I spent the last weekend in Kalispell, Montana racing the Whitefish Whiteout. Local ski and bike hero Ben Parsons generously put me up in his spare room and showed me around town all weekend. After the marathon drive from Squamish to Castle Mountain two weeks ago, I had decided against racing the Whiteout, but after looking at flights I found a cheap ticket from Seattle to Montana and pulled the trigger.
I didn’t make it into town in time to scout out the course with Ben and Carl but we were treated to an awesome dinner by Ben’s wife Jen (who I think gets to take some credit for our races after feeding us so well) and then hit the sack early.
Despite Ben’s insistent prediction of sun for the race, we arrived to find thick fog covering the course with wet snow falling. The race start was at a very civilized 10am so downhill traffic was already cruising the mountain but seemed unphased by the line of spandexed racers preparing to take off. The Whitefish staff gave a quick briefing and we were off. The race division had the most race suits that I have seen competing at once, north of Jackson Hole. It was great to look back and see a long line of racers stretching back into the fog. Peter took off hard from the line and Ben and I jumped in with him. The pace stayed reasonable until about halfway up the first climb. On one of the steeper pitches, Ben took the pace up a notch that I was able to match. Peter fell off behind us as we got closer to the top station.
Fifty bucks were on the line for the first racer to the top of the first climb so I pushed back to keep ahead of Ben and tried to glide as we got to lower angle terrain. I pulled into the transition first and was just finishing up as Ben arrived. I started down the descent, marked with big alpine ski gates but just a bit too far apart in the fog. Unsure of where to turn off the ridge, I slowed and Ben shot by. He gapped me fast on a steep icy descent through tight trees and I sped through my transition to keep in touch for the next climb. It started with steep, technical skinning to a short boot pack and then back on to groomers for more fast skinning. I pulled ahead as we arrived at a second boot pack to the top station. We pulled in together and again I had to follow Ben on the descent, with no idea of where to go.
Headed down, I skied past the transition and luckily heard the volunteer call out at the last second. I had to rush to make up the gap Ben had opened up and was frustrated not to make any time up on the technical track. When we hit the third boot pack, I caught back on to Ben and followed him up to the top station. The final descent passed the finish line and dropped down another steep bowl. We started skinning out on more steep technical terrain. It was clear from boot prints that several people had decided to boot pack. I offered to Ben to start booting if he would but he pressed on skinning until it got really steep. We did a short boot section back to the cat track and then turned up towards the finish line. I wasn’t totally sure where the finish line was and when Ben started sprinting while the line was still hidden in the fog (game on!) I got a bit nervous. I matched his speed and kept it up to the finish while he faded slightly.
Brandon French (another MT racer) led a group of us for a post-race lap of the backcountry and we found some powder before heading down to the base lodge for food and awards and then to the bar in town for celebratory pizza.
Sunday morning, a group of racers met up at the ski hill and Carl led us out for a backcountry tour. Most of the group turned around to start their drives back to respective homes while Carl and I pressed on for two more laps of awesome powder skiing in the trees despite two weeks passing since the last snowfall. Carl seemed keen on more laps but I rattled off excuses to call it a day and we slogged back into the ski area and down to the car. I did get one quick glimpse of the alpine peaks in Glacier National Park when Rainbow Mtn peeked though the clouds. On the way back to Kalispell, Carl and I stopped to visit Ben and for a tour of his fire hall.
Big thanks to Ben and Jen for being such generous hosts and putting up with me being around all weekend. I hope you guys can come visit the coast sometime soon! The staff at Whitefish put on a fun event and did a good job running the show. Every event has some issues but the vibe was outstanding. I would love to come back and highly recommend the race. I couldn’t have had more of a good time. The people were exceptionally nice and the area is cool! The sponsors also put up a big round of cool prizes so I think just about everyone took something home. Also thanks to Dynafit, Hammer Nutrition, Challenge by Choice and of course Skintrack.com for their continued support this season.
Next up is the Ken Jones Classic in Lake Louise early in February, followed closely by Vertfest at Alpental and the ROAM Rando Rally in Nelson.
Myke Hermsmeyer from Hammer took some great pictures available here: Photos
The Whitefish staff also made a video of the event linked below:
Dynafit DyNA boots, PDG skis, Plum race bindings, Colltex PDG Skins
New CAMP Rapid Race pack (I love the improvements inc. the new ski carry hook)
Nutrition: 3 Raspberry Hammer Gels mixed with 200mL water in one bottle and 500mL water in another.