Friday, March 28, 2008

Dusk Patrol: The Y

On somewhat of a whim, i.e. tired of studying and tired of working, Sam and I cut out at 4:00 yesterday to ski a chute. We settled on the Y, the daddy of chutes in Little Cottonwood. Since our objective was simply to get out and ski a chute, we weren't disappointed or that surprised that the Y was filled with thousands of frozen soccer-ball-sized chunks of ice.

The first challenge is the stream. Stream crossings are always fun. On the way back, I was too tired to try to balance on the rocks, so I just waded it.

The Y, according to my watch is 3600 vertical feet from the stream to the top. The lower apron was really icy. I was wishing that I had some crampons and an axe/whippet. Has anyone seen my ice gear?

We ascended straight up the gut.

And it kept on going.

And going.

And going.

The Y offers some great views of the backside of Twin, including Lisa Falls.

And views of the valley and the lake.

The last lip was pretty steep and a bit hairy. I wished I had an axe.

And the top offered views of the Pfeif.

We descended right as the sun was setting and found some nice snow in the top bowl.

And lots of death balls in the lower chute. We made it out just as it got dark.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Race 4: US Ski Mountaineering Champs at Jackson

The race at Jackson was a good one. It was kind of odd driving into Teton Village in March and not September. As I drove into Teton Village, the various LOTOJA battles that have been fought on that stretch flashed through my mind. The flashbacks almost made me break my committment to not do LOTOJA 2008 -- almost. In September, the mountains backing the village aren't covered with snow. This time they were. Lots of it. It had been snowing all week. Mike Werner, a patroller, course setter, and racer said he had never seen this much snow in March.

The race course climbed about 6100 vertical feet. The first climb was up groomers, the second climb was technical and finished with a brutally long bootpack, and the third climb was simply epic -- a skin, another long and steep bootpack, and a climb up an aluminum ladder up the vertical lip of Corbet's Couloir. The descents, particularly the last one that dropped 4000 vertical in one run, were equally challenging. A large portion of the last descent was 40 plus degrees on frozen crud moguls.

Results-wise, the Jackson race was almost a replay of the Powderkeg. The top 4 were the same: Brandon French, Pete Swenson, Cary Smith, and Mike Tobin. Zahan Billimoria took the fifth spot, and I finished 6th. Brandon finished in 2:04 ish. I was 10 minutes behind at 2:14.

Zahan and I had a memorable race. Zahan dropped me on the first climb. On the second climb, I got past him, and opened up a small gap. That gap held up the third climb. However, on the last quarter of the descent, I watched helplessly as Zahan and his Trabs ripped by me on the steep frozen crud. I had fallen several times on the hard, unforgiving snow and had become a bit gun shy. In hindsight, I should have just pointed my tips down and yelled, "Banzai!!" -- kamikaze style. I caught up and briefly passed Zahan on the final skate/herringbone section. He rallied, got the jump on me over the top and I wasn't able to ever get him back. Nice job Z and sorry for taking you out at the finish (we both came into the finish at over 30 mph).

Also, nice job to brother Sam. Sam was on his way to a podium finish in the Rec division before he ripped the Dynafit toepiece out of my trusty Havocs. Although he missed the podium, he earned several style points by skiing most of the mountain on one ski.

That pretty much wraps my short ski racing season. Given the nice weather the entries on this blog will likely revert to biking. Before they do, however, I want to make a pitch for rando racing. It's a great sport and I hope it grows. If you're an endurance junkie -- biker, runner, tri-geek, nordic skier -- you should think about trying rando racing!!! Word is that next year there might be a mid-week series, kind of like our mid-week crit series. If you have any questions about what's involved, drop me a line (or an email).

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Race 3: Black Diamond Powderkeg

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

Executive Summary

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.

My Race

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!!

The Reunion

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.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Race 2: Xterra Ski Mountaineering Race and Some Other Stuff


I'm not sure how to report on this race. Most importantly, it was fun, well-run, and a great opportunity to meet and race with some cool guys (and girls). I hope this event grows in popularity and that Xterra sticks with it. Snowbasin is a great venue.

As for results, it's complicated. Did I cross the line first? Yes. Did I get the best time? Not on paper. Did I win? Yes and no. Let me explain:

I registered for the 12k Mens' Race division. I lined up at the start line with some Tri Elite fast looking dudes, including Mike Tobin and Nico Lebrun. We all took off running at the start -- actually I was running, and Tobin and Nico were jogging. The three of us climbed the first pitch together. Nico was on a svelte rando racing setup with Dynafit Low Techs, F1s and Dynastars. Tobin was on some funky nordic setup with steel edges and low support-less XC boots. Both of them were very fast.

I lost touch with Nico and Tobin at the beginning of the second pitch, which was up a steep, packed, and long bowl. When I got dropped, I was climbing at about 80 feet per minute, which is too fast for me. Since I thought all of us were racing in the same division, I focused on holding 3rd place.

Toward the top of the second pitch, I looked behind me, and was surprised to see someone gaining on me. Midway of the bowl, I had looked back and no one was in sight. I put my head down and waddled faster. It turns out that the person behind was MTB legend Mike Kloser, who was doing the 8k race as a tune up for the big event on Saturday. Lucky for me, before he overtook me, he took the 8k route, and I took the 12k route and my 3rd place seemed secure.

On the first descent, as I have done in all other skimo races, I tucked and took the fastest line down the hill. On the periphery, I saw some slalom gates, but I didn't make an effort to go around them. My object was to get down the mountain as fast as I could.

I raced the rest of the race by myself and at my own pace. On the final climb, I saw Nico ahead, but no Tobin. Soon after that, someone yelled to me that Tobin had gone off course and that I was in second place. That same person yelled that I needed to "hit the gates." So I hit all the gates after that.

On the final descent, I thought it was weird that I was being followed by video cameras. When I crossed the line -- and after I had hit all the gates in the pic above -- I heard the announcer say that I was the first one in the 12k race to come across the line. Apparently, Nico had gone off course too. A few minutes later, however, I was informed that because I had missed several gates, I was being assessed an 8 MINUTE penalty. Ouch. My argument that I didn't believe in gates and that I think gates in a ski mountaineering race is lame (are there gates in the backcountry? no.) was unavailing. That relegated me to second overall and "first" in the "Men's Senior" Division, which was a surprise to me, because I thought all of us were in the same division. In any event, I was happy with 2nd overall, and 1st in the Men's Senior Division. Most of all, I was glad to have had the opportunity to race with some fast guys. (The race on Sat. must have been really exciting.)


On Saturday, we had big plans. We wanted to climb the Twins and ski Lisa Falls. Chris Peters, Bart, and I set out from the Mill B trailhead. We looked like a Scarpa/BD/Dynafit ad. All three of us were wearing some iteration of a Scarpa boot. All three of us were on BD skis. All three of us were on Dynafits. Oh, and one of us was wearing powder blue pants that matched HIS woman specific powder blue skis (hint: it wasn't me or Chris).

However, due to weather and time constraints we didn't make the Twin summit and hit Bonkers instead. We were pleasantly surprised to find some nice snow. Bart has a good report and some photos here. I have to say that skiing in clouds with zero visibility is pretty hard, but even harder is crossing a river with skis on. It wasn't a pretty sight.


After the Bonkers foray, I skied at Alta with Ethan and some friends. We also got a run in on Toledo bowl. I got the chute.

After all this skiing, my legs and lungs are thrashed. I'm either on the cusp and hopefully will have some good "super compensation." Or I'm over the cusp and torched. The P Keg is coming up this weekend, so I'm going to have to do a disciplined taper this week.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Taper Session Gone Wild

I'm racing again tomorrow, so today I went out to do a nice little warm up taper session -- just a few short efforts and some skiing to get the legs moving. BUT, as I was skinning along, I stumbled upon an Olympus hidden couloir. I started up it thinking I would turn around at the top of the apron. But when I got to the top of the apron, I couldn't resist. I took my skis off, and booted 1000 feet up the gut. As I got higher, the snow got better, the walls got steeper, and the couloir got narrower. It was beautiful and there was just enough space to ski it.

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Monday, March 3, 2008

Race 1: OR Vertfest at Crystal Mountain

Last Saturday I participated in the 2nd annual Outdoor Research rando rally at Crystal Mountain. It was a weekend of firsts for me -- first time to Seattle, first time being in the Cascades and in the midst of Ranier (which I now want/need to ski), first non-Powder Keg rando race, first time racing with my new Dynafit gear, and, unlike years of past, e.g. 2006, I never felt like I was having a personal meltdown. The absence of the feeling of imminent disaster, which is a worthwhile rush in and of itself, was pleasantly balanced out by the fact that (a) I did a decent race, finishing in the number 2 spot overall, and (b) Karen was able to be there. The Vertfest left a lasting impression. I'll likely go back. Here's why:

Why am I the only one running?

I was a bit confused by the race start. Having just emerged from the cross season, I am used to fast and furious starts; the euro footage of rando race starts are even faster and furious-er. Last year at the Pkeg, the start was a stampede. Furthermore, I showed up at the Vertfest wearing a skinsuit. So, I had no choice. When I heard the word "go," I went. I ran. The odd part was that I don't think very many other people ran. I don't know why. Maybe it was because all of the fast guys were skiing in Europe. Maybe it was because other racers didn't want to look as goofy as me: running in randonee gear is admittedly not that elegant. Because I was focused on not to tripping over my skis, I didn't look around and I didn't have time to be self conscious. I just ran.

The rest of the race.

Because I ran, I got a gap. The only person who bridged that gap was Benedikt Bohm. Because his name was Benedikt spelled with a "k," he was wearing a skinsuit identical to mine, he had long blond hair, and had a German accent, I surmised that he was a force to be reckoned with. Little did I know that "Bennie" was a true skiing rockstar. Had I known that this, maybe I wouldn't have run. More on Bennie's rockstar status later.

Bennie crossed the gap quickly and joined me on the first climb. Shortly thereafter he passed me. I tried to hold his skis, but the gap increased on the boot pack up the K2 face. After the first descent, I don't think I saw him. The rest of the race, I kept a decent LT pace (as opposed to a lungs on fire pace). I even caught myself looking around at the scenery and may have even smiled once or twice. When my skins failed midway up the final climb, I removed my pack, pulled out my spare set, put them on, and kept climbing. I didn't crash in the icy couloir, and crossed the line in 1:50, 5 minutes after Bennie whose time was 1:45. The third place finisher, a Vancouverite originally from Slovakia, finished a few minutes later.

The Gear.

In ski mountaineering races, gear is important. Every little piece is part of a large machine. If everything's not clicking, then things can get really frustrating. Part of the reason I was happy with my race is that I finally feel like I have my gear dialed in. As I mentioned, I was racing on a new Dynafit setup -- super lightweight skis (SR 11s), super lightweight bindings (Low Tech Race), and a stylish skinsuit. For boots I was wearing my trusty modified F1s, laced together with parachute cord and duct tape. For skins, I was using Dynafit mohairs, and carried a spare set of ABS nylon mohair mix skins in my pack. Because I got snow all over my Dynafit skins in the first transition, they eventually failed and I was grateful to have the spare set. My pack was a CAMP XLP 290 super lightweight pack. In addition to being lightweight, it has a ski carry system that allows you to get skis on and off your pack without taking it off, which is a big time saver for the boot pack section. Poles-wise, I could have done better. I was using some cheap nordic poles that kept bending. I lost some time trying to reshape them. I also lost some time taking my pack off to replace my skins. Next time I'll do better.

Food-wise, I carried a hydration bladder in my pack. I only carried 24 oz. of gatorade/water mix. I ate one gel during the race.

Being in the midst of Rockstars.

The Vertfest was attended by some high profile backcountry skiers. They included Lowell Skoog (Cascades adventurer and brother of the late Carl Skoog), Martin Volken (a guide and author of a book on ski mountaineering), Tim Kelly of Dynafit, and Backcountry Magazine. And then, of course, there was Bennie. As I later learned from Tim, probably because Bennie is too modest, Bennie is a world class ski mounaineer. In addition to being on the German national team, Bennie has racked up several one-day first descents of several 8,000 plus meter peaks, including Manaslu, Gasherbrum II, Mustagh Ata. If you're a Dynafit junkie, you'll notice that these are the names of their latest line of skis -- all named after Bennie's ski exploits. Here's an account of Bennie's Gasherbrum II exploit.

A three sentence editorial.

I think it is intriguing and great for the industry and the sport that the heads of the backcountry skiing/ski mountaineering state are throwing their weight behind rando racing. Bennie has certainly shown that rando racing and the cutting edge of ski mountaineering go hand in hand. I am certainly convinced that rando racing skills are directly transferable to backcountry touring and ski mountaineering -- applying the gear and know-how allows any tourer or mountaineer to travel faster and further. I like to think that's the name of the game. (Sorry, that was four sentences.)