Brundage Northwest Passage Race Report

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. 

Right before it all went to shit.

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! 

Week of December 12 - 18

Early Season Trip to Idaho!

This was a big week, or rather build up heading into a big weekend. I had a lot of energy and motivation over the past few weeks to cram what skiing I could to prepare for the first SkiMo races of the season. They didn't go exactly as planned but the experience was well worth the money and effort to get there. More details on those races coming soon.

The week in general was low key with a nice powder day up at Pinkham Notch followed by a few easy days leading into Idaho. The week was capped off by a nice and easy tour in the mountains just outside of Boise so enjoy the gallery below:

Monday: Ski - Wildcat / Sherb
Tuesday: A couple laps at KP, Powder Hour
Wednesday: Rest
Thursday: Travel
Friday: Lift Served Brundage / Vertical Race
Saturday: Brundage Northwest Passage DNF
Sunday: Boise Backcountry Tour: Mores Creek Summit






Skimo Challenge - Jay Peak

I was told early on this winter not to miss the Jay Peak race so I made sure to add it to my race schedule. Jay boasts the highest annual snowfall in the east, some of the best glade / backcountry skiing, and great terrain / vertical to match. The usual Northeast contingency was pre-registered for this race and I recruited Tristan Williams to come for the weekend. We were the first ones to arrive in Glover, VT at our AirBnB, about 45 minutes south of Jay. The big draw of staying here was that it was an easier Friday night drive for the Mass crew but also located a couple miles from the Parker Pie Company which cycles 5+ Hill Farmstead brews plus amazing pizza. You also have to check out Currier's Market that was two doors down from us and has a fetish for taxidermy. We had pre-race dinner and drinks at PPC and were in bed before anyone even arrived. 

The morning of the race Tristan and I were up early so we left for Jay early. It was brisk (6ºF) but bluebird and forecasted to warm up. I went through my normal pre-race routine, bathroom, warm up, bathroom and felt really good. The game plan was to try to hang on George and overtake him on the downhills. We started at 8:30am, right up a groomer so there was no sprinting for the holeshot but we did go out fast. The first climb doesn't really begin until 0.6mi when you turn onto Derick Hot Shot which was firm and bumped up. This terrain is where George Visser really crushes. He is so good on technical ascents whereas many of the racers were slipping and switchbacking, he was just going straight up. I moved into 2nd or 3rd towards the top of the first ascent (1,200') and George didn't have more than 30s on us. The course drops into Kitz Woods glade before dumping out on a groomer. It was a relief to ski challenging terrain like this and I was able to make up good time and even catch George on back at the ski to skin transition. We headed back up for the next ascent together but as soon as we hit the bumped up terrain he once again gapped me. This ascent (~1,900') also included a bootpack section before plateauing onto a groomer to the summit. At this point I'm not sure where 3rd place was but I was behind by roughly 40 seconds as we approached the top of the tram. I wasn't sure of the course and had to ski tentatively on the descent to make sure I didn't get off course. It can be very difficult to see flags while skiing around the general public. There were a few bumps in one section of the descent but overall very mellow. I spotted George skating the flats just 10s ahead and made a push to catch him. Little did I know our next ski to skin transition would be the start of our last climb (I thought there was one more little one based on last year's course). George exited the transition 10s ahead of me and I went after him but he held his lead, eventually building a 30s gap as we ascended more groomers followed by one last bootpack to the last transition at the Upper River Quad. I was definitely tired at this point but also didn't make a big push which let George hold his lead into the last descent. Unfortunately he is a strong skier which meant that I really had no chance of catching him on Power Line which was firm and bumped up. But in the race mindset I thought to should go full send after seeing a sign that said "ski to the finish!". I could see George down towards the flats and next thing you know I'm in the backseat out of control ripping through the bumps. Having little to no tail on my skis a crash was inevitable. I slammed onto my back/ass unknowingly snapping the tail of my ski. I had another crash and limped into the finish. 

In hindsight I really wish I knew the course better but also need to know when to relax and minimize the risk of breaking my equipment or injury! It was a lot of fun yo-yo'ing this race and having a shot at winning. Having challenging descents was a huge advantage for me but my climbing wasn't too shabby either. Aside from that last descent, my race execution was near perfect although I need to work on my technical ascents in the bumps. 

Tristan and I made an effort to pull flags but were too slow (because I was so slow changing out gear - it hurt to bend over at that point). We did a short lap anyway since we made the effort to change up. After awards we went to ski the backside of Jay and ended up making a couple runs down Little Jay. I can't say enough about the SkimoEast crew (especially Lyne and Jeff), the skimo community, and how fun this course was. Already looking forward to next year!

Bootpack attack. p: David Moore

Bluebird Jay. We would Ascend up to the summit as well as mid mountain.

And we're off! p: David Moore


And a little gallery of additional photos: 

Cross Cat Touring Challenge

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. 

Elite Wave Start. p: Wildcat

Top Elite Men: Dan Gay, Andrew Drummond, Brian MacIlvain. p: Wildcat.

Hilary McCloy and I took the Elite Category. New skis and bindings!

Getting that Sun Burn.

2016 Cross Cat Touring Challenge Results.

Q Burke Skimo Race

This last Saturday I finally got to try out a Skimo race. It was put on by and was a burley course at Burke Mountain consisting of nearly 12 miles  and 5,500' vert with six bootpack sections and 3 ski descents. I was excited to see how I'd stack up against fellow east coast skiers - I knew I had the fitness to perform well but there's a lot of things that need to go right and it was evident out of the start how many things could go wrong. No more than 15 seconds into the race my goggles popped off my helmet and onto the snow, killing my chance at getting a good position heading into the wooded skintrack. I worked my way up to 5th place or so but had a second malfunction at the first bootpack when my skis fell off my pack. I dropped back to 10th and worked to make my way back up to 8th but was bottlenecked behind several skiers who were moving well but I wasn't working very hard at this point and the leaders were definitely gapping us. We popped out of the woods and the course from here on out was opened up, no more getting trapped behind anyone, it was up to me to step it up and close the gap. The first descent I moved into 4th place. I saw the leaders ahead on the first ascent under the lift. It was a skin/bootpack/skin section. It was here where I realized I lost my pole basket - not a show stopper but certainly didn't make things any easier. There wasn't anyone immediately near me at this point which made it hard to push myself but at the same time I needed to save some gas for the last lap. The ski descent on the East Bowl trail was fun and familiar - Exactly like the Sherbie mid spring - bumped up with descent coverage and just a few grass/rock sections. I was able to make up enough time on the descent to put 4th place skier, Lyne Bessette (Bunny), in my sight for the last ascent. I didn't gain any time on her on the uphill but on the last downhill, I was able to pass her merging back on the groomer before the lodge. She kindly guided me from behind telling me where to go to get down to the finish and I crossed the line in 3rd place, just over two hours. I was very happy with my debut and know that there's a ton of room for improvement. With this race under my belt I'll be looking to head over the the other VT races at Jay and Magic. Here are some photos from the race:

Race Start. Missed the memo on the theme party. p: David Moore 

Burke with a fresh dusting of snow. p: David Moore

Coming out of the woods after a tough skin / bootpack. p: David Moore

Sharing the podium with some very talented atheletes. p:  David Moore

Sharing the podium with some very talented atheletes. p: David Moore