Wednesday, April 27, 2011

San Juan Ski Mountaineering Race

A cirque of couloirs to ascend and descend

This past Saturday on April 23rd high in the San Juan Mountains in Colorado ski mountaineers turned out for race day. This ski mountaineering race, unlike many others, was a race held completely in the backcountry. The course looked like a good one. There were many steep couloirs and steep terrain in which to negotiate. It was also a high elevation race, as the course was to start near Molas Pass at an elevation of 10,700 feet. Racers planned to top out over 13,000 feet on Spencer Peak before the final descent.

It was my first visit to the area in winter, so I quickly drove up to Molas Pass the day before and tried to view the course from the highway. I had a new pair of “white skis” that I wanted to test out before the race the following day. So, I skinned up casually to the cirque below the couloirs we planned to travel through during the race. The skis and bindings were probably the lightest set-up on course.

new race set up and lower regions of race course

Race morning dawned and the weather seemed to be holding up well, as the forecast called for weather approaching by mid-day. As we drove to the start, slowly the weather was approaching, but still good for a start. At the start Scott Simmons bolted to the front, with Marshall Thompson, Pete Swenson and I on the chase. The course was firm and technical. As we climbed higher the clouds were dropping to meet us. Quickly, it was becoming hard to see anything, the storm had begun. We made one ascent with a boot-pack and skied a nice couloir into the white-out cirque below. I skied to my left and saw Scott, Pete, and Marshall heading up the next climb. I skied down to the transition area and quickly was skinning back up the slope to the next boot pack. I transitioned to the boot pack and started up the kicker, I could see Marshall not far in front of me now – finally I could see something besides white. Then I saw two shadows and then skiers emerge from the storm to greet Marshall and then me. USSMA director and racer Pete Swenson and Durango local Scott Simmons decided to halt the race due to storm conditions and poor visibility, making safety first. It was definitely the right call as the course had become a blizzard. We accounted for all the racers and a few of us decided to climb and ski one more couloir before meeting with the others. Of course we all wanted to finish the race, but Mother Nature and safety decisions forced a stop to the race.

At the start/finish we all gathered around and met our fellow friends and ski mountaineers. We reacquainted, renewed, and added friends at another ski mountaineering race. A big part of racing is the friendships you make and build along the way, and of course the adventures that follow. The San Juan Ski Mountaineering race will be grand next year and hope to see you all there for great skiing and great times.

U.S. Ski Mountaineering Team members at San Juan race: Pete Swenson, Chris Kroger, Janelle Smiley, Scott Simmons

Friday, April 15, 2011

Ski Mountaineering Racing 2011

North America

Date         Title/Venue                                     Location               Place/ Finish Rank

01/08/11   U.S. National Championships   Jackson Hole, WY.      7th overall  6th   N.A.
01/09/11   U.S. National Qualifier           Grand Targhee, WY.     12th overall 11th  N.A.
01/15/11   U.S. National Qualifier                Sunlight Mt., CO.       7th
01/29/11   Skin To Win                             Bridger Bowl, MT.        3rd
03/05/11   The Power of Four                              Aspen, CO.       3rd
03/12/11   Wasatch Powderkeg                        Brighton, UT.       2nd
04/09/11   The Five Peaks                         Breckenridge, CO.      3rd


02/19-25/11  Ski Mountaineering World Championships  Claut, Italy

USA Ski Mountaineering Team  2011