Sunday, March 3, 2013

Ski Mountaineering World Championships Round-up

When I went to Europe for the Ski Mountaineering World Championships a few weeks ago I intended on writing a brief write-up every day about the races and the things Team USA was up to.  Well, as often happens, I found myself much busier than expected and chose to take extra time to recover or (gasp) ski! So here I find myself, home for almost two weeks, sitting at the keyboard trying to figure out how to share what happened.  In an attempt to keep my adult ADD in check, I am going to summarize what happened and share a bunch of pics.  If you want to hear more, leave a message below and I may or may not write a more detailed post about a certain part of the trip.

The Backdrop to the Teams Race

Saturday February 9
Most of the team spent the morning getting registered and doing recon of the individual course that would be held the next day.  Marshall Thompson, my partner for the teams race, and I broke off from the main group to talk strategy and to scout the middle fourth of the course. Seeing what the race officials had put together, coupled with the amazing backdrop, had both of us pretty fired up to get after it the next day.

Team USA 
That afternoon we attended the opening ceremonies. It is pretty cool to be able to represent your country and at the same time I find these events a bit intimidating.  It marks the pinnacle of so much hard work and the start of finding out where you stand amongst the best in the world.  Needless to say the pre-race jitters kicked in.

Sunday February 10

The Very Fast start of the Teams Race, Marshall and I are 32A/32B on the edge of the picture. 

We woke up to pretty cold temperatures and made our way to the start line.  The race started in the valley near the river, well below the Vallouise Ski Area and worked its way up (with a couple of climbs and descents) to a high point above and outside of the area.  We then enjoyed a very long descent (with one small climb) back to the valley and had a long skate back to town.  Just outside of town we had to put our skins on for one final slight uphill to finish at the town center.

The race for Marshall and I went well.  We had no serious mechanical issues, both of us felt good on the climbs, and we skied the descents well.  We finished 17th overall, 2nd US team, and 3rd North American Team.  We watched the rest of the US teams come in and then headed over the the lunch tent to work on recovering for the sprint race the very next day.

That afternoon I had the tremendous opportunity to represent the US at the athlete meeting.  Athletes from all of the participating countries were present to discuss Ski Mountaineering Racing, some of the rules, and from our standpoint what needed to be changed and improved upon.  The meeting was directed by Kilian Jornet and Mireia Miro.  I sat next to the amazing Spanish mountain runner Marc Pinasch.  I was a bit starstruck during the meeting and was pretty fired up to be part of the sports progress.

Monday February 11
A bunch of new snow fell overnight.  I was excited at the prospect of a powder day, but first was the sprint race. The sprint format is fairly new to skimo racing.  It was designed to concentrate the elements of a skimo race into a spectator-friendly format.  The way the course is designed it should take the top men about 2:30 to finish it. I raced this race in Claut two years ago, and was excited to throw down on the short course again.

Sprinting as fast as possible

My race went pretty well.  I felt pretty flat from the previous day's effort, and kind of flubbed one of my transitions.  I finished 34th overall, tied to the hundredth of a second with fellow US racer Max Taam.  Andy Dorais took home the top US spot in 31st.  All of the team US men fell outside of the quarterfinals (30), so we put on puffy coats to cheer on the women.  Nina Silitch made US Skimo history by battling super hard to a 2nd place.  It was incredibly impressive to see her do so well.

That afternoon team USA went to the awards ceremony to cheer for Nina, and after that there was a whole lot of celebrating.

Tuesday February 12
Tuesday was one of the highlights of the whole trip for me.  I was able to get out on the course and cheer for my good friend, Micah Thatcher.  Micah is an amazing 17-year-old who I have been helping get into the sport. He came to the Worlds as our only junior racer and did an incredible job duking it out with some über tough euros.  He fought hard the entire race.  He had an epic crash after straight-lining an entire descent that resulted in a broken ski. We scrambled to help him find a ski, and after a few minutes we had him back on course.  He continued to rally and finished a very respectable 18th.

Micah about to point it for 1000' 

Meredith, Chad, and I skied some of the fresh pow after the race before calling it a day.

Wednesday February 13

Start of the Individual Race, looks like Kilian should do some nordic racing! Photo Andy Dorais

Andy and I cruised out of the hotel in time to watch the start of the individual race, and then we caught the chairlift/Poma Lift combo to get to a good vantage point to watch the race.  We had a great time watching the leaders come through followed closely by the US contingent. We hung around watching the ladies come through and then we skied down to the finish.  We missed the top men finishing but arrived just in time to see Janelle Smiley come charging in to the finish, passing one more racer in the final meters of the race.  She finished 13th overall.

After the race both Andy I and took some time to recon the vertical course, which we would both be racing the next day.  After that I went back to the hotel and took an extra recovery catnap and started to get my head in the right place for the next day's effort.

Thursday February 14
I woke up ten minutes before the alarm clock and headed down to eat breakfast.  I wanted to make sure I was fueled, but that my stomach was empty before the race start. I then got my kit ready and tinkered for for another half-an-hour before it was time to go down and start warming up. I followed Adam's instructions very carefully for my warm-up and timed it just right to line up for the start.  I honestly can't remember too much about the next 30 minutes and 39 seconds other than I told myself over and over again to push as hard as I could. I remember starting to have the metallic taste in my mouth maybe ten minutes into the race and having the narrowing of my vision as I turned the last switchback. I finished feeling very, very worked.  I was a little disappointed that I didn't finish further up in the pack, but after looking at my HR data from the race I had to be satisfied. For the entire effort I held my HR within 2 beats per minute of my anaerobic threshold, with about half of it being two to three BPM over! I finished 46th overall and 3rd US racer.

That afternoon, after spending too much time on the phone with Avis Rental Car Assistance (long story, but I wasted far too much time on the phone, and we pretty much ended up buying a fiat van...don't ever rent from that company). Chad and I rallied to catch a crew that left about an hour ahead of us to ski a big line Andy had spotted a few days before.  A little over an hour of hustling up the way we thought they had gone we caught sight of our compatriots.  We finally caught on and proceeded to follow Andy up a huge line deep in Ecrin's National Park.  We went until my dang-o-meter started to buzz as we crossed into a wind loaded section a few hundred feet below what we thought was a saddle between two higher peaks.  We turned around just as the sun was dipping behind the mountains, the whole crew got ready to descend and we then leapfrogged down the 7000' continuous descent.  It was a great way to lick our wounds after the vertical race.

Bootpacking, still a ways to go- Photo Andy Dorais

Getting Ready to ski 7000' back to the valley- Photo Andy Dorais

Friday February 15
I hardly slept the prior night; we stayed out kind of late and Andy left at 3:30 am to catch his flight in Torino. I stayed in bed as long as I could before loading into the van to watch the last event of the World Champs - the Relay races.  The relays are another super fun race to watch. Each racer would do a multiple climb/descent lap that was taking about 12-15 minutes to complete. They would then tag a teammate and so on until the whole team had gone. (men 4; women 3; juniors, 1 female, 2 male)  The races were super exciting to watch.  The US men finished 11th, the women 8th.

That afternoon we went to the closing ceremonies and the closing party.  After watching the Spanish and Italian juniors completely destroy themselves with the open bar, Team USA headed back to the hotel to get some rest.

Saturday February 16
Chad, Scott, Mckenna, Kim, Micah and I loaded all of our stuff into a van and drove to La Grave.  We sorted our giant pile of gear on the sidewalk, bought tickets to the telepherique and hopped on.  La Grave is famously known for it's steep skiing and we were excited to break out the bigger skis for the day and explore some of what it had to offer.  We cruised around pretty mellow terrain while trying to get acclimated and waited for Chad's friend to meet up with us.  We finally connected with his buddy who gave us some beta on where to ski and off we went.  Overall we had a pretty good day, skied some fun lines, and for the first time while in France, didn't hike uphill.

For a bunch of weight nerd rando racers we sure pack heavy. 

Sunday February 17
The whole group opted to go for a tour this day; the objective was a long easy day with a French style picnic.  I have to admit that at this point I was feeling pretty tired from the week, so I had a pretty easy time just hanging back and enjoying the incredible scenery.  We still skied over 6000' vertical feet, including some of the best turns of the trip.  Scott and Chad broke off about 2 hours in and charged with a very specific objective in mind, to ski Goleon Peak. They got shut down just below the summit, but they skied 10,000' of vert before returning to the hotel later in the day.

La Grave in the background during our French Picnic Tour

Skiing some pretty good powder, La Grave in the background- Photo Mckenna Douglas

Monday February 18
Mckenna, Kim, and Chad decided to head back over to La Grave for the day and get a better taste of what the gondola had to offer. Scott, Micah and I decided we could use one last tour before leaving the next day.  We went up the valley from La Grave to Vall de'Arene and proceeded to have the best ski day of the whole trip.  We skied a handful of long, steep powder lines. All of which had the best snow of the trip.  We could have gone for days up there, but we refrained ourselves from getting too out-of-hand and settled for another 6000' day.

If you look close you can see the 1st of the 3 lines we skied

Some pretty awesome mountains to spend some time in! Photo Micah Thatcher

Overall it was an incredible trip to France; great racing, great skiing, and great company.  I owe a special thanks to my wife Tanae for putting up with me training all of the time and allowing me to galavant all over the world racing.  Also a special thanks to La Sportiva, First Endurance, and Ultraspire.  These sponsors are critical in helping me pursue racing at this level; couldn't do it without you guys!

I hope to have a post in the next week or so reviewing some of the gear I took to Europe as well as my fueling strategies for the races.

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