Posted on February 02 2016
Circling through the round about on my return from Aspen I looked up at Highland’s Bowl and realized my perspective of this tiny rotary had forever changed. The bowl itself always seems impossibly far from the valley floor as its ridgeline snakes away into the clouds, but seeing the very tops of the Ajax trails rising to the left and the massive hulk of Snowmass looming over Buttermilk one wonders how this could ever have been skied in a single day, much less under 6 hours.
Me leading the pack, or the mid pack in 2014 Photo Jeremy Swanson
2016 marks the 6th year of the Aspen Snowmass Power of Four Ski Mountaineer race and the 5th year I personally don the skinny skies to take it on. My participation in the race has varied as much as the conditions.
In 2012, I faced gale force winds and frostbite on top of highlands bowl with my now business partner Randy Young, only to descend from Highlands and start a sunny shirtless climb to the music from the speakers in my backpack for the climb up Midnight Mine. In this year, I was little more than an elevation tourist returning from a three-year hiatus from the valley while living at sea level in Portland, Oregon. Although this was my first time on the Power of Four course and first real rando race, sometimes I think this was the year that my execution of pacing and nutrition was the best.
Wind at the top of Highlands Bowl Photo AspenSnowmass
The following year I partnered with US Ski Mountaineering Team member Meredith Edwards to gun for the coed podium. At this point, I was addicted to racing but still had a lot to learn. It is common in a team race like this for partners to tether themselves together to adjust for different speeds while ascending. Although this is great when executed properly, we made the devastating mistake of going out too hard and blowing up on the 3rd climb up Highlands.
The third and fourth year I raced with Brian Edminston and had two top ten finishes in the men’s category. Our first time racing together was done in full blizzard conditions where most teams were turned away from the summit of Highlands, but the storm conditions really fueled us and we had a clean race full of amazing powder conditions on the skinny skis. The following year, over confident and undertrained, we returned to crawl across the finish line a disappointing 20 minutes slower than our previous effort on what should have been a faster sunny day course.
In 2016 I am returning to the race with a new perspective. I am less than eight months out of a long and trying recovery from an ACL reconstruction and my mentality has reverted to survive and enjoy. It seems appropriate to take my own training tips to heart.
- Register early- This little psychological trick gets you prepared better than you think. The race becomes real and training becomes mandatory. I have seen many friends wait until that last week and be scrambling for gear that should have been prepared months previously.
- Get out on the light gear- This doesn’t mean you can’t be on your favorite fat skis or avoid riding lifts at the mountain, but skinny skis change the pace of the sport and the pacing of your legs. It’s easy to go out too fast, but 25 miles and 1200 vertical is a lot of steps even if you were just in running shoes.
- Get your long tours in- Rather than spend every day cruising up one or two laps on the resort, prove to yourself that you can go the distance. Unlike running a marathon, ski touring has no impact and is way nicer on your body. You can keep those feet trudging for a long time, but the confidence you gain from knowing you can suffer for over 6 hours will be your friend on race day.
- Keep eating- I think at my solid midpack pace the enjoyment of the race is directly proportional to how many calories I have taken in. Practice what you eat and eat what you enjoy. That 12th espresso GU of the day is never as good as it sounds. Trust me.
- Practice towing – Even among top men’s team using the tether can keep both partners going strong. However, it is easy for the partner feeling stronger to yank the other out of their comfort zone. It’s a long race pace wisely.
- Familiarize yourself with the course- If you live close by, get out on the Congo Trail and see what its like to ski a sketchy, icy mountain bike trail, and where you can refuel in between the steep Highlands climb. If you don’t live locally, get the beta and check out some maps and elevation profiles. Familiarity lets you know how to pace and gives you the confidence when you are ready for what’s next.