La Grave!

After an amazing World Ski Mountaineering Championship week, Luke, Scott, Micah, Kim, McKenna, and I loaded into one of the team vans and headed to La Grave for 3 days of skiing. We didn’t have much for plans other than get in some free skiing on the slopes and some touring of the neighboring valleys.

We arrived in La Grave around 10AM and had an explosion of gear on the sidewalk to get our ski gear organized.


Gear Explosion in La Grave

We had a great first day of skiing the steep and fun runs at La Grave. To make it even better, the weather was fantastic.


The Poma lift at the top of La Grave


View from the 3200M restuarant

Sunday we had an awesome tour where Scott and I attempted to summit Goleon. We were 30 horizontal feet from the top when we were turned around due to huge exposure and not wanting to take the risk. We still had great skiing from very close to the top and ended up with an amazing 9,300′ touring day.  Here is a gallery of our tour.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Monday was back to the resort before heading to Turin to fly out on Tuesday morning.


Panorama looking south from the top of La Grave


Panorama looking north from the top of La Grave


Chad at the top of La Grave


Looking up the valley we toured up on Sunday

World Skimo Championships Gallery

The World Skimo Championships ended on Friday night.  The US had their best ever finish at 9th place overall with Nina Silitch winning our first ever medal, a silver in the sprint.  Being coach of the team was a blast, but it was a lot of work.

Luke, Micah, Scott, Kim, McKenna and I left Saturday morning for 3 days of skiing in La Grave.  We had a great first day and I will post more photos of that in a couple days.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

World Skimo Championships Coaching

All I can say is WOW, what a crazy busy last few weeks. Things got busy the last week of January with a Tuesday to Friday trip to St Louis. I got home late Friday night and left first thing Monday morning for another work trip to Dallas. I got home from Dallas around 5pm on Wednesday and was off to Europe at 7:30 Thursday morning. All in all, from January 29th to February 19, I will be (or maybe at this point it ‘I was’) home for 73 hours. Add to all this trying to get the Powder Keg plans finalized and running into some permit issues as well as all of the US National Team Logistics, having 2 skimo races the week I get home (Feb 19 and 23) and by the time the Powder Keg is over on March 10, I may sleep for 3 days straight.


Way too much gear, luckily ½ of it stays in Europe.

Europe started out rocky. Tom, Dom, and I were sitting in the Delta lounge when Tom and I both got a mutual call from Delta informing us our flight from SLC to ORD was 2 hours delayed. This would mean we would miss our ORD to CDG connection. The Delta agent in the lounge informed us there was a flight leaving to ORD in 5 minutes at the other end of the airport. We took off sprinting, but didn’t make the flight. We were rebooked on a flight that left in 20 minutes to Seattle with only a 30 minute layover until we connected to CDG. We made both flights with no time to spare. Waiting to push from the gate in Seattle, we checked out baggage and saw it had gone to Detroit with plans of going to CDG on an Air France flight. Too many hours of flying later, we were in Turin with no bags. Delta couldn’t track the bags after handing them off to Air France, and Air France in Turin didn’t seem to have the ability to track them. We spent over an hour taking care of our bags. Max Taam came in with his bags, then Greg Ruckman came in but also didn’t have his bags. Finally after getting to the TRN airport at 11:30, we were able to leave at 5:30 with 5 of us, but 2 racers had no gear and I had no gear.


Amazing airplane views


Team dinner on day 1

Saturday was packed with racer checking (which was a total cluster), spending hours on thephone with Air France tracking our bags, and opening ceremonies. The day ended up being 16 hours of work without a break. By the time I went to bed at Midnight I had gotten 8 hours of sleep in 3 days and I was exhausted. The good news of Saturday was that Tom, Dom, and my gear arrived. Greg still had not gear and had to race on Sunday.


Parade of Nations at Opening Ceremonies

I woke up early on Sunday to get more preparation work done for the team. Sunday would be the first day of racing with the Team Race and all but 2 of the Matt, Micah, Meredith, and Nina were racing so the US had 6 teams of 2 that would compete on a challenging course. For details of the race and some photos check out the daily blogs I have been posting on the USSMA website. The hight light was the GREAT finish by Janelle and Stevie getting 6th place and John and Max getting 10th place. All of the US Teams did great, but these were the highest finish of any Americans in the Team Race,

Since not everyone’s gear had yet arrived, I loaned my race gear to Greg and I was on borrowed gear a size smaller. I was hoping to get some skiing in after the race on Sunday, but duty called and Meredith, Micah, and I worked on transitions for their sprint race on Monday during the free time. By the time we were done with this, it was time for me to skate and skin the 2.5km to Vallouise (we are staying in Pelvoux) to get our racers registered for the following day’s events. This is followed by the awards and then coaches meetings. Here is a great video of Sunday’s Team Race.


Meredith and I at the top of the Team Race Course – It was FREEZING!


Even if I am not face enough to race here, my skis and boots are (Greg R after a hard team race)

A storm moved in on Sunday night and we awoke Monday morning to 6-8″ of snow in Pelvoux and it was still snowing hard. Overall the storm dumped 12-16″ of snow. I spent the morning (10-1:30) helping the team at the sprint and cheering on all the racers. At that point, I had to get some personal time and put on my Scarpa Spirits and Voile Chargers to rip some pow. I figured I had 1.5 hours to ski, but it ended up being 2.5 hours as the snow was just too good. I enjoyed my runs, then skated and skinned to Vallouise for my coaches duties. There are some great writeup sof the sprint race on Andy Dorais site and the USSMA site. The highlight of the day was Nina Silitch winning a silver medal and getting the first ever US podium in a World Champship Skimo race. Nina trains very hard for the sprint races and lives in Chamonix so she is able to race this format frequently. We definitely need more sprint format races in the US.


The small room that Greg, Scott, and I are sharing. With now having 3 days of wet gear, it is starting to smell really good.


Skiing from the door of the hotel down the village street to Monday’s race

Tomorrow is the Junior Individual race. The US only has 1 junior so Micah will be the sole competitor. We will all be there to cheer him on, then hopefully have some time to check out the Senior Individual Race for Wednesday. This is the marquee event for most racers.

The strong showing and finishes of the US this year has been great and it has not gone un-noticed. I met Killian Jornet today and he comment about our strong team and numerous ISMF officials and coaches of other teams have also made note. It is a great sign of the progress we have made in the US with our skimo program.

Typical day

  • 6:30-8(ish): breakfast, email, prepare for the day
  • 8-1: races, on the course helping the team
  • 1-2: lunch
  • 2-4: if things go well free time, if not dealing with any issues, helping racers, etc.
  • 4-5: skate/skin to Pelvoux and register racers for the next day
  • 5-6: social media
  • 6-6:30: awards
  • 6:30-8: coaches briefing
  • 8-10: dinner and team briefing
  • 10-12: post blog, visit, etc


World Skimo Championships Here We Come

In the US, ski mountaineering racing is a little known, but quickly growing sport. I first got involved in the sport in 2003 the first winter I lived in Utah and the first Wasatch Powder Keg was held. In 2004 and 2005, the Powder Keg was a World Cup race (the only 2 times a World Cup has been held in North America). Watching the Euros compete at the World Cup race was an amazing experience. Their speed and skills far exceeded any of the skills found in the US. I dabbled with some other races over the years including the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse (which at the time was actually a nordic race). In 2008, then the organizers of the Powder Keg decided they had enough, Emily, Mark Christopherson, Gambrelli Layco, and I took over the race. We quickly learned as much as we could about being race directors and were able to put on a very successful race our first year. Since that first year, Mark and Gambrelli have retired, we have done the work on our own, and now we have the help of Nick Francis. During this time, we have continued to grow the race at 10-15% and get more and more involved in the sport as proponents and racers. I has been exciting to see the number of races growing as fast as the number of competitors. The Wasatch now has the Powder Keg and the Wasatch Citizen Series and there is the Crowbar in Logan. With the Powder Keg being a 3 day race this year, there are now 14 races in Utah. What a change from only 1 race 2 years ago.

In 2012, I decided it was time to start getting serious about my own racing and purchased light gear (but not super light). After a few races during the 2011-2012 season I was hooked and by the end of the year had a true race setup (Hagan X-Race skis, Dynafit TLT Performance boots). It was also during the season that I started working with Pete Swenson of the US Ski Mountaineering Associated (USSMA) to put together plans to continue to grow the sport. Over the summer and fall of 2012 we were able to come up with 3 year growth plans and get others involved to help. Pete, Bryan Wickenhauser, and myself also attended an ISMF Referee Course. There have been other US Referees, but today we are the only 3 in the US with up to date certifications.

To take my own racing to the next step, this year I moved to the next level of boots (Scarpa Alien 1.0) which are completely revolutionary. When the National Championship Race came up, I was 900g/foot light and this led me to having 2 great days of racing and feeling great about my performance (I finished 16th at Nationals and 15th the following day). I can’t wait to get onto the new Voile Wasatch Speed Project skis. A prototype was shown at Outdoor Retailer 2 weeks ago and I should have a pair to test in the next 2 weeks!

The World Skimo Championships are held every 2 years. This year they are being help in Pelvoux, France. For the US, the first 3 races of 2013 were our team qualification races. The top 3 men and women from the National Championship Race in Jackson, top 2 men and women from the Grand Targhee Classic, and the top 3 men and women from the Heathen Challenge in Sunlight would make up the 8 person mens and women’s team. With qualifying races completed, I was happy to only be 3 or 4 slots back. Since Bryan Wickenhauser and Jason Dorais were unable to go to Worlds Greg Ruckman and Andy Dorais would earn their spots. You can see from the team list at the bottom of this posting that we have a lot of work to do in promoting our sport to women and kids so that we can start filling a full team.

The US Skimo team also needed a coach. In the past Pete Swenson has gone as coach, but with a busy work schedule and new baby, his schedule didn’t leave for time. This opened up an opportunity and thanks to the Wasatch racers (Luke included), my name was brought up as the a good selection based on my own racing, the success of the Powder Keg, and my involvement int he USSMA. I was thrilled and honored by the opportunity. When you aren’t fast enough to qualify yourself, you need to be creative to find ways to join the team. The World Championships is a 7 day event with 6 distinct events: Individual Race, Team Race, Relay Race, Sprint Race, and Vertical Race. To get to be involved in this week long racing event is exciting.

With a full day job, the Powder Keg, and working with the team on planning and logistics for the World Championships, it has been a crazy buy last 3 weeks. As I write this, I am on a flight home from Dallas from a 3-day work trip and will be home for 15 hours before going back to the airport and heading to Europe. I can’t thank Emily enough for her supporting me doing this. I also owe a huge thanks to Emily, Nick Francis, and Eric Bunce as they are all picking up some of my Powder Keg responsibilities when I am gone. I can’t repay the enough.

Here are some links you can use to get more details. I plan to be blogging each day on the USSMA site and will be trying to tweet during the race using @USSMA_SkiMo, @thebrackpack, @PowKeg


Men’s National Team

  1. John Gaston (US National Champion)
  2. Tom Goth
  3. Marshall Thomson
  4. Max Taam
  5. Luke Nelson
  6. Scott Simmons
  7. Greg Ruckman
  8. Andy Dorais

Women’s National Team

  1. Janelle Smiley (US National Champion)
  2. Nina Silitch
  3. Stevie Kremer
  4. McKenna Douglas
  5. Kim Young
  6. Meredith Edwards

Espoir Team

  1. Matt Burgunder

Junior Team

  1. Micah Thatcher

Tentative Race List