The skimo (ski mountaineering) race season is officially underway. There have been several small races this year, but the first weekend of January always marks the real beginning with a double header at Jackson Hole and Grand Targhee. Saturday is the US Ski Mountaineering National Championships followed by the Grand Targhee Ski Mountaineering Classic on Sunday. The only way I can describe the Jackson race is that it is hard! There is over 8,000′ of climbing with steep and technical skinning and long booters including a ladder up Corbets Couloir. The descents are typical Jackson steep, narrow, rocky, and full of moguls. This is a full on race. To get up and race again on Sunday is always a challenge. Luckily, Grand Targhee is a little more forgiving. Other than the first climb, the climbs are not that steep and technical and the descents are mellow.
We had a slow start to our snow in the Wasatch so I didn’t do much skiing in November. In addition, it really wasn’t until our Grand Canyon run that I felt recovered from Leadman. Starting in December I did quite a bit of resort skinning until we really started getting good snow the middle of the month. At that time, my work travel schedule slowed down enough for me to really start getting out. My December skiing was split into somewhat odd segments due to work and personal travel commitments.
- December 1-5: 18,126′
- December 6-12: 12,900′
- December 13-19: 26,300′ / ~50 miles
- December 20-25: no skiing due to Christmas travel
- December 26-January 1: 30,660′ / 63 miles
- January 2-4: 1,100′ / 7.5 miles
I really didn’t feel like I had a lot of ski time in and I only had about 8 runs at a resort which definitely hurt my downhill legs. The end of December was such good snow I skied as much as possible knowing that my biggest week ending 3 days before Nationals would not be good, but as I like to say, “Powder comes first”. After being in Crested Butte for the ISMF Course, I decided I needed a pair of Scarpa Alien 1.0. The price tag of this boot is over the top, but so is the performance so I thought I would give it a try. The boot doesn’t fit my foot real well and I am still trying to get the fit dialed in, but I was definitely not disappointed by the uphill performance of this boot – mind blowing is the only way to describe it. Based on my training, I didn’t have super high hopes, but thought if I had a good day at Jackson I could finish in 3 hours and maybe the top 20 (I finished in 3:33 last year). For Sunday I was hoping to be under 2 hours (I was 2:09 last year).
Brent Mitchell and I left for Jackson on Friday noon and arrived just in time to get in a good lap at Snow King prior to race check-in and a Team Wasatch Skimo dinner. There was a great showing for the races from the Wasatch (15-18 Wasatch racers each day) and the Wasatch skimo skin suits looked great. The forecast for Saturday was bitter cold at the base and warming up high (due to inversion). The dinner conversations continually went back to how many layers, how to keep from having an epic skin failure, and who was going to podium. This year is a World Championship year and the top 3 finishers on Saturday and top 2 finishers on Sunday (who didn’t qualify on Saturday) make up 5 of the 8 members of the US National Team and get the honor or representing the US in February. Due to the race being a qualifier. the field was stacked. This would be the fastest skimo race ever held in the US!
Gemma, Nick, Chad, and Eric sporting our Wasatch Skimo suits at the Grand Targhee finish – notice the Alien invasion.
Saturday morning came and the weather did not disappoint us. It was -18F at the base at 7AM. It was rumored to be 20F warmer at the top of the mountain, but we still had to worry about preventing frostbite while warming up and during the early parts of the initial climb. As the race started, the front group as usual took off in a full sprint until the slope pitch picked up. The front couple of racers missed the first left corner and the front pack stayed close and fast for most of the race. For a first hand account of what happened up front, check out Andy Dorais blog that also has some great photos (thanks Dominique Maak) from the race. I was feeling good racing in the 2nd pack on the first climb. One of my ski goals this year was to climb 3,000′ in 1 hour. At the top of the first climb, I had done 3,300′ in 57 minutes. This had me pumped to keep up my hard pace. I suffered through the descents (the 8 runs I have made at Solitude was definitely not enough to build my downhill legs) and felt strong on the climbs. I reached the top of the Corbet’s Couloir ladder having climbed 6,400′ in 2:11. I was stunned that not only had I made one of my season goals of climbing 3,000′ in an hour, but I did double that in 2 hours. From this point we had a quad burning descent of close to 4,000′ followed by a final, long 1,300′ climb. I was able to pass a couple of people on the final descent, then get caught by Teague on the final climb, then pass Tom D on the last descent. I topped out at the last climb 2:50 into the race and pointed them down intent on finishing under 3 hours. The final descent was half big moguls followed by a low angle groomer. I did all I could to ski fast and in control through the moguls with legs that had nothing left, hit the groomer and dropped into a tuck (which was hard to hold with fried quads) into the finish line to finish in 2:55:17 (roughly 1.5 miles and 2,000′ in under 5 minutes) for 16th place.
We all enjoyed watching the rest of the racers come across followed by pizza, beer, and awards. We ended a great race day with plans of another Wasatch Skimo dinner at a Thai restaurant in Jackson to relive the day and plan the next day’s race.
John Gaston, Tom Goth, and Scott Simmons on the ladder (2nd, 3rd, & 4th places)(photo by Dom Maack)
Women’s podium and 1st three member of the US National Team: Janelle Smiley (1), Jari Kirkland (2), & Meredith Edwards (3) (photo by Dom Maak)
Men’s podium and 1st three member of the US National Team: John Gaston (1), Jason Dorais (2), & Luke Nelson (3) (photo by Dom Maak)
A few beers, a restless night sleep brought, and an 80 minute drive the next morning brought us to the Grand Targhee Ski Mountaineering Classic. After the Jackson race, the Targhee race is not easy even though it is only 5600′ climbing. We all found that we needed a solid 30 minutes to warm up that morning to get the lactic acid out of the legs. Luckily, the race has a leisurely 10:30 AM start. After Saturday’s good race, I lined up ‘with the big boys’ in the second row. It was a great feeling a couple minutes before the gun go off to have Luke Nelson turn around and say ‘welcome to the big boys club’ (I can’t remember his exact words). The gun went off and we were off for another sprint to the first rise. The Targhee race is not steep like Jackson, but the first climb is a solid 2,000′ climb up a steep, hard packed groomer. It is a fully body effort to move up this climb quickly. I was excited to find myself close to the top and still have the lead group close and Luke still clearly visible. I topped out this climb in 29 minutes. I had surprised myself at how well I was climbing on ‘day old’ legs. The first descent was a great run with good snow and small bumps. A fast transition and we were into the shortest of the 3 climbs. I topped out the second climb at about 58 minutes once again beating 1 of my season goals by ascending 3,200′ in under an hour and this time with 2 transitions and a descent. The second descent was one of the most heinous skis I have ever done. the run was frozen, chunky, chundery, stump ridden, and just about the hardest thing you can ski on tiny, light gear. I was able to catch 2 people on this descent through some reckless abandon. We moved into the last transition for a final 2,000′ climb that never seemed to end. I was close behind Stano, Jon Brown, and Eric Carter hoping to be able to catch at least 1 of them. I put everything out there that I had and all I could do was hang on to them. They were ascending very strongly and I was not able to close the gap. We reached the top of the last climb for a short powder descent, then onto a groomer for a wicked fast descent. My goal for the day was 2 hours and I was able to finish in 1:53:27 for 15th place. My final descent was 1.7 miles and 2,000′ in 4 minutes!
We once again enjoyed the finish line camaraderie cheering on finishers, enjoying a burger and beer and then packing up for the 4.5 hour drive home.
Photos by Mark Gocke
Photos by Josh Miller
Womens Podium: Janelle Smiley (1), Gemma Arro i Ribot (2), Meredith Edwards (3)
Men’s Podium: John Gaston (1), Tom Goth (2), Marshall Thomson (3), Jason Dorais (5) – Tom and Marshall qualify for the US National Team
For the first time since Leadman ended in August, I finally feel like I am functioning at 100% again. I can’t express how good this feels and then to top this off with such strong finishes. Fitness helped, I was not over trained, I had much better gear than last year (see photos below), and I keep asking myself if my new partially gluten free diet (I won’t give up beer and the occasional cookie) didn’t also help.
- Hagan X-Race Skis
- Ski Trab Race Bindings
- Scarpa Alien 1.0
- Salomon Nordic Poles
- Crazy Idea skin suit
- Black Diamond Tracer Helmet
- Camp Rapid 260 Pack
- Camp Crest Shovel
How did this gear compare to last year, well, last year my ski, binding, boot combo weighed 2,608g (per foot). This year, that combo weighed 1704g for a savings of 904g (35%) per foot!
2012 race ski/binding and boot weights – 1444g and 1164g respectively
2013 ski/binding/boot weight – 1704g
I have found I don’t need to consume much in a 3 hour race. I ate a minimal amount of food.
- 2 oz First Endurance Vanilla EFS diluted with water to 4 oz (200 cal)
- 10 oz of water with ½ scoop First Endurance EFS Powder and 1 scoop Hammer Nutrition Sustained Energy (180 cal)
- 2 oz First Endurance Vanilla EFS diluted with water to 4 oz (200 cal)