|Guides Ridge- Photo Marni Matner|
A couple of weeks after the US Championships I loaded in the car with future superstar Micah Thatcher and we made the drive to Crested Butte, Colorado for the North American Ski Mountaineering Championships. We met Bryce and Melanie Thatcher in CB and they took phenomenal care of us all weekend, HUGE THANKS! The Championships consisted of two days of racing; day 1 was the sprint event and day 2 the individual race, which was touted as “putting the mountaineering back in ski mountaineering racing”. At registration on Friday night the usual suspects were all present, plus a strong contingency from the Canadian National Team and two of the world’s top skimo racers, Manfred and Lorenzo of the Italian National Team.
Saturday morning we woke to cold temperatures and clear skies. We skinned to the start of the race and spent a little over an hour warming up and trying to stay warm. It turns out the temp at the start of the race was in the neighborhood of -20 degrees. The women went first and seemed to be putting up very strong times on the about 6 minute long sprint course. The race was done time trial style, with racers starting every 30 seconds. I was seeded behind Lorenzo and hoped to just keep him in sight during the event, as well as to try not getting got by the racer behind me. The first climb and descent went awesome, I felt very strong and fast, I left the second transition and felt like I was closing on Lorenzo. As I rounded the first kick turn on the 2nd climb my entire right skin blew off, as I reached down to fix it, the left blew as well. I had a complete adult temper tantrum as I furiously tried to get my skins back on. I was passed by two racers as I dealt with the mechanical. I was very disappointed when I finally got across the finish line as I had, had such a strong first half of the race, that was completely eclipsed by a gear failure. I was not the only one that had trouble, the combo of dry snow and extremely cold temps wreaked havoc on lots of racers. After the first day of racing I was deep in the mid-pack.
After the race was over we headed back to the hotel, showered, put on warmer clothes, and went out to ski the open areas of the individual course for the next day. After a few laps on the mountain we went back to the hotel to lay low and recover for the next days effort. That evening we had to pass a proficiency test with via ferrata’s and ascenders. There was a fixed rope set-up in side the hotel where racers practiced (some using the gear for the first time) and passed of skills that would be required to ascend Guides Ridge the next morning. It was super fun to see people getting excited about the prospect of a challenging technical ascent, a lot of people were pretty nervous as well.
The next morning again was cold, but not quite as cold as the day before. After a brief warm-up we toed the line. I knew that there was a need to be near the front for most of the first climb so that I wouldn’t get caught in a bottleneck on the technical ridge. I went out hard, and fell in behind the Canadian National Champ-Reiner Thoni. We were very quickly dropped by the Italians, who would be out front all day. Reiner gapped me a little and joined Marshal Thompson and Brian Smith in a chase pack and I got caught by John Brown of Crested Butte. He stuck right on my tails as I floundered up the 100 or so kick turns that led to the base of Guides Ridge. I made a quick transition on to the ropes and passed Marshal at the first set of anchors. I was able to move quickly up the ridge with no one right in front of me. The climbing was super fun, a little technical with some exposure thrown in for good measure. Jason Dorais reeled me in a little on the climb, so I developed a bit of a plan on how to get away... as I crested the top I very quickly pulled my ascender and ferrata kit from the rope wildly sprinted down to the skis-on transition. I had hoped that I could gap Jason just a little and it worked!
The ski transition went smooth and I straightlined the descent as much as I could. I spent the next loop in no man’s land, I couldn’t see Reiner ahead of me or see Jason reeling me in. I pushed hard hopeful to gain and not get caught. I started lapping some folks as I went down the third descent and started the last climb, it helped to have people to chase down. I kept the hammer down, knowing all too well that Jason was hot on my tails. I skied the last descent faster than I should have, and then suffered hard up the final 300m skate to the finish.
I finished 4th in the individual race, and 2nd North American. My time lead from the second day was big enough to offset my flounder from the day before so I was alble to hold on to 2nd for the North American Champs (since Lorenzo and Manfred are from Italy they were not eligible to be North American Champions). I was amazed at how well the Italians raced, but felt better about my efforts as the two of them won the teams race at the European Championships the very next weekend. After 4 races Manfred finished 2nd overall, stout indeed!
Micah had solid performances both days, although he did get caught in traffic on the ridge where some racers claimed to have been held up for 40 minutes! We hung around CB waiting for the awards, and somewhere around 3:30pm we loaded in the car and made the bleary eyed drive all the way back to Pocatello. Just after 1:00 am we pulled into the driveway, alive but so worked from racing hard and then sitting in the car for 10 hours.
Gear for the races:
Boots: La Sportiva Stratos evo (1st race in the new boots=awesome!)
Skis: La Sportiva RSR with RSR bindings
Skins: Pomoca Race
Suit: Crazy Idea/Sportiva Suit
Technical Equipment: Camp Via Ferrata and ascender, Camp Speed Helmet, Camp probe and shovel.
Nutrition: First Endurance EFS and EFS LS mixed in the slurry, Ultragen for recovery.