Thursday, February 16, 2012

Teva Games, Vail Colorado

Teva Games, Vail CO Ultimate Mountain Challenge

Luke Nelson, Jared Inoye, Sari Anderson, Janelle Smiley, Chris Kroger
The Ultimate Mountain Challenge , UMC, was the title of the race and the venue followed three different events.

Day 1 – 10k Nordic Freestyle ski

I borrowed some skate gear for this race, which was a tough process. But, friends stepped it up and loaned out some of their top gear. I was thankful. I hadn’t Nordic skate skied in many years. So, I knew this could go good or bad. At the Starting area I met with friends and I quickly became informed and saw that some of the other ski mountaineers hadn’t spent much time on Nordic gear either. Now, I figured, with some past experience, that I would fair pretty well. The Teva games make it possible for amateur athletes to compete against some of the world’s finest pro athletes. I put my skis in the fifth row where the ski mountaineers looked happy, but a bit out of place. The gun sounded, I wanted a decent start without incident. I rallied a bit and hooked onto the tails of a Nordie and felt the pace was good so I locked in. After 2k, I looked ahead and saw the next group of skiers, 100 meters away…should I go for it? Or wait? I knew some of the skimo athletes were behind me, so I waited. A small pack of us formed and I was in second amongst us. The pace was good, but not quite fast enough, however, we caught a few skiers. And we were now well into the race. I saw the 7k mark and felt I had energy to pass. I went for the pass and my outside ski caught some different temperature snow and seemed to grab it. I made it around our pacer, but was suddenly winded and faced a hill-climb. Bad timing, I should have made the move on the hill. I was passed soon by not only the pacer but a few of the trailers. I stayed with it and got back into rhythm and managed to pass another fast racer just past the 9k marker and sprinted to the finish to hold my place. The race went good considering I hadn’t Nordic skied in years. Wax plays a huge roll in this sport, my wax was good, but not super-uber fast.
Which is the front and back...
Day 2 – Ski Mountaineering

The highly anticipated ski mountaineering race was next on the venue. All the good skimo friends were down in Vail and ready to rally. I was told the day before to expect a long race, and I was also very nicely given a heads up from Sari Anderson that it would be a long course, as she had previewed the course the week before. Much thanks.
The Start line was huge with about 146 entrants. This time, I wanted the front row. I took stage right and the day was perfect for racing. Bang! And the race was on, the pace went out fast and I stayed behind Luke and then moved over behind Wick to pace. I knew it was a long race and did not want to loose this lead group. It was going to be a challenge to stay with them, though I have been feeling a bit stronger lately and was going to give it a try. As we made the first turn, Sully, went by me and made the lead pack. I was just hanging on the back. As we went into the trees, I got bucked off the back and was falling off the lead group slightly. They were pulling hard in the front trying to gap people early. I heard Sully yell down to me from a swithback above – “ here we go again Kroger!”, it was Sully. I had formally met him in CB a few weeks ago. Briefly and quickly, we knew we got along. We had dualed it out the day before and I had passed him with 1k to go and held him off. He had held onto the lead group and was encouraging me to catch back up.
There were two racers behind me a few switchbacks, it was Kloser and Jan Koles. I held my own to the top and stripped skins and headed downhill solo. I was already in ‘no-mans’ land, racing alone – not ideal. You can often push harder or work together if someone is close to you. On the downhill I passed Jon Brown and then I crashed in some powder as I saw a tree laying across the trail in front of me, ugh. I re-grouped, cleaned my glasses off, looked at my skis and then was off again. At the transition for the second climb, my skis must have had slow wax, as two skiers went flying by with glide as I halted to a stop. I did my transition and heard Jon Brown pull in behind me. I skinned around the turn and saw Kloser and Koles putting skins on. I hurried to be ahead of them. I stayed ahead until a steeper climbing section. I looked back and saw Kloser, JB, and Koles only a switchback behind. Kloser got by me here as well as JB. I quickly regained and passed JB. Ahead was some relatively flat skiing, so I pushed it for some time trying to gap and perhaps make some time on leaders. I couldn’t see Kloser anymore -  he was rallying. A quick look back revealed nobody in sight behind me. The second downhill was a bumpy awkward ski through the woods and I got off track for a bit. At the bottom of the third climb, I heard the gate-keeper say Kloser is 2 minutes ahead. I was fluid here initially, but would soon hit the sun and feel some Bonk! It was the last major climb I was looking ahead to see if there were any racers falling off the lead – it looked like I could see a few amongst the skiers ahead. I kept a steady pace, but 2/3 of the way up the climb, I was feeling some hurt. I had not drank enough water and started too late to try and catch up with that. I ate some food and slowed for a bit. But the end was near. I kept going and flew down the next downhill looking sharply for pin flags to lead the way. I reached the final bootpack completely blown apart now. I needed fuel and energy. I ate more fuel and felt like I stumbeled up the muddy boot-pack. I felt slow here. The final descent was just ahead and it felt good to have gravity pull me downhill to the Finish. It had been a good race, I had skied better than previous races. Better hydration and timely fueling are key for long races and I will keep that in the memory bank.
Final stretch of flats: Chris Kroger and Jon Brown
Day 3  Vail Uphill

The Vail Uphill is a 2,200 foot ascent from Vail village to the top of the Gondola on a groomed ski run. The length was reported at about 2.0 miles. There was an option to Run or Ski up the mountain. I wanted to ski. And I like short vertical ski races. I actually arrived ready to ski, but changed my boots to running shoes and crampons just 30 minutes before the race – yikes. I looked over the UMC friends and they were mostly running. I had not run since the Fall, but was game for the challenge. I put on the mini-crampons for the first time and jogged around. Luke jogged by, smiled and said ‘try turning those around’…he had loaned them to me and I was a total rookie putting them on backwards. We both laughed. I thought ski poles would be an advantage, but have never compared times with and without. I looked to see most not using their poles. I went without as well, though next time I would bring them if I ran. I fancied the second row for this Start. Quickly, the leaders were running out ahead and fast. I managed a steady pace and looked ahead and watched the leaders race up the mountain. There were over 150 racers at the start, and I was going to rally up the hill with fellow ski mountaineer and friend Jon Brown. He passed me on the lower slopes, but I stayed close and we ran together the rest of the way. I passed him again after the half way marker and managed to stay just ahead, both of us ran quickly down the long final flat section to the Finish. The Vail uphill was another great race and also ended the UMC. 

Sunrise and Finish Line

Scott Simmons, one of the top skimo athletes, will be my partner in the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse.

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