The skimo scene has been around the valley LONG before I tried on my first touring set up just 5 years ago. Since then, nearly every ski / boot / binding manufacturer has incorporated some touring feature into their line. This exposure to the general ski population has lead to a 'boom' in backcountry touring - cheaper, lighter, faster gear. BUT this boom has yet to spill over into competition as evident by the participant numbers at northeast skimo races. There were only 12 people pre-registered for the Cross Cat Touring Challenge (CCTC) the Thursday leading into the race. I had a hard time believing this because in my small circle is seems like everyone has a touring set up and more than 12 people from Mount Washington Valley would be interested in competing in a race that caters to beginners. Ok, enough rambling, just surprised that this event didn't attract more participants.
The CCTC was originally supposed to start in Jackson and traverse up the backside of Wildcat via the Wildcat Valley Trail. This route is extremely flat and just under 5 miles. It would have been nearly 100% ski running and 1000% destroyed my feet. I toured it twice in the two weeks leading up to the race just to get a refresher on how flat it really was (but perfect for Squall). Fortunately, the RD opted to do two laps on Wildcat which simplified everything - no shuttles, minimal ski running, and better spectating. The down portion of the laps was "just stay left on the groomers" which lead us down upper catapult, middle wildcat, and wild kitten. The skintrack was up polecat - all groomed except a closed portion of trail. There were no secrets to this course, it was going to be fast, non-technical, and tight.
Hilary and I arrived at 9am with our friends who were in town and wanted to free ski. After registration I went out and did a quarter mile up polecat just to make sure my gear was good. I try not to use my race boots very often since they crush my feet. We had a race briefing at 9:45 and were started right at 10am. Side note - they had live-timing for this event which was awesome. There were four of us in the 'elite' (2 lap) wave that hung together for most of the first lap. Dan Gay set the pace early, running anything under 20% grade but even some of the steeper stuff he was able to maintain a running cadence. He missed a sign a mile into the climb costing him his 30 second lead. The course climbed a firm section of closed trail here and I was able to take the lead for the rest of the climb, with Dan and Brian close behind. There was no designated transition areas so I pulled my skins off just before the snowboard bench on the flats approaching the summit. This allowed me to skate the remaining 300 feet up and over the summit which was faster than skinning. Everything was going according to plan at this point - I had the lead going into the descent and I still had gas in the tank. I was flying down my first run - 40-45mph down the top section - but that changed quickly as I felt something fly out of my chest; I was lazy and never zipped up my jacket and lost my skin. I didn't stop immediately and next thing I knew I was staring back up the trail at my skin. I started skating uphill and was just waiting for the guys to come bombing by but a random skier came around the corner and brought down my skin the remaining 50 feet or so. It's hard to say how much time she saved me and in hindsight it was outside support that isn't allowed during sanctioned races but clearly this isn't a sanctioned race; however, i should have told them to leave it or hiked up the remaining distance to retrieve it. On one hand if it was a 'skimo' race I would have made sure to zip up before leaving the transition area (exactly what I made sure to do at Burke) and I wouldn't have lost any time on the downhill but this was what happened and it wasn't until well after the race that I even thought twice about it - lesson learned. Once I had my skin back Dan came around the corner and now I was in second place with plenty of down left in the lap. I was able to put about 30s back on Dan and Brian. That lead was quickly neutralized as Dan ran by me early in the ascent. I tried not to worry about it and just keep him in sight knowing that I had a 45s buffer on the downhill. On one section of the climb I tried to take a turn way inside on mostly ice while Dan took the groomed outside track. This was a gamble that didn't pay off, he put another 10s on me and I was now a healthy 30s behind. The final pitch he started to slow down though and I pushed to close the gap nearly in half. I transitioned behind him about 100' and we both started skating for the summit. He was out of sight as I descended and on the first turn I had all my weight on my downhill ski and slid out completely on my side towards the edge of the trail. I thought I had blown it for sure, now I was at the max of my allowance on the downhill. I was able to reel Dan back in sight as we approached Wild Kitten and at this point I realized that I was going to retake the lead. On the flats towards the finish I took a look back and Dan look further back than he really was, just 4 seconds on the clock! I crossed the finish excited to take the narrow win in my backyard, especially since Fischer was also the title sponsor. Brian came down not long after and then Tristan in 4th.
After hanging out at the finish line for 10 minutes I switched into my alpine gear and came back out to see that Hilary had won for the females. Awesome performance given that she wasn't on race gear. We took a few laps with next to no one skiing that afternoon with April-like weather - this was perfect for the race because it takes the suffering down a notch. At 3pm we gathered for dinner and awards. Corey Madden and his crew did an awesome job with the event from start to finish. It was great to see all the prizes handed out plus the great swag bags that made the $65 pre-registration completely worth it. There's plenty of suggestions to make this race better and there's no doubt in my mind that with a good winter we'll be racing a course that is on par with anything else in the northeast.