Sunday, March 18, 2012

The 2011/12 Ski Season: Short and ...

This winter has been an interesting one for me. I live in a place with no snow, and no easy access to snow. It requires a two and a half our drive to get to a ski trail. That is a lot of commitment to just go for a ski. I've done it before and never regret the drive because I love to ski. The problem is I also like to explore Colorado Springs and it gets expensive driving up to the mountains every weekend so I have not skied as much as I would like this winter. In general this is not a problem, there are lots of ways to stay active without snow, none quite as enjoyable as skiing but fun none the less. It quickly becomes a problem when I decide that it is a good idea to sign up for all the crazy races Colorado has to offer. In my current detrained state I can still ski race at a clip that would be a  solid performance in a local Wednesday night race and it would be a great training session. Again there is a problem, I can't drive 5 hours on a Wednesday evening, to be honest I probably could but the next day would be long and with my mountain bike sitting next to the door is never going to happen.
Everybody wanted front row seats!
Instead I show up at the Teva Mountain Games in Vail for a weekend of fun. There will be ski races, bike races, climbing competitions and outdoor concerts- a plethora of fun to be had!  It made for a great weekend. I saw they were hosting a 10k skate race and though it would be fun to give it a go.  And it really was fun.  The mass start (with $1000 on the line and a $100 prem for the first k) went out hard as could be expected.  It just so happens that the next day was a marathon in Aspen and everyone was eager to get their hands on an extra couple bucks for the weekend so it as the most stacked field I have raced in years.  I skied my race after going out way to fast and held on pretty well through the flats on the fist half. I had some good climbs on the second half and finished. Not much more to it than that. I went home took a nap and headed out to watch the climbing competition.
Mixed Climbing 
It was pretty amazing to see what those guys can do.  I then headed to La Cantina for some great food and went back out to the street concert- an 80's cover band that was putting on an excellent show. The next day I watched a friend ski the ski mountaineering race which looked very like an exciting challenge and spent the rest of the day skiing Vail. That evening I went to watch the bike slalom, and on snow criterium as well as the boot race, all were quite fun to spectate!
On Snow Criterium
When I picked up my packet for the two races I was entered in, the 10k and the Vail Uphill, I was surprised to learn that I the only person entered in the 'track ski' category. Then after skiing a day on the mountain I began to feel the dread seeping in that I had made a terrible mistake.  This mistake was confirmed the next morning when I show up with my skate skis (the only ones I brought) and the first thing said to me is "those aren't the skis your racing on are they?" I proceed to explain that I am and not only that I don't have any other skis with me. All that I have in my car is a pair of worn out running shoes with no tread left. After having this conversation a couple more times I put my toes on the line for the two mile endeavor from Lionshead Village to the top of the gondola, two miles of the steepest climbing I have ever done. Here is the course map. It took 45 minutes of herring boning to get to the top. At this time I think it was the hardest event I had ever done. That would change later in the season...
Boot Run

A few weeks after the Teva Games a friend called and asked if I wanted to do a race in Steamboat Springs.  The North Routt Coureur des Bois (Glide the Divide) is an ultra-marathon that covers 90 hilly kilometers north of Steamboat across the Wyoming border and back.
I had heard about it before and thought it would be the year to do it because I am living in Colorado. That is a terrible reason to do a race of this nature. Again it wasn't a nice little Wednesday night race. It was 90 kilometers of the most grueling terrain I have ever seen. At the start I saw a volunteer with a sweatshirt on that said 'America's Toughest Ski Race' and I thought that was pretty bold. The first 14k were pretty flat, we raced around a lake. I ended up at the end of this section with a group of five, including a coach from JO's that I hadn't seen in years. We didn't get a chance to chat much but it was nice to know one person in the group.
Then we got to the first road crossing (we had to take our skis off and run across the street). A few more k's passed and we started to lasted a long time but I still felt good at the top and then we had some flats followed by the bumpiest, iciest descent I have ever experienced!  It was the first of many sections that felt like I was water skiing on a day meant for sailing! Then we climbed a little more and came to an aid station at about 30k. At a third of the way through the race it was still fast and I was feeling good- my former coach and I were cruising along at a good clip.
It started to warm up in the next few kilometers but I felt good through the 40k mark. After that it got a little rough. I made it to the aid station at 45k in Wyoming. Here I sat down and had a bite to eat. I had a few Fig Newtons, a slice of bacon and some Snickers. I decided to pass on the shot of whiskey that was offered, I am quite sure that would have made my situation worse!  The friendly volunteers kept telling me I was quite relaxed, this was true but only because I knew I needed to eat and gather my resolve for what was to come. I saw a fellow skier from northern Minnesota leave the aid station so I decided I would follow and we could ski together.  This was wishful thinking on my part. He had a 100m lead and I could not catch up. In about five k he was out of sight. I went through the 50k mark and then began to climb. It was a long section to the aid station at 60k. The whole time I thought of how jealous I was of my friend doing the 45k race. In the beginning I was excited to have this race under my belt for what ever bragging rights would come with it, at this point I only wanted to finish because I did not know how else I would get out of the middle of nowhere other than  skiing out and I did not want to feel like I had to come back and prove I could do it. When I made it to the next aid station I sat down and had some more to eat. Here I exchanged glances with a friend that classiced past (miraculously with excellent kick!). There was nothing for him to say, we both knew that I was in a bad place with a long ways to go.  After he left I remembered what I should have said a simple 'good job'. It would have been fitting but I couldn't think of those words at the time, I was pretty out of it.
I left the aid station and proceeded down a huge hill that was snow plowed out, I was amazed that I didn't fall during the entire event. I descended for a while which was nice except that I could not tuck for digestive reasons so I just stood there going fast in the shade and very slow in the sun trying to stay on my feet.  At this point I though I would finish, I wasn't feeling good but now I was more upset about starting than I was worried about finishing. There was a large valley where I saw a building and seriously though about skiing over to it for a nap but decided against it. I made it to the woods again and started to climb. Here a woman caught me that asked if I knew where the next station was. We had just passed the 75k mark and the previous aid station said that was where we would have the next one. I told here my friends that had skied it in the past told me it was at 80k after a huge uphill, they were right.  She said she was a little worried because she was coughing up blood. I though that was a legitimate thing to worry about but had no way to help her. We were still a long way from nowhere (aka the finish). We proceeded to the base of the large hill my friends described and took off our skis and started hiking. Once at the top we were at the aid station. This was the last one, 12k to go. there was a race official here taking someone back to the finish that had dropped and the woman coughing blood told him of here situation. He was very concerned (as any race official should be) but she refused to drop. He asked me how I was doing and I said I would finish, I had come this far and didn't want to have to do that again to remove this from my bucket list.
After leaving the aid station we descended and I started to feel a little better (though I still could not tuck). Again it was super bumpy and with my legs on the verge of cramping made for a few sketchy pitches. Once it flattened out I skied my way uneventfully to the finish. Here my friends were waiting with a warm coat even though it must have been over 50 degrees it felt nice to put it on. We sat at the resort that comprised the finish and had some food and something to drink. We shared the stories of our ordeal and how it compared to other races and previous years. As always the great company after any race makes it easy to forget the immediate pain. It was concluded that it was deserved to describe it as "America's Toughest Ski Race".

This will conclude my race season of 11/12.  Next year I can only promise one thing, if I remember how I felt during this race I will not sign up again. It was concluded at the finish that if you had a bad experience it takes about 4-5 years to forget it and sign up again, hopefully my memory lasts much longer than that! While it is always a bummer to see the snow melt, I am happy that it has led to longer days and great riding in the Springs. 

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