I spent the last two weeks driving from Squamish to Crested Butte Colorado and back. That is 1500 miles (about 23 hours) each direction! It is an incredibly long drive – much longer than I anticipated – and I was alone. That was the down side of the trip. Luckily the rest of it was pretty awesome.
SQUAMISH -> WEST YELLOWSTONE, MT
On the way out to Colorado, I broke the trip into a bunch of legs. The first stop was in West Yellowstone, Montana. Over the Thanksgiving holiday week, a handful of U.S. Nordic ski teams converge on this tiny little town outside Yellowstone National Park for a week long ski festival. Skiers train (most for the first time this year) on the great snow at the Rendezvous Nordic Centre and finish the week off with two Supertour Race Series events. My college teammate Jennie Bender – now a top US pro racer – invited me to come stay for a few days on my way to Colorado. The town is taken over by high school and college ski teams and it seems like a skiers paradise. It was possible to walk out the door of the hotel and ski through the snow-covered streets to get to the trails. I spent three days classic skiing and visiting old friends from the Nordic scene before leaving. It was fun to catch up with so many friends from the midwest and east coast that I was not expecting to bump into.
WEST YELLOWSTONE -> SLC, UT
From West Yellowstone, I made the short drive to Salt Lake City, Utah and landed in the home and gear epicentre of Jason Borro, owner and ski mounting extraordinaire for Skimo.co, the best skimo specific online retailer in North America. I was sworn to secrecy on the inner workings of Skimo.co but I can say the operation is impressive. Looking at the stock listed on his site, it might seem like he just passes orders on to a manufacturer, but that is not the case, he truly does have the most extensive collection of ski race gear in any house in the world. Jason also tests out all the gear that he peddles and more that he decides is not up to par for the shop. Finally, Jason is the most meticulous binding mounter that I have ever seen. With a custom workstation and incredible attention to detail, I can say without hesitation that this is the guy you want mounting your skis. So, support Skimo.co and you won’t be sorry you did.
Jason let me spend the night sleeping among boxes of Dynafit and La Sportiva clothing and we got up the next day to drive the quick 20 minutes from his home to Brighton Ski Area for the first Wasatch Skimo Citizens Series race of the year on Thanksgiving day. The series is awesome with almost 100 people showing up to race laps on Thanksgiving morning. The format was a 1hour race with the winner doing the most laps. The climb featured a technical set up switchbacks up an off-piste section with two set tracks, then a short bootpack (!) and then a final steep on-piste section followed by a fast descent on- and off-piste back to the transition.
The fast guys sprinted off the line and by the second lap, we had looped back around to catch the rear of the field so it definitely did not feel like we were alone out front. Everyone was racing hard and having a good time. Jason D and Tom G took off hard and gapped me by a couple of minutes. I finished second, also with five laps, and Teague H and Lars K were a little bit behind. It was my first hard effort of the trip and I was definitely feeling the altitude but it was encouraging. After the race, everyone packs into the lodge for a quick awards and they had impressive showing from sponsors. More prizes were handed out than most national level races including one of the best draw prizes ever – the Voile rep had a pair of race skis and held them up saying ‘the first person wearing green to get up here wins a pair of skis’ and was subsequently tackled by two green-clad citizen racers. For the $8 entry fee, this was one of the best little skimo races I have been to. I can certainly see why the sport is taking off so well in the Wasatch. Thanks to Chad, Jason, and Andy (and most likely a bunch of others) for putting on a good event.
SLC -> BRECKENRIDGE, CO
From SLC, I had another long drive to Breckenridge, Colorado. In Breckenridge I stayed with one of my college ski teammates, Chelsea and her fiancé Chuck who live right near the ski area village and coach the local alpine team. I managed to meet up with Mike Schilling who introduced me to the Breck skimo group and took me out for a bit of skiing. Pete Swenson took me out for a tour on his backyard hill. Breck sits at ~3000m for the base area and has easy access above 4000m and was an ideal spot to stop an acclimatize. Most of my time skiing in Breck was marked by lots of gasping and skiing slowly despite a high heart rate, nosebleeds from the dry air, and generally feeling tired but it was hard not to be stoked with the warm and clear, blue bird weather on the continental divide.
My last day in Breck, I headed with Mike over to Arapahoe Basin for their local citizen series race. Turnout was again amazing with over 60 racers and most impressive of all, almost every single one of them on race gear. Joe H from Breck blasted off the line with Pete and I in tow. By the top of the first climb, Pete had taken the lead and I was just behind. I had a great skins off transition and we descended together. Pete had a great skins on transition and took off just before me. He led the second climb and we skied together on the steeper first half until it levelled out and he glided away from me. Michael Hagan came up behind on the flats but when the slope kicked back up near the finish line he dropped back a bit and I held on for second. I still felt the thin air big time, especially at almost 4000m but definitely was starting to feel better.
BRECKENRIDGE -> CRESTED BUTTE, CO
From Breck, I headed south west through the desert on to Gunnison Colorado. Jon Brown, a Team Crested Butte skier, graciously offered up his spare bedroom and I really appreciate him and his partner Amy tolerating me for the rest of the trip. Gunnison had no skiable snow but it was a short 30min drive to Crested Butte where there was good snow at the resort or in the backcountry. Jon introduced me to the local scene and showed me around. We spent a day skiing on the resort and then I headed out to the Irwin Lodge with Bryan Wickenhauser (race director) to scout out the race course and help set tracks.
Saturday’s individual race was unique in that it was entirely in the backcountry and required a 30 min sled or snowcat ride just to get to the start line. The Irwin Lodge is a pretty amazing cat ski operation that clearly caters to some high budget clients. It’s cool to see them give back to the community and support an event that most likely costs them money. Their staff played a major role in course setting and also manned the transition stations around the course. The race was three laps and as one of the US National Team qualifying races, had a stacked field with almost every big name in US ski mountaineering in attendance.
As usual, the pace off the line was very fast. Scott Simmons and Marshal Thompson seemingly sprinted the first thirty minute lap with John Gaston catching up to them right at the transition. I fell in with Max Taam and we found ourselves gapped behind Jon and Brian Smith. Max blew away from me on the first descent and Jason Dorais came from behind but took a huge fall when he tried to pass.
The second climb, Jason and Max pulled away slowly. I was starting to feel flatter and felt almost drunk on the only bootpack midway up. At the top, I could see I was not terribly far behind Brian Smith and skied hard to try to catch up. The third lap was just a grind to stay ahead of the pack of racers several minutes behind me and a few glimmers of hope that I might catch Brian. He kept the gap tantalizing but constant and I skied the final descent conservatively to avoid a race ruining crash, finishing in 9th place.
It was not my best race but the 9th place in that field was certainly nothing to be disappointed. I was hoping to scratch into the top 8 and would have been really happy with a 6th or 7th but there is still time for improvement. I made a good choice with skins, choosing a worn pair that glided very well on the low angle skin tracks that feature throughout the race. Fuelling was decent with Hammer Gel slurry in a soft flask. Acclimatization seemed to have paid off though I could certainly still feel the altitude but not nearly as severe as the first week.
Sunday we woke up very early in order to make it to Crested Butte Mountain Resort for the Vertical event 7:45a start time. I did a quick warm-up and then we were off. Again, the leaders took it quick with John Gaston jumping way out front and Marshal and Scott chasing and Brian just behind. Jon and I settled in behind Tom Goth and started grinding our way back up towards the group. I left Jon and caught Tom around the 1/3 mark and tried to pass Tom but he stuck on me well and made up time on the faster flat sections where I was not getting the best glide. When the grade kicked back up, I pushed hard to pass Tom and managed to pull away from him. I was not 100% sure where the finish was located and didn’t want to bury myself too deep too soon, but Scott was just ahead up the final stretch. I finished in 5th, one of my best ever race finishes.
I nailed the fueling for the vertical race and felt strong and was breathing well. The acclimatization definitely paid off. I chose a grippier pair of skins, expecting very steep sections climbing up groomers but should have gone with better glide like the day before. Unfortunately it can be hard to predict which to choose.
CRESTED BUTTE -> SQUAMISH, BC
After the race, I hopped into the car and rallied back to BC. I stopped for the night in Boise, Idaho but otherwise made the trip back non-stop and got home late Monday evening.
While I was away, I launched a fundraising page for my trip to Europe. This will help cover some of the costs of the expensive race fees that I would like to do while I am over there. It is awesome to see that folks have already contributed enough to get me 60% funded in just four days! Thanks for helping and please keep spreading the word!
Now that I am home, I have 5 weeks until the next qualifying race in Jackson, WY. I will take a few days to rest and recover from the trip and then put in a hard block of training. The weather is currently brutal here. 30-60mm of rain forecast each day with freezing levels at the mountain peaks. I won’t be skiing likely until the weekend and am hoping I can get up high on the lifts at Whistler to do the training I need.