched to get up in the Tetons to try and tick of some of my personal projects.  He also asks some of the same questions I find myself pondering.  Check it out.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Citizen's Series Race #5 Recap

My life is almost impossibly busy right now and with too many balls in the air, Chad, Jared, and Jason, Teague, and Tom jumped in and put on the race last night.  It was cold but still 8 degrees over at the base of the Great Western lift.  Around 40 people, some new and many regulars, toed the line and then worked hard to complete the three (heavy metal) or four (racers) lap course.  They skinned over groomer, bumps, and single track through trees with a harrowing choice to balance over the "death log" or to drop into a small pit of despair.  Oh, and the skiing wasn't too bad either with the soft snow and mellow lighting from the nearby night skiing operation.

In the end, Jason won the race division with Teague and Jared rounding out the non existent podium.  The women's group was led as usual by our adopted Catalonian, Gemma Arro Ribot with Sarah and Emily taking 2nd and 3rd.  Out of those not on true race gear, new comers Rusty, Chris and Chris did an admirable job at their first Citizen's Skimo race leading all others.

Another oddity of the night was our departure from pies as prizes and the distribution of doughnuts.  Jared was gracious enough to pick them up but struggled to find pies in the middle of January.  It didn't matter though as the winners were happy to pass around some chocolately doughnuts to share.  Also, thanks to La Sportiva for the ski straps that were given as prizes to the new people!

Next up is our 2nd annual Wasatch vs the World skimo race on Thursday the 24th.  This one will take place in the morning with the race starting at 7AM.  For you locals, come out and show all the OR Show folks how we are stepping it up around here and speeding up the Wasatch!
Trying to stay warm before the start
Early on in the race

A lone racer approaches the transition

Chad trying to stow his skins prior to leaving the transition

A tight race with more than three guys in the transition together 
Gemma and Teague accepting their doughnut prizes!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Box Elder SW Face: Another Perfect Day

With looming responsibilities to shirk, Teague and I went south for the morning.  It was negative five degrees when we got out of the warm truck at 9 AM and we sprinted for a bit to warm up.  It didn't quite work and I kept my puffy on all day.   Breaking trail for over 5000 feet kept the pace mellow and we even stopped for a lunch break giving the day a "touristy" feel.  

With this proper winter we are having, we were able to ski all the way back to the trailhead which sits at a similar elevation as the Salt Lake benches.  And BTW, we didn't see a single soul or track on the whole mountain.  Not too bad for the so called Wasangeles.  Who knows what's to come this winter but right now, I have no complaints.  

The surface is already getting hairy with the bitterly cold temps
Teague and his Halo 
Nearing the summit on a gorgeous wintery day

Teague skins above the marble cliffs of Box Elder with Lone Peak and the Alpine Ridge beyond
I forgot glasses but luckily found my wife's cast aways in my car
Teague skis cold dry powder with the most scenic backdrop around
Heading home

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Mount Wire Ski Descent

With the actual winter we are having along the Wasatch Front, I've been hopeful that we'd actually be able to do some legitimate skiing in the foothills.  The top two on my tick list have been Mount Wire and Grandeur Peak.  I think that's because I spend so much time running/hiking these neighborhood sentinels that I always wanted to be able to travel their paths on skis.  In particular, I have wanted to ski between the two large billboard appearing structures (actually microwave repeaters).  

After two feet on top of a rotten base this weekend and ongoing cold temperatures, I finally got my chance.  

Bizarre urban skiing

Rime and legitimate winter conditions at 7137 feet on the summit of Mount Wire

Happy for the novelty of skiing from town
The funny thing is that two others beat me to it.  I followed their post hole riddled skin track to the summit from the Zoo and then laughed as the skiing was really quite decent.  I never let myself go too fast for fear of lurking rocks or stout shrubs and made a lot of wiggles.  I only got scratched once but felt a lot of little branches tickling my bases.

Without a lot of motivation to drive to ski up high, maybe I'll do my part to limit the pollution around here and enjoy the novel convenience of skiing from work this week.

The 2013 Heathen Challenge: So Close...Sort of...

Here's a recap of the 2013 Heathen Challenge at Sunlight Mountain from my perspective in the "peloton" and according to the experience of friends.  I apologize to others who also raced as I'm sure everyone had great races and plenty of stories to tell...

Well, Saturday the last of the three qualifying races for the US Ski Mountaineering Team was held outside of Glenwood Springs, Colorado.  The race, at Sunlight Mountain, was an anomaly in the US circuit as it was around eleven miles long and gained just over 5000 vertical.  It's not the elevation gain however that is unusual but the distance to do it.  Most races start out by pinning the racers up the steepest pitch of groomed track available and this theme continues even if changing the climbing surface to bumps and skin track.  This race, the Heathen Challenge, began with miles of nearly flat cat track that moved to single track, and then finally began to climb at the slightest of angles through a stand of Aspens to the summit of Willie's Peak.  The pace and cadence were foreign and ultimately, I believe proved to be the beginning of my undoing.

The usual suspects were all there, vying for position with three more to qualify for the team.  The five that already had automatic spots were still trying to establish their rank by accruing enough points to have the privilege to race the Individual Race at the World Championships.  I figured I had an outside shot at qualifying since I had been 9th and 10th at the last two races with basically the top eight earning spots.

Tom and Jason getting cozy on the way to Glenwood

Driving up to Sunlight, the temperature was -5 but at least the skies were clear and visibility was good.  We said hello to various racing buddies from around the West, warmed up briefly, and jostled our stuff to the start line, anxious to get moving to generate some heat.

From the gun, the pace was ridiculous on the low angle groomer.  There was some fighting for position as we were funneled onto a small snow mobile road, where the field really began to string out.  Tom and Marshall were out front, trying to run each other into the ground.  They quickly gapped a chase pack of National Champion John Gaston, Scott Simmons, and Greg Ruckman.  Bryan Smith in a controlled release of adrenaline was able to close the gap to this pack as he missed the gun and was stunned to walk out of the lodge and see the mass of lycra surge away from the starting line.  Just behind this group, I was in hard pursuit with Jason right on my tail offering encouragement.  He seemed to be going awfully easy but claimed the high cadence felt uncomfortable.  Wick was immediately behind Jason, followed by Luke and Max some distance back.

As I slid into the first transition, I fumbled my skins as my fingers were wooden from the cold in spite of placing hand warmers inside my gloves.  Jason and Scott got the jump on me and then were off, skiing breakable crust through tight aspens, all the while fighting the creeping lactic acid and watching out for downed brush and stumps.  Predictably, I crashed once when my legs couldn't handle the burn any more and watched Wick glide away.  I was still able to slide into the transition with the whole crew except the front three.

Out in good position, I felt a very strange tightness in both legs.  They were numb, leaden, and cramped. I theorized it was a combination of the cold and some muscular fatigue from fast low angle skinning that is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the type of training we typically pursue.  I was impotent as I watched first Ruckman, then Luke, then Max go by.  My plan to make a move on this shorter climb  was over before it started.  Luckily, I loosened up enough to hold the small gap but from there I'd have to have a perfect race and finish uncharacteristically strong.  As I ran the boot pack along the summit ridge of Sunlight Mountain, I kept telling myself that there was still a lot of racing and that anything could happen.

And then the wrong type of anything did happen and I found myself with one ski stuck uphill of a small tree at the bottom of the second descent.  The variable snow, rubbery legs, and wild reckless skiing conspired to hang me up on what is actually a very mellow low angle descent through the trees.  I could feel any chance of finishing where I wanted vanish with every second that I remained locked in that awkward position.  I exploded with expletives.

At the last uphill transition, the whole pack was already gone, making their way up countless switchbacks toward the endless flat traverse back to the summit of Sunlight.  I did my best but was off the back, out of contact, and flat from fighting myself for too long.  Afterward, I heard the stories from the front and laughed when Tom said he tried to drop John and Marshall on the final booter but was unable to do so.  At that point, John and Marshall countered and then it was Tom's turn to watch his competitors skin away.  Honorably, he held on for a very solid 3rd place, making for a terrific start to the season with a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th at the three races so far.  John pulled off the impressive win for the third consecutive race and Marshall looks like he's coming into form now as he has improved each time out.  Jason was trying to close the gap on these leaders when he blew a skin and was then passed by Max, Ruckman, and Wick.  All three of whom were also on a mission to make the team and did so finishing 4th, 5th, and 6th, respectively.  Incredibly, Scott Simmons was unable to race at his usually high level and fell to 8th and was the first one to not make the team (although he will likely make it as the first alternate should someone not be able to go).  Last year's national champion, Luke Nelson was also a little flat and slotted in behind Simmons.  And then finally, I rounded out the top ten after Bryan Smith had some skin trouble on the last climb (Yes, I took advantage of his troubles!  But, I also gave him a spare skin and perhaps saved him a spot or two?).

2013 Heathen Results
I had hopes of a better race and was rather disappointed afterwards.  But after some driving and a little sleep (unfortunately more driving than sleep), it's obvious that the faster guys finished where they should have.  I could have had a perfect race and it wouldn't have been enough on that day and on that course.  Regardless, disappointment, flat course and all, the race was incredibly fun...maybe that odd type of painful fun, but fun nonetheless.  I love getting out and seeing if my body and mind will respond to the training.  The competitors, places, and time are all just metrics to measure the fun.

On the ride home, Luke, Tom, Jason, and I were talking about the sport and how much faster the front end has gotten.
I'm sure the whole field at every race is getting faster as the gear is better and more people are racing.  Again, sorry for not commenting on the rest of the race.  
Luke felt positive based on time trials and recorded workouts that he's faster this year than last.  I know I'm faster evidenced by dropping 20 minutes at Jackson and being able to hang with all but a couple guys on the climbs.   Marshall is fresh off a phenomenal summer/fall of mountain running and we expected this from him.  Ruckman is a former olympian (nuff said).  Simmons, by word of mouth, has trained like crazy.  Max and Wick are wily veterans and complete racers.  And, Jason, in spite of his schedule, maintained some great training throughout the fall to augment his freaky abilities.  Tom is relatively new as is Gaston and both are highly pedigreed.  As gear becomes more widely available and the uphill movement grows,  I predict that this type of new talent will continue to bolster the sport.   Mountain runners, cyclists, triathletes, and others will join the party.

But this year, the whole lead pack seems elevated to a new level by the competitiveness of the other racers (I'm also sure this is happening all throughout the field as those with experience are figuring out the gear, training, and tactics and new talent seems to be infused into every race).  And ultimately, this is a great thing for the sport and the US Ski Mountaineering Team that will be competing next month in Pelvoux, France.

This must be our fastest team yet.

Good luck guys!

Monday, January 7, 2013

The USSMA Ski Mountaineering Classic (Targhee)

Sunday, following up the 8000+ vert race on the other side of the Tetons, the same crew of lycra clad racers met again for the second qualifier for the US Ski Mountaineering Team.  This time the race start was at a more civilized 10:30 AM and the temperature was a balmy 27 degrees.  Everyone had fatigued legs but two more spots were on the line and we all knew that those in the tight lead pack from the day before would be gunning for them.  In particular Tom looked serious since his ticket and $100 were plucked out of his pocket as Luke Kamikaze'd his way past in the final stretch the day before.

Sparing the play by play, here are a couple pictures (again courtesy of Dom Maack) and a few take aways...

  • Tom Goth and Marshall Thompson were out for blood after narrowly missing the day before and went two-three to earn spots on the team.  
  • John Gaston pulled off impressive back to back wins
  • Scott Simmons was fourth, narrowly missing a qualifying spot
  • Jason Dorais and Luke Nelson, 2nd and 3rd respectively at Nationals, probably came back with weary legs and minds and finished 5th and 8th.  Jason went for the win early and was leading after two climbs.
  • Max Taam can descend as fast as anyone I've ever seen.  He moved from 10th to 6th on the long second descent.
  • Wick continued to climb well and ski beautifully for 7th. 
  • Greg Ruckman's skiing has improved drastically.  I thought I'd pass him on the last descent as he dropped in a few moments before me...I never saw him after!
  • The Targhee course is beautiful with views of the Grand and some softer backcountry style descents (and one very hateful long crusty one).
  • Racing hard two days in a row is a test of recovery and mental strength.  The guys with the most to gain had the best performances. 
  • Again the overall times from this race were faster than last year with Gaston setting the new bar at 1:36
  • SLC seemed to account for at least a third of the racers present!
    • Way to represent Layne, Tim, Mike, Ian, Mark, Chad, Tom, Eric, Jackie, Gemma, NFB, Toph, Nick, Teague, Blake (sorry to any I missed)!
  • Andy, the race director puts on a fantastic race with a friendly local feel. Add it to your schedule next year!
On a personal level, I continued to climb better than I have in years past but my achilles is still trying to descend quickly and efficiently.  I neglected to train the DH this year lost a few places as those with better pedigreed ski legs took advantage.  It's something I'll have to remedy by next week if I stand a chance to make the team (more on this later).

Thanks Dominique for the photos!
Another stupid sprint start
Milling about, really glad to be done with over 13000 feet of racing in two days

Women's podium

Men's Podium

Race results can be found at the USSMA website.

So next weekend the attention (of the very small ski mountaineering community) shifts to Glenwood Springs for the Heathen Challenge, which serves as the last of three qualifying races for the US National Team and a chance to compete at the ISMF World Championships in Pelvoux, France.  The top three racers that have not already qualified gain automatic berths for a total of 8 spots over the three races.  Since I finished 9th and 10th respectively at this weekend's races, right now I'm on the outside looking in unless a spot opens as an alternate.

The races have been fantastically close with some jostling for position down the stretch each time.  I've always felt that one of the things that makes this sport so fun and interesting is trying to put all the pieces together to be strong aerobically, technically sound at transitions, and just crazy enough to eek out every bit of speed on the descents from very minimal gear and tired legs.  So I'm gonna chase that perfect race one more time to see if I can get my act together and maybe find a way.

Also, thanks again to Scarpa, Ski Trab, and Outdoor Research for the amazing support!  The gear is so beautifully built around a single function: Moving fast in the mountains.  Racing is a blast but it will soon be really fun to put our fitness, gear, and imaginations to test on some more personal projects in the Wasatch and beyond.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

US Ski Mountaineering National Championship Results

A few hours ago the last of the truly brave hearty souls lugging heavy gear over 8000 vertical feet crossed the finish line at the 2013 championships.  A little bit previous an interesting battle took place at the front end of the pack.  SLC had a strong contingent of around 15 racers present and we've all gotten in some decent training and race simulation at our local night series and had high hopes for a strong day.  This was likely the strongest field ever and the number of speed suits and race gear seemed to have multiplied from years past.

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...)

Women's Podium

Men's Podium

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.

Gear list:
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.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

My Ultimate Ski Mountaineering Quiver for 2013

I've been thinking about skis nearly nonstop for the past few years and have been really interested in which skis are the best tool for a particular job.  Over this time, I've skied over twelve different setups, all in the really skinny to mid fat range by most of the major companies.

Last winter, Jason and I were talking while at the OR show in Salt Lake City about what our perfect set up would be for the type of skiing that we prefer.  To clarify, that would be longer, efficient days, with plenty of steep skiing in tight places that often requires at least a little scrambling with skis on packs.  We want to go fast and far and ski a lot.  We were talking about all the options and then happened upon the Ski Trab Maestro at the SCARPA booth.  It was love at first sight.

We were looking for replacements for our well used and abused skis and the Maestro appeared to be everything we wanted.  It was exceptionally light for it's dimensions, had little side cut, and seemed stiff by carpet testing.

My confidence in Ski Trab was born when a friend who I trusted for many gear choices told me they were his favorite skis.  He raced on the World Cups so I did the same.  I used those same first race skis for tours all around the Wasatch, including descents of the Pfeifferhorn, Timp, the Great White Icicle, Box Elder, and a one day traverse of the Oquirrh range across the valley.  They still sit in my gear room next to a new pair that I'll be using this season.

Amazingly, we now find ourselves supported by Ski Trab since they are being distributed by SCARPA North America and have access to the best skis in their line, or in my opinion, the best of the best.

My quiver* thus is all from the same company has been built around the Maestro and is as follows:

Race ski: Ski Trab Race Aero World Cup (96/64/78, 720 gms in 164cm)

Mountaineering ski: Ski Trab Maestro (107/75/94, 950 gms in 171cm)

Powder ski: Ski Trab Volare (129/99/116, 1480 gms in 178 cm)
*I could have easily added the Trab Free Rando Light (171 cm, 112/79/96, 1200 gms) into this mix but it overlaps with the Maestro significantly.  Differences are increased weight without much to gain in width but along with that mass, it seems much stiffer.  
My Harem
Of course there is some crossover in the function of each ski for the above stated purposes as I ski plenty of powder in the race sticks and could take the Volares "mountaineering", but generally, each ski is a tool with a certain function.  All are equipped with race bindings that shed at least 300 gms per foot from standard tech bindings (The benefits of race bindings in spite lack of heel riser, brakes, etc is a entire other discussion).

Race Aero World Cup:

Some people might think other shops make a better race ski but no other ski has been to the podium as many times as the Race Aero World Cups.  Perhaps that just good marketing a la Nike in the arena of track and field.  Regardless, they are proven on the world stage as well as in our backyard.  Measuring 4 cm longer than most other race skis, I think they ski better (slightly) than other race skis I've tried by all the other major companies.


This ski is the real unknown of the quiver.  On paper, it's perfect.  I've had a few chances to take it out for some quick skinning, scrambling, and early season - rock bashing - steep skiing and have been really pleased thus far.  It's a little softer than I had anticipated but not enough to deter further use.  Weight wise, it allows a quick cadence like a race ski and I think will be a great ski for long enchainments and speed mountaineering where a race ski simply doesn't feel adequate (although it probably is, sometimes the mental crutch of a bigger ski is a nice boost of confidence).  Anyway, so far the Maestro is fitting the bill as the best ski mountaineering tool available (more work needed to confirm this). It isn't really available this year in the US but can be found from some Euro online vendors like


This is my big heavy powder ski!  Most of you will probably laugh and say that it's not big and it's not heavy.  That's true but in this quiver it's the biggest and heaviest and it's plenty of ski for me.  I don't huck big stuff nor straight-line anything of consequence but sometimes I like to ski fast and these skis can more than handle that.  Plus, they are still light enough that I'll get to ski at least an extra run over a truly heavy set up.

Superior South Face round two on 64 mm underfoot (Photo taken by Chad Ambrose, permission pending)
The above photo was taken on Dec 29th on one of our two runs down the South Face of Superior.  Most of Salt Lake City was found somewhere along the skin track or the descent but there was still plenty of fresh soft snow for everyone.  Jason, Chad and I set out on race gear and speed suits, intent on getting in some "up tempo" skinning as part of our race preparations for the upcoming Skimo National race.  We ended up going hard up Pole Line, easing off along the ridge, and finishing the boot track with a sprint.  On our second lap, we skinned more consistently and comfortably and ended up topping out in just about the same time of ~one hour.  Include some fantastic skiing and a well planned car shuttle, and we were able to put in two Superior laps in 3 hours and surprised a couple people on the skin track when we went past a second time.

Not only was it incredibly fun to move smoothly and efficiently along the ridge, we were able to ski twice as much as I thought time would allow as Chad had family obligations in the early afternoon.  This was made possible by purposefully choosing to use our World Cup skis (Chad had Hagans) on a glorious powder day.  Some friends met us in the parking lot and thought we were idiots for wasting the powder.  They are fast and managed to ski a ton that day on big gear but I still think we made a fun and appropriate choice for our desired goals and I guess that's the whole point to having a quiver in the first place.