Monday, January 12, 2015

USSMA Sprint Championship / GTNP Mount Wister NE Ridge

Snow King Sprint Race:

This last weekend concluded the qualifying races for the US Ski Mountaineering Team.  There were two standard races at Grand Targhee and JHMR that I chose to forego in an effort to focus both on the sprint race at Snow King as well as some adventure skiing in the park.  I'll not mention much about the two grand races other than Jason won at Targhee and Tom won at JHMR, elevating the Wasatch to the top of the podium.

The sprint championship was to determine the participants in the discipline at the World Championships in Verbier, Switzerland next month.  It's an odd event consisting of a sprint start, multiple kick turns, a skis to pack transition, a second set of kick turns, and finally a descent through gates and a skate to the finish.  The entire event is supposed to last five minutes +/- a couple depending on the actual vertical gained.

The standard format is to start racers at 30 second intervals, each one performing a time trial of the course.  This will qualify a percentage of the racers into heats of six with the top three advancing through rounds until a final of six racers is determined.  At the Snow King race, rather than have racers move through rounds, the top twelve were placed into a super skier cross style finale.

My initial TT seemed to be going well until just before half way and while on the kick turn section, I inexplicably stepped out of my binding.  Staying calm, I attempted to click back in, knowing that a few seconds lost wouldn't make a huge difference at this stage.  Then I realized I'd incurred a catastrophic binding failure where the toe piece wing, just under the pin, had sheared off.  No longer calm, I looked into the gray sky roaring obscenities.

Marshall Thompson soon passed by and actually offered to take off his ski and let me proceed with his.  Lars Kjerengtroen did the same seconds later.  Demonstrating the utmost class, both knew I cared about this race and were going to commit suicide in theirs to help me out.  I refused and set out to the base area to plead my case.

Fortunately, the judges allowed me to get in the back of the line to restart a few minutes later.  Also fortunate is the fact that Jason and I wear the same size boot and can exchange gear on a whim.  The second go felt much harder and I tied up mightily while not feeling particularly fast.  I could taste my lunch but it was enough to move on to the final.

Standing in under the lights with eleven other guys about to go all out for five minutes was energizing.  There is an episode of the Dirtbag Diaries by Kelly Cordes called the Pugilist that talks about that feeling of being alone while stepping into the ring.  I was not alone but we were about to try and hurt each other.
Seconds before the start of the final.  Photo by Jason Dorais

The start was much too fast as everyone jockeyed for position before the wide starting straight pinched into the skin track and kick turns.  I made a move to the front and immediately slowed the field down through the narrows.  The next time I looked down, the only headlight within striking distance was from viking Lars and now barring a second disaster a good outcome was ensured.

Photo by Jason Dorais
Skating hard but inefficiently toward the finish line, I could hear Jason screaming, "They're gaining on you!" but I knew he was full of shit.  Here, even while not racing him, he was trying to make me hurt.  He yelled the same thing at each subsequent racer, even if no one was in sight.

Lars stayed the course and finished a strong second also qualifying for the US team.  It was an instance where the outcome went as well as could be hoped for.  Prior to check in, I mentioned to Lars that it would be perfect if we could go one-two regardless of the order.  In the dark, still breathing hard, we clinked poles, gathered our gear, and made our way towards some Thai food.

Thai food for the fifth time this week! Photo by Lars

Mount Wister NE Ridge:

The next day most of the guys were going for glory at JHMR but Lars and I were going for adventure in GTNP.  Joined by Mark Smiley, we got a reasonable 7am start and leisurely made our way up Avalanche Canyon.  I've been in the Tetons dozens of times and this was my first trip up this drainage.  The weather was dramatic, threatening to shut us out at times but at others urging us along with hints of sun and thinning clouds.  

Our objective, at the recommendation of the prolific Zahan Billimoria, was to climb and ski the NE Ridge/Face of Mount Wister.  He had texted me a beta photo the day before and the terrain looked reasonably big, steep, and just about perfect for an adventure.  Kitted out with skimo harnesses, ski crampons, real crampons (actually skimo crampons), a couple sections of light rope, and an axe and we felt ready for adventure.  

Mark Smiley high in Avalanche Canyon with the South Teton in the background

Mount Wister isn't the biggest or most well known peak in the park but the terrain felt adventurous, particularly with low visibility. 

Testing out the F1 Evo 

Mark, gaining the summit ridge

We embraced the Teton way and booted...a lot
A summit is never guaranteed, especially in bad weather.  That made this one even better. 

Lars, from ten feet below the rocky summit

Some sections were attention grabbing with a slight dust on a really firm refreeze. 

I had considered a little dry skiing but in the end decided that my skis would like me better if I didn't.  For more on "dry skiing" check out Down Side Up

We skied harnessed up and with ropes out to make any decisions toward safety easier to make.  In the end, we did use them, making a couple belayed ski cuts high on the NE Ridge.  
A sneaky way onto the upper face.  Photo by Lars

Heading home

In the end, it was a mighty fine weekend filled with great friends, good food, and with a perfect racing to adventuring ratio.  Now I'm sitting at home in SLC looking out at sheets of rain, wishing I was still in the Tetons.  Lars just sent a text saying he's going to put some pictures up in his office of Teton ski lines he'd like to tick off so he can day dream away the reality of work.  I guess that's kind of what I'm doing right now...


  1. Awesome to watch that pure horsepower at the sprint race. Congrats on making the team!

  2. Any feedback on the F1 Evo?

  3. The biggest motor always wins, nice job!