Friday, March 20, 2009

Rando Race Beater Gear

While I was at Pierra Menta, I got a few photos of various boots. Every gram counts, or so they say. And racers do all kinds of things to save weight. Below is a boot with a custom plastic throw and cord buckle system.

Here is a similar design, except with an aluminum custom throw.

Check out the holes in this boot.

Here's a mongrel Dynafit boot with custom carbon cuffs.

F1 with custom carbon cuffs.

A super light Pierre Gignoux. I tried some of these on and they are incredibly light. They aren't the most comfortable boot, but if you can shave a pound off each foot, it might be worth it.

Production Scarpa F1 Carbon boots. Next year, only non-modified boots are allowed. What is everyone going to do with their funky mods?

I saw all kinds of broken gear, including broken Crazy skis, broken DNA World Cup skis, and several Trabs like this one. I don't think it matters what the brand is -- racing is tough on light gear.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Pierra Menta: Stage 4

Stage 4 of the Pierra Menta climbed about 6,000 feet. There were two major climbs, the first of which went for almost 4,000 feet. As usual, the first 1k was an all out drag race -- poles banging and clanging, lycra clad europeans charging all over the place, shouting, cowbells, crashing, stench (you can't imagine after 4 days of racing). And then as racers found their rhythm and settled in, a steady sound of marching as 400 racers trudged up the mountain. It sounded like a war scene from Lord of the Rings, except in addition to bugles, there were harmonicas and accordians.

The race purposefully starts with the groomer drag race to allow things to sort out. A natural selection occurs with the fastest racers emerging at the front and then on down. Javier, a Spanish national team member and friend of the US team -- he did the Powderkeg twice when it was a world cup event -- stepped out of his binding at the start and because he didn't want to lose his place, ran on one leg and skinned on the other leg, holding his ski in his hand. When he finally had an open spot where he wouldn't risk losing a place, he clipped in and kept motoring. The day before that, he finished with two broken skis and a gash on his arm that required stitches. It's all out war at the front.

In the middle of the pack, things are less violent, but still very competitive. Brandon and I have found ourselves with several of the same teams over last couple of days, two of which are women teams, one from France and the other from Italy. On Stage 4, we also raced with the Swiss women team, until they streaked by us on the bulletproof, exposed downhill. The Swiss team and France team were battling for second place, and the Italian team for fourth place.

The first climb went relatively well, except for a spot where I had a mini-bonk. Fueling has always been an issue with me. For the most part I have it worked out, but it is a challenge. Prior to the race, I had tried to fuel properly, but after 3 hard days of racing -- over 11 hrs being constantly pinned at altitude -- I think I was running a deficit. Basically, everything I put in was instantly burned. And if I didn't put in enough, I could feel my legs begin to lag. I think I went through 5 or 6 Gus and a half bladder filled with Coke and water. On a normal ~2 hr race, I would only race with one bottle and one Gu.

Brandon was raring to go and set a fast pace. I did my best to keep up, but think he could have gone a bit faster. We were encouraged to hear that we were only 5 minutes behind Pete and Cary at the top of the first ascent. As we approached the top, as we have gotten used to (but will never take for granted), the crowds yelled and cheered. Some people yelled "Allez!" Some people yelled "Go Brandon! Go Jared!" Some people chanted, "Yes we can!" Some people yelled "Obama!" Some people yelled, "Go Japonese!" I didn't correct them.

The first descent, as I mentioned, was bullet proof. I felt I was skiing it very fast, making GS turns, making sure I didn't lose an edge. It was a lot like skiing South Superior. There was exposure on the right and any fall would have sent you into a death slide for 100s of meters. It was about midway down when the Swiss women rocketed past. They ended up finishing 2nd on the day and 2nd overall.

The rest of the course was a mixture of ridgeline booting and steep skinning. Running the course with the French women was fun since they are national heroes. When they would come into view, the crowds would yell and cheer -- "Go Letcia!" (I think they won last year.) The Swedish men's national team joined us around the 2nd ascent as well. We have been together at some point during every stage and have become friends.

Perhaps one of the coolest parts of the whole race was the last summit. It was a boot pack up a knife-edge ridge. There was a light cloud cover hovering on top of the peak. From the bottom of the boot pack, we watched as racers with skis on their back disappeared into the clouds, balancing on the ridge. To the left, the terrain dropped off sharply. The relief was huge. The peaks, including the one on which we were standing, were very sharp and articulate. They were essentially giant shards of rock on which a path had been conveiently cut in the ice and rock. Brandon and I both were in awe as we glanced around. We dared not look because that would have meant taking our eyes off the boot pack, and that could have meant a fall.

At the top of the summit, we began a downhill boot pack. At one point, the the down track had been worn on the right and left, leaving a crotch-height (for tall people) ridge of snow in the middle. Being somewhat vertically challenged, I scrubbed a good 4 inches off the ridge. And then it was a downhill run out of the clouds in ski boots and sugar snow to the transition.

At the transition, I think Brandon and I were still sitting in decent position -- maybe 50ish? However, we had a few mishaps on the downhill. As we left the last transition, I observed an Italian racer desparately skiing off course on one Trab. The other, by the single track off the mountain, had left his foot. It was gone. I doubt he finished. Since the snow was relatively good, Brandon and I skiied fast. The descent was 1500-2000 foot bowl. We GS'd it and then when my legs gave out I had no choice but to straightline it. Unfortunately, my straightline and another racer's straightline intersected. We both tried to correct, but had a collision. I rag-dolled and ended up 10 meters below my pole. As I was rag-dolling, I actually thought, so this is what it's like to rag-doll. I'd never done that before. A spectator skiied down and threw me what he thought was my pole. It turned out that it was simply 18 inches of pole -- one that I had borrowed from Pete since I had snapped my carbon pole two days ago. Disgusted, I threw it across the valley and started skiing down with one pole. I didn't see the guy who I collided with after the collision. I hope he's ok.

For awhile, it was ok that I didn't have a pole. The descent wasn't too technical. But then it turned into a steep north facing tree section with bumps that were taller than me. I developed a system that worked ok -- plant, turn, put pole in other hand, plant, turn, put pole in other hand . . . -- but was glad when a spectator graciously offered her pole. I greedily took it and was able to ski faster, but not after the Italian women rallied by me.

The steep trees emptied out onto a bobsled run, complete with bermed turns. Brandon was eager to get by a competitor who wasn't comfortable maching down a single track, ice covered run. The competitor was rude and held his poles out so Brandon couldn't get by. When Brandon finally put a move on, he got tangled up with the guy's poles and went for a slide. Shortly after that, I lost a pole again, and had to stop to retrieve it.

And then it was over. The whole race was over, and we finished! Brandon and I crossed the line, clanging poles bro syle, then shook hands, then hugged. What an experience.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Pierra Menta: Stage 3

The queen stage of the Pierra Menta was today, Stage 3. It was about 8600 vert, 21k, and involved some technical climbing, requiring a harness and via ferrata. And it was probably one of the coolest experiences of my life. The atmosphere, the mountains, the competitors, the spectators, the course, my partner -- all made for a really great day. Thankfully, my legs and condition was a bit better than yesterday. Yesterday I started the day dehydrated and to make matters worse, ran out of food and water. That' s a bad way to run a 28k 9400 vert day. But today was better. I've posted some pics in an album below. The pics were taken by the Spanish nat team supporter, so that's why there are lots of Spanish guys in the pics. As you can see, the French Alps are amazing.

As for the team, Pete and Cary are going really well and finished 35th today. They could probably finish in the top 40 overall. Me and Brandon are somewhere in the 80s overall. Brad and Jason are hanging tough in the 120s. The women teams have a friendly competition going and switched places today.

Here are some photos:

How did the Powder Keg go?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pierra Menta: Stage 1

I hope to post a more detailed report in the future about the massiveness of the Alps, the huge Euro fields, the spectators (especially the one with an accordian and the ones with deafening basketball-sized cowbells) who skin several thousand feet to be on the top of the mountain, the brutal descents, and ascents now that I think about it, "Team America," equipment, my partner Brandon French, and on and on.

For now, here are the Stats:

Today's course: ~8600 feet, with great skinning and some really really tough descents. My observation is that lots of snow falls here, and then it freezes, mostly on the top.

Winning Time: by the French Team who straightlined or GS'd the really really tough descents and ran up the mountains really fast -- 2:23! At 2:23, we had one climb to go and I saw these guys bombing it off a peak, neck and neck with the Italians. It was super impressive.

Our time: 3:18. I was happy with how I felt. 3:18 was good for, ahem (Eric), 79th place. There are 160 teams, including 12 women teams. Cary and Pete finished in 3:05, placing them in the 40s. With Brandon shortening his stride by 8 inches, coming off a cold, and carrying a shortrope (which, for the record, stayed in the pack), we may be close to evenly matched. I've got to thank him because he's a great partner.

Crazy Start: Imagine a cross race with 320 people with 4 sticks -- two poles and two skis -- wildly swinging and thrusting them around. There were actual pile ups where one person went down an other piled in/on, getting all tangled up. We avoided these.

Triple Track: The course setters must go through a lot. I saw several avalanches. Not sure if they were control work or natural. They also put in three nicely sloping skin tracks. For the first half of the race we skied in various pelotons, moving about like you do in a crit. It was weird.

Specators: I saw several musical instruments, including a harmonica and accordian. The specators were super encouraging, yelling "Allez" "Allez." I nearly lost my hearing when some lady rang a dog-sized cow bell next to my head. It definitely inspired me to go faster.

Alps: Unbelievable. It's like the Wasatch to the fifth power in breadth and relief. Mt. Blanc overlooks the race.

Jet lag: still.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


slc to houston to amsterdam to geneva to chamonix back to geneva

my luggage went to singapore!

hoping to get it back before the race.

everyone arrived safely.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Xterra Skimo Race


Length of Course: 12k
Total Vert: 4262 (according to my Suunto)
Total Descent: 4262
Time: between 1:15 and 1:20
Total Time Climbing: 1:09
Time Descending: 9 min
Rate of ascent: 60 fpm
Placings: Brian Smith (1st), Travis Scheefer (2nd), Mike Tobin (3rd), Me (4th)
Blisters: 1 on my toe
Gates missed: NONE! (Last year I think I was penalized 8 minutes for missing gates)
Athletes "Saving it for tomorrow": Eric Sullivan, Nico LeBrun, Jari Kirkland

Props to the Crested Butte folks for making the drive. Their presence really makes things fun (and competitive).

Friday, March 6, 2009

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Oh Crap.

I just found the Race Bible for the Pierra Menta. I was frustrated at first because I don't speak french and Google doesn't translate .pdf files very well. But then I came to the elevation profiles. I knew that the race climbed 10,000 meters, but I'm not a metric guy, and I guess it didn't really register. I just did the conversions and now I'm scared. Here are the elevation gains per day.

Day 1: 8640 feet
Day 2: 9186 feet
Day 3: 8640 feet
Day 4: 5249 feet

Maybe it's better that I don't speak French that well. Ignorance is bliss. Here is the Bible:

Wasatch Powderkeg -- DO IT!!!!

The Wasatch Powderkeg is coming up. And I'm calling you out. All of you! Bart, Alex, Rich, Tim, Sam, Dug, SBJ, Sunderlages -- any and all of you biker/skier guys. Whether you have big skis, small skis, skinny skis, fat skis, whether you are big, fat, skinny, small, if you do it, I give you my personal guarantee that you will like it. You may not like it so much when you are frothing at the mouth, suffocating at 10k, your skins aren't sticking, or you stack it up in the breakable crust, BUT at some point in your life, you will like it and want more. When else do you have the opportunity to bang out 5k up and down in ~2 hrs.

PS I'm not going to be there, but I will be suffering just like you. (I'll be in France at the Pierra Menta.)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Box Elder -> Pfeif -> Superior

Bart and I chose 3 11k+ peaks evenly spaced, climbed them, and then skiied them. Bart might have some pictures later.


Peaks Skiied: Box Elder (TNF), Pfeif (Westish off the top, then North), Superior (Northish into Cardiff via chute)
Vertical Feet Ascended: 12,600 (including a vehicle assisted ride from Tanners to Alta)
Vertical Feet Descended: 10,500
Put in: Dry Creek TH, Alpine, UT @ 06:00
Take out: Cardiff Fork, Big Cottonwood Canyon # 15:40
Miles: ???
Total Time: ~ 9hrs
Arrival on Box Elder: ~09:00
Arrival on Pfeif: ~12:00
Arrival on Superior: ~14:30
Bathroom Break: 1 at Alta Lodge
Hrs. of Sleep the preceeding night: 5
Hrs. of Sleep night after the tour: 11
Number of Bindings Mounted preceeding night: 1 pair
Number of Boot Liners molded preceeding night: 1 pair
Number of Skins trimmed preceeding night 1 pair
Food Consumed: 1 PROBAR, 1 Cliff blocks, 1 Nutella Sandwich, 1 Apple, 1 Orange, 3 Gus, 1 snack size bag of skittles
Hydration: 1 bottle energy drink, 1 camelback bladder
No. of rides Hitched: 2 -- 1 from Tanners to Alta, 1 from Cardiff to Barbacoa
Scent of weed in our benefactor's truck: yes
Snow conditions: blue ice to legitimate pow (all of the North aspect of Superior into Cardiff fork)
Weather: Bluebird.
Skis: 160 cm, 62 mm waist, Dynafit SR 11 (Me), 167, 73 mm waist, Dynafit ST 7 (Bart), 176 cm, 100+ waisted, Bluehouse Districts (Sam)
Bindings: Dynafit Low Tech (me), Dynafit TLT Speed (Bart), BD O1s (Sam)
Boots: Dynafit TLT Pro Race (me), Scarpa F1 (Bart), Scarpa T2s (Sam)
Tights: yes (Guy who pick us up in Cardiff: "Hey, were you guys cross country skiing? Me: Ummm, kind of. I guess we did start in Alpine.")

This trip inspired me to make a post on Light and Fast (or is it Fast and Light) gear, which I intend to get to at a later date. Suffice it to say that we did some real skiing and I was never wanting for fatter longer skis. I hereby prophesy that the trend toward fatter waisted skis will reverse itself in the year 2010. . . . :)