Earlier this fall I got an email asking who was "in" to go SkiMo race in Idaho. I didn't think much of it but coming off a tough performance at the VT50 I was ready to move on to ski season and find something to motivate my training. In the dark days of November / December, you really need to have something to work towards.
Looking back at that training block I'd give myself a B. Great endurance efforts but definitely lacked specific interval / tempo training. Fortunately riding the bike and skiing didn't aggravate my knees and I was healthy heading into December.
Getting to ID is easy - Southwest has cheap flights plus free baggage. I arrived in Boise Thursday afternoon with three other skiers from the east coast. We had a sweet minivan and were psyched to race a real backcountry course with a ton of snow. Brundage resort definitely satisfied early season expectations and had received a few feet of snow in the week leading up to the race.
Friday’s race was an uphill only. Not really my specialty but we’re out here and it was only $15. It was also a good chance to meet some of the SkiMo guys from out west. Unfortunately these races also coincided with a polar vortex. It actually turned out to be good skinning weather but certainly cold waiting around for the start.
I thought the Vertical race was going to be on a groomer as they usually are in the US. This course was 1600’ vert but the course was mostly switchbacks up an ungroomed trail. Aside from having the absolutely worst poles possible for the course (oversized xc poles with tiny baskets) I still managed to hold on for a respectable finish in a stacked field. Uphill isn't my specialty, at least not yet. On the bright side, I did get some local burn in the McCall Star News:
The following morning we had an early start - 7:30 in the dark - for the normal race. It was a 10 mile course with 5,500’ vert. The temps were a balmy -15º but THANKFULLY it wasn’t windy. With an added layer I was actually hot. The start was delayed by 15 minutes and at 7:45 we were started and ran with our skis in our hands then clicked in 100 yards later and skated down a half mile to where we started the vert the previous night.
Then we started skinning the vertical course. I was having a few small hiccups at these early transitions but nothing major. The leaders however had already put a minute plus on me just 10 minutes in. The ungroomed vert corse was now groomed and we headed straight up for a significant section of the first climb dipping off on a few switchbacks that didn’t get groomed over. I looked up the hill and could see the leaders now with a healthy 3:30 gap on me with about 20 people in between. I wasn’t worried though, confident I’d pick some off on the descents. I reached the top of the first climb in 32 minutes and started down on the first descent which we skied the previous day. It was nice and easy, tracked up pow but you could easily navigate it and keep speed / control. I passed a couple skiers at this point included Rob Krar and Max King. At the next transition I made the rookie mistake and tried to use my first set of skins - they clearly weren't going to stick so I grabbed my second set (having a second set of skins is like having a spare tire, without sticky skins you're not going anywhere). So from here on out I'd alternate skins, hopefully warming up a pair as I climbed.
The next section was beautiful - it was fairly low angle but had stunning views of the sunrise to the east. We made our way back up to the summit and passed the top lift and along this climb. I vividly recall feeling really strong and holding a consistent pace. I was looking forward to the next sections of the course which we hadn’t skied the day before. I smiled for the photographer and transitioned to the next short 300’ descent. This is where my day came to a grinding halt. A poor decision resulted in taking a line right down the center of the trail that sent me over a 4’ rock and ever-so-slightly leaning forward my tips buried causing me to summersault. Initially I was frustrated because I was stuck in untracked powder on a flat section but as I tried to get up I realized my right ski had snapped in two places. My day was over.
It’s crushing to put so much energy into prepping for an event and then just have it shut down barely halfway through. It was something I feared - going too aggressive on the downhill and exploding a ski. I'll chalk that one up to experience and take away what I can. Skiing powder on those tiny skis is a skill that we don't often get to practice on the east coast. I was really disappointed not to get a finishing time to see how I stacked up against the elite racers (I was around 10 minutes back at that point) and more upset not to be able to ski the other descents.
I know I have a ton of potential in this sport and will be patient heading into my second season of competition. Next race won't be until February at the Burke Backcountry Adventure. Looking forward to redemption!