My last posting covered my first week in Verbier (Sunday to Sunday). Races, meetings, and the team were much busier the second week as the ‘big’ races (Individual and Team) were scheduled Monday and Wednesday. There were a lot of logistics and racer shuffling to get taken care of in the final days as well as get team plans for water, spare gear, and other on-course logistics sorted out. As a 1 man show, this was a significant amount of work.
Monday was the individual and an early morning. The team was on the bus at 6:30 heading to the starting line. As with the previous races, the weather was perfect. I knew the Individual course very well so I was excited to see the team off at the start, catch them on course and then meet them at the finish. The course was amazing with long climbs, 3 booters, hundreds of switchbacks, summiting Six Blanc twice and a final hair-raising descent.
Start of the Men’s Individual Race
I had a few hours after the race for quick tour with Rory and Colin. We had hoped to summit Mt Rogneux, but due to a late start and a ridge line that was much longer than we anticipated, we ended up making a couple awesome powder laps just off the summit shoulder, then made an extremely long ski and traverse back to Le Chable in time for them to catch the train home and me to get to the race briefing.
Chad and Rory on the saddle below Mount Rogneux
I followed the race briefing and team meeting with a late but extremely fun dinner with some of the Italians I have met in the past few years – Oscar, Carlo, and Riccardo and new friends Andre, Enrico, and Markus. We had dinner at a small restaurant owned by the famous Swiss alpine racer Roland Collombin. We had a great meal and several beers.
“The Italian Job”
Tuesday was the junior Individual so another off day for the team, but only a partial off day for me as I had meetings with the ISMF starting at 4PM. Freddy Grossnicklaus who guided us through the Bernese Oberland several years ago had given me several touring recommendations in the Verbier area. I convinced Logan and Rory to do some one of these tours (or a variation of it). We took the lifts up to Mont Fort then skied and climbed Rosa Blanche and Le Perrain and finished with a 6000’+ descent to Fionnay where we hoped to either catch a bus or hitch hike back to Le Chable in time for all my meetings. We had an amazing tour through the valleys and across the glaciers followed by a someone interesting descent into Fionnay. I was thrilled to be able to do this tour with 2 strong partners. We had great snow for all but the final couple thousand feet into Fionnay. To make this even better, we skied down the road into Fionnay and a waiting bus. We couldn’t believe our timing!
Huge terrain of the Swiss Alps
Logan with Le Perrain
Looking down at Fionnay from about ½ way down our descent
Of all the races I have been to, the Wednesday Teams Race course sparked jealously that I wasn’t racing. The course was long (2200M for the men and 2000M for the women) with very technical ascents and descents. The Team had another early morning with the 6:30 bus and eventually made our way to the start. After some confusion of a delayed start due to ice, then an on-time start, we scrambled to get the team to the start and watch the initial >550M climb. It was amazing the pace of the racers as they disappeared up the mountain. After the women’s start (15 minutes after the men), we took the lifts to Les Attelas and joined the other 500+ spectators crowding the course. It was so much fun to see so many spectators and watch all the teams at the top of their second climb. Due to limited time and need to be at the finish line for the racer check (I was carrying all of the passports and if the coach is not at the finish line with passports and the racer is checked, they are disqualified) I had to descend after our last team went through Les Attelas. Our teams had amazing finishes with a top 10 and 3 more top 20 finishes. This was the most people we had ever had in a top 20 and was very exciting. I decided Wed would be a pseudo rest day with only the skiing during the race. After 9 days in a row and very little sleep (on average 6 hours a night), I was exhausted.
Meredith and McKenna excited about their finish
Nice to see friends on the podium – Letitia (1st), Marta (3rd), Gemma (5th)
Thursday was the final day. Many racers don’t like the relay race, but it is actually one of the funnest races to watch. You can either watch the entire race from the base or skip back and forth to see every racer twice. We had strong men’s and women’s teams and in the end we ended up with our highest finish of the week with a 5th place finish by our women’s team. Two of the three women were first timers at World’s so it was exciting to see them do so well.
Women’s 5th place team – Sarah, Meredith, Jessie
The closing ceremonies is alway quite the party and this year was the same. Numerous speeches (again), a food meal, and lots of wine and beer lead to an entertaining evening with several us of realizing that most of our rides back to Martigny had left and scrambling at the last minute to get a ride.
Chad representing the US (far right) on our 10th place finish.
Gemma, Gerard, and Marta showing off their Catalan moves
After a late night (getting to bed after 1AM with too many beers consumed), we were up at 6AM to catch the 7:20 train to Chamonix. I was not sure of my plans for the last 2 days and really wanted to get out and spend the night in a hut. About half of the team wanted to go to Chamonix so I decided that was my best best and I did not regret it. We were on the early train and didn’t have set plans other than go up the Aiguillie du Midi lift which rises 9000 vertical feet from Chamonix and is probably the most famous ski lift in the world. We arrived in Chamonix with no losing and not knowing what to do with our bags. Jon Brown and I were quickly able to get a room for 1 night and dropped our bags then suited up (skis, poles, crampons, ropes, harnesses, ice axes, ice screws, prussics pulleys, and all the rest of our glacier kits). It is crazy in Chamonix to see people in fully ice gear walking down the street next to someone in a fully length fur coat. A surprise awaited us at the base of the Aiguille du Midi when we met Glen Plake (a friend of Max Taam’s) who Max had planned for us to ski with that day. This was amazing. I grew up watching Glen in dozens and movies and was now going to get to ski with him. I felt like I was in a dream. Skiing off the Aguille du Midi in Chamonix with Glen Plake, it couldn’t be true.
Tram lines to the top of the Aguille – this was from the mid point station!
Gearing up with crampons and axes in the ice tunnel
Glen leading Scott and Jon down the knife ridge
Chad, Scott, and Glen getting ready to drop in
Amazing ice arch in the glacier
For the first run, we were a large group (13 people) who all took their time down Vallee Blanche as Glen pointed out all the famous cols, couloirs, peaks, and climbs. The descent was around 20KM from the top to town as we dropped the 9,000’. It was amazing. I was lucky enough to be able to make another lap on some bigger terrain with Glen, Kimberly (his wife), Max, and Jessie. This was definitely one of the highlights of my ski life.
We were all tired Friday night after limited sleep Thursday so we had a mellow night. We got a good sleep Saturday, then due to bad weather and poor visibility had a late start Saturday. We spent some time at the Chamonix Farmers Market and various outdoor stores before Jon and I skinned up Le Brevant booted up to Col Cornu, skied down to Lac Cornu and then made a round about traverse, ski, and skin back to the Col and into Chamonix.
Chad on Col Cornu
We enjoyed a last beer in Chamonix (a wonderful Belgian Ale which was the best beer I had the whole trip), the caught a shuttle to Geneva for the night. We ended up with a late dinner and another early morning to catch our taxi to the airport. I am writing this mid flight from Amsterdam to Detroit (then connecting to SLC). I am excited to get home after 2 weeks, but only have 12 hours once I get home to unpack and re-pack for a work trip to Chicago. My preference would be for Emily to be coming to Chamonix and to have another 2 weeks to ski as we left in a storm and far too much terrain went un-explored.
I had a great 2 weeks and can’t thank our US Ski Mountaineering Team for their great racing and dedication to the sport. We are an unsupported team so these people took time off work and spent their own money to come to Verbier to represent the USA in our best finish at World’s yet. Thanks also to La Sportiva for providing team uniforms and making the USA look so professional and to Voile for a couple of great pairs of skis (custom poplar core WSP’s and Vectors) to enjoy 13 days of skiing on.