This is the race that started it all -- for me and and a lot of others. It started in 2003; 2008 was its sixth year running. I raced the inaugural 2003 race, missed 2004 and 2005 while I was living in Vegas, and raced 2006 and 2007. As far as having some good war stories to tell, 2008 wasn't that great. I didn't get lost, I didn't forget my gear, I didn't get pipped at the line, and I was actually prepared. But, as far as having a relatively smooth race and getting results, I was satisfied with 2008.
Photo taken from www.bdel.com
First position was battled out primarily by Brandon French from Montana, Pete Swenson from Colorado, and Cary Smith from Wyoming. They finished in that order with Brandon coming in at around 1:52, Pete 30 seconds after that, and Cary at around 1:54. Michael Tobin from Idaho finished fourth at 2:04ish. I, from Utah, finished fifth 30 seconds after Tobin. The intermountain west was nearly fully and equally represented.
I've been thinking of this race for several months now and have been working on improving last year's finish (2:20 and 11th place). With the help of Dynafit, I acquired some fast and light gear. Fitness-wise, I've spent most of my winter backcountry skiing, as opposed to cycling or skate skiing, which has helped a lot. Thinking about it so much, I probably psyched myself out. However, the jitters disappared when the gun went off.
When the gun sounded, I ran. It's a race right? And I wanted the "hole shot." In cross and MTB races, if you don't get the hole shot, you risk getting stuck if the course bottlenecks into singletrack; and it always does. Likewise, in skimo races, if you don't get the hole shot, you risk getting stuck and getting gapped when everyone has to go single file.
Luckily, my run got me the hole shot . . . well, kind of. I found myself running next to Cary, and I was happy to let him take the lead into the fresh snow. Cary set a fiery pace up the first pitch; I tried to hold on; and a small gap formed. On the second pitch, which was mostly groomed, a few of the strongest guys (Pete, Tobin, and French) easily closed the gap and passed right by me. Thus, in the first 15 minutes of the race, the top 5 was essentially decided.
When I got passed, I was redlined and knew that I didn't quite have the fitness to contend. So, I focused on holding the fastest pace I could and holding off a couple racers who weren't too far behind me (I could hear them breathing and, once in awhile, cursing). As I neared the top of the first climb, I noticed that I was frothing at the mouth. I think I might have thrown up a little too. Yeah, it hurt.
The froth was wiped away on the first desent -- Gunsight at Alta -- when my face had a brush with the snow. Had it been any other day, I would have said that the snow was amazing. However, 15 inches of new during a rando race makes things tough. It's hard to enjoy bottomless powder on 160 cm skinny skis and lactate infused legs. Given the gear, the wide-stance, bent over form, and the speed at which I traveled (or attempted to), I was a picture perfect out of control skier. I'm sure the 'troller watching at the top of Gunsight was appalled.
After the first descent, I skinned up and headed up the Grizzly Gulch skin track, and then up the Patsy Marly ridge. During this time and for most of the race, I didn't see anyone in front of me or behind me. That was good and bad. Bad in the sense that I was totally out of contention for the win and didn't have any external motivating factors to push the pace up. Good in the sense that no one was threatening to overtake me. Accordingly, there wasn't any more froth or vomit on the next three climbs.
The descent of the Patsy Marly shoulder went relatively well. As I was developing my back seat, keep my tips above the snow technique, I was wishing that I hadn't made my skis so fast the night before. On the third climb, I began to pass some of the Rec Division skiers. They were good sports in two ways: first, when I gasped "track," they pulled off the skin track to let me by; second, many of them were on telemark gear -- and they were still smiling. (Kidding.)
Midway up the fourth climb, I spotted Mike Tobin. As I learned after the race, his skins weren't properly sticking. Seeing that he was within reach, I tried to up my pace a bit. I got to the top of the fourth climb just in time to see him rip his last skin and begin his descent.
In the transition zone, I reached down to buckle my boots and put my Dynafits into lockdown mode. But I was so exhausted that I didn't have the strength to lift up the tab on my heelpiece. After 30 seconds of struggle, I got the job done, ripped the skins off my other ski, stuffed them in my suit, and headed down. I tried to go fast on the descent, but got going a bit too fast. My tips sunk and I think I did at least two somersaults through the air/snow. I may have thrown in a twist, or, for that matter, I may have done three somersaults. The fact is, that I don't know. To the telemark dude who stopped and asked, "Dude, are you ok?" I say, thanks. I couldn't say thanks then because my nostrils and mouth were full of snow.
I skiied the rest of the descent slightly more conservatively. When I got to Albion, I could see Tobin ahead. However, Tobin had a sweet V2 skate going, and he crossed the line in a well-deserved fourth place, with me following about 30 seconds later. (Keep an eye on Tobin. He has the capacity to be really really fast.)
I'm grateful I had a decent race and am happy with the improvement and the result, but I can't help asking myself if/how I could have gone faster. After all, Brandon, the winner, put 12 minutes into me. So, could I have gone faster? I think so. I'm going to be working on 3 aspects for next year and races to come.
1. Technique: There are several styles of skinning. Some skin with a fast cadence; others with a long, terrain-eating stride. Usage of poles and the upper body also comes into play. Cary had a distinct gliding technique. Both Pete and Brandon were using some sort of forward lean waddle technique. I really don't have a tecnique. My thought is that if I develop one, I might get a bit faster.
2. Skins: I've heard there are ways to make skins glide faster. But like I said, I've only heard. Wink wink.
3. Transitions: There is room for improvement in the transition area. The biggest way to lose time is to stand still. Gotta move, gotta move!!
One of the funnest parts of the race was getting together with "Team Primrose" and seeing several familiar faces. Team Primrose was formed during 2001 to 2003 when a small group of us began skiing the Southern Wasatch. Team Primrose holds a special place in my heart because skiing-wise, we grew up together. That's another way of saying that when we first began skiing together, we pretty much sucked. We hadn't skiied together for a few years, and it was pretty funny and admittedly a bit gay when the three of us showed up for Interlodge driving silver Subarus. Both Joey and Matt put in good times. Matt was a strong seventh place, and Joey finished 11th.
So, that's another Powder Keg in the books. Thanks to all those who put it on. It was a good one.
One more thing: I owe it to one of my training partners (who happens to be a splitboarder) to mention that Splitboarders were BANNED from the Powderkeg this year. He was heartbroken and couldn't get out of bed the next morning because he wasn't allowed to participate in the P-Keg. I know that Splitboarders are an inferior breed when it comes to moving fast in the backcountry -- all that futzing with gear -- but this is the US of A, and that kind of blatant discrimination is surprising to me. . . Ok ok, the truth of it is that I'm sure the P-Keg organizers would have loved to have the splitters in the mix; but, if there is one absolute truth in the universe, it is that: Alta is for Skiers. Sorry Jon. Just one more reason to get some Dynafits and skis.