Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tawatinaw "real-XC-ski-course" Loppet

I was deceived by the weather forecast which said Tawatinaw, 80 km north of Edmonton, received 10 cm of fresh snow in the last 24-hours... so I agreed to go. Arriving to find frigid repacked old snow trails scared me just a smidgeon as this course has some wicked twisty technical descents.
cycling clubmate, Greg Nicholson, before his 1st x-c ski race!

A brave lot of us, 17 to be exact, started in -29C temperatures. It was a 15-km course so it was a choice of 15k or 30k. I stormed up the first hillclimb and gapped whoever was behind. Up in front of me was one super speedy guy who I couldn't see the whole race. So I went a good high heartrate pace the whole way.

I was surprised I had excellent grip up all the steep climbs in the tracks, except for few sunny sections. It was possible to descend safely in the tracks except for the odd sharp corner where step-turning was very sketchy on the lumpy and abrasive inner track. I only skidded out a couple times, though safely.

What was great was skiing the last 5-km southern section that had been removed from last year's course due to lack of snow. It was the most fun with continual big ups and downs, in the sunshine, with remarkable views.

Into my 2nd lap, I passed a green-jacketed skier who must have taken a shortcut on the first loop. He wondered why he was in the position he was in. Passing him encouraged me to ski faster as I figured he'd take the same shortcut again!

I'm glad the organizers still held this race despite the cold temps as I kept warm enough and the tracks were blazing fast and super fun to ski on. Bonus - almost everyone got a medal, and everyone won almost two draw prizes each!

Greg, post-race, a little frosty with a valiant effort after losing the grip wax on his skis
The comment of the day... was post-race when I was in the chalet in fresh dry clothes. Green-Jacketed man comes in and chats with me about how some "little boy" passed him very quickly in the 2nd loop, so GJ-man realized he must have taken a wrong turn. I said "that was me"! And Kamren, my carpool buddy, got a real good laugh as he was within earshot of that comment. ha ha ha!
It was agreed that this course is well-rounded with the hills, flats and technical... "a real x-c course".

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Beckie Scott (Herringbone!) Loppet

I was super hesitant to go to the race in Vermilion as Alberta had close to record breaking warm weather the previous days, and I didn't want to race on glazed tracks. The race organization did a superb job grooming - best formed tracks I've skied on all season.

It's been many years since I raced here and I totally forgot how different and wicked the trails are. 30k race with 3 loops of 10-km. The descents were fast and mostly able to stay in the tracks. I biffed only on one surprise sharp left corner and was a little sketchy on a step turn corner later in the loop.
What is great about this course is the no-fail grip waxing... as the climbs start out gentle, then turn into super steep herringbone climbs, out of the track, so wax is not an issue... and a few herringbone climbs in a row!

Small turnout of hearty racers with an appearance by Olympian Becky Scott which was cool to see such a familar face at the venue of her hometown. The race temp was -15C, which was nice except for the bit of windchill.

Spent most of the race skiing with clubmates Jeff Innes and Helge Halvorsen which made it fun. Near the finish, Helge took off with 500m to go and gapped me. Fortunately for a hillclimb finish, I stormed and ran up to Helge as he was still climbing in the tracks. Helge just jumped out the tracks in front of me and I had no inclination on which way to pass. Jeff was right on our heels.
Wish we had a picture of that finish, it was pretty exciting! Clubmate Marion Mayerhofer topped off 3rd 30k woman finisher.
photos - Vermilion Nordic Ski Club website

Sunday, January 23, 2011

the La Ruta of x-c skiing

As I was finishing gingerly making my way on the uphill/downhill Hillsdale split on Leg 4, on the microscopic bits of snow left to ski on the pavement, dodging the odd stone... I defined the Lake Louise to Banff Loppet the "La Ruta" of x-c skiing! The snow was too deep this year for the snowmobile to pack a trail on the enbankment, so we had the choice to ski on the road or run. Glad I had my rock skis!

The lead guys descending on the Hwy 1A road - photos Tom Towne
"La Ruta" is a mountain bike stage race held in Costa Rica that has many environmental obstacles to endure. Need to go into that race with an adventurous mindset as it torments a bike racer that expects ride-able trails!
Same goes for the Lake Louise to Banff loppet with it's ever-changing course conditions each year. It is way more of an adventure than a buffed x-c ski race with pristine tracks. And the adventure is what makes it enticing to ski every year, along with the outstanding scenery of the Rockies.
the race starts with nice tracks
Lots of snow and ultra warm race conditions (start: -4C, finish: +1C) made for a few course changes. We started just past Lake Louise due to slush and had only 50m flat before merging to descend Tramline trail. I had a clean start descending behind a few of the speedy guys. Fortunately for bits of fresh snow made the crazy hairpin corner do-able for me.

I skied with Sean Huggins-Chan, Tom Maier & Tony Smith for most of Leg 1. At least 8 of us squeaked by just in front of a long CPR freight train. Earlier this year on Jan 2, I had the opportunity to meet some of these skiers as I had joined in with a good 12 of them, including race winners Blaine Penny and Kirk Howell, for the 100 km PLPP challenge.
After the climbs on Leg 2, I got ahead with enough time to drink a Vega optimizer drink at Leg 3 transition kindly given to me by members of Team Lifesport. I jumped back on with Tony as he passed thru. It helped to ski with Tony to keep the ski pace up.
Leg 3 was set real nice with snowy tracks until after Moose Meadows hitting a 500m stretch of logging zone where it was suggested to run. I chose to zip thru on my rock skis hoping there was enough snow to glide on. When I hit the fresh snowy tracks again, one ski felt a little sluggish with debris so maybe next time better to run.

Leg 4 had the crazy Hillsdale pavement section which was a long slog. This was my pick for hardest section this year as it took alot of energy to double pole on the pavement on snow that was barely there. Needed to be light on the skis on the descent to watch for anything that could deadstop my skis fast.
Leg 5 had sections of deep trough where the bank was too high to pole next to the skis. I altered my double poling to a 45 degree angle so I didn't lose the poles into the deep fresh snow. The backswamp section that takes us out to the Sunshine overpass was like backcountry skiing in fresh powder.
I slowed down my pace to save energy as I was excited with the thought of switching to skate skis for the final leg from the trailhead. I was offered the opportunity to have my skate skis dropped off for me so I took it.

With my focus on switching skis at the trailhead... which is after the start of Leg 6 and after the cattleguard, 800m down the road... I quickly ran by the crowd at Leg 6 transition... and unknowingly, by my nicely laid out skate ski gear (!)

lead guys running over Sunshine overpass

happy to see the wooden board over the killer cattleguard!
I got to the trailhead and was slightly dismayed not to see my skis or support person. I dashed back and forth abit then tossed on my classic skis and did my best to skate-ski on them.
Early on, Tom easily passed by me on skate-ski gear.
With a few spills when the wax stuck to fallen debris, I had a major face-plant going fast on a descent. Phew, amazingly not hurt... had to backtrack to pick up some fallen goods... onward. When I hit the river section I went over as many icy sections as possible to strip the remaining wax off my skis. I was surprised how quickly Leg 6 went by.

    Marg skiing into the finish on the Bow River
    dressed like an adventure racer with food in the side shorts pockets, Camelbak, Kahtoolas dangling from the waist strap
    photo from Daniel Austin's article in Jan 25, 2011 Banff Crag & Canyon

  • Largest turnout of solo skiers finishing - 46 (31 men, 15 women)

  • Next year, maybe the women will ski in a pack the whole race with the likes of Liza Pye and Theresa Gawron! Liza had the fastest Leg 6 split using skate skis. I figure using skate gear (and not crashing multiple times) might have been a 10-min time savings... and higher smile factor of fun!

  • Oh yeah, we got awesome "Lake Louise to Banff" bula toques for entering!

  • When I arrived to the Rockies pre-race day after my 4+ hour drive from Edmonton, I realized I left my packed plastic container of my sport drink, race food and Camelbak at home. In a long distance race, race food is as critical as ski gear. Easy to purchase my Vega food at Nutter's in Canmore for a high$, and fortunate to borrow a friend's Camelbak. Glad I remembered my skis, boots & poles though!
  • I would still choose to switch my gear at the trailhead than at the Leg 6 transition... it is a quiet location, not in traffic, immediate access to the trail, tons of adrenaline from Leg 5 to endure the 800m run across the overpass, way easier to run in flexible classic boots than stiff soled skate boots.
  • I planned to use my Kahtoolas as traction devices for the 800m run after Leg 6 transition. They also came in handy for traction to run up Hillsdale for the first two camel hump hills
  • Awesome organization & volunteers - awesome race!!
  • Tuesday, January 04, 2011

    PLPP 100km Challenge - EPIC!

    When I read on that 5 guys skied "all" the trails in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park (PLPP) in Kananaskis Jan 2, 2010... I so much wished I was there. I caught wind of the 2nd annual outing for Jan 2, 2011, and I was adamant to join them.
    skiers from the 1st PLPP challenge - photo

    12 skiers started out at 7 a.m. from Pocaterra trailhead in the dark, donning headlamps. It was -18C which was surprising as it was -4C when I drove in from Calgary that morning. I had to put a couple layers of colder wax on top of my predicted warmer wax. My super bright Lupine light with a new battery decided it was too cold and quickly faltered. It was pretty exciting to ski behind skiers with headlamps and tread lightly in the dark. The tracks were fast and we clipped along. Within an hour, daylight came.

    We basically planned to ski the 42-km Cookie race course twice with additional mileage at the end. With Packers trail not in good shape, we threw in Blueberry Hill instead and backtracked from the base of Packers. The last 13-km of tracks that had been fast were now sloppy. I found the rolly hills with uneven tracks super tiring.
    Loop 1 was 51-km 3:57 hr.

    Taking a food break at Pocaterra hut was welcome. Getting chilled was not. I immediately threw on a whole new set of dry shirts and jacket, and switched gloves. I didn't expect to have to switch up clothing and was lucky to have brought a selection for different temperatures. Even while eating and rewaxing my skis, my body warmth was just ok while wearing my down jacket. After just over an hour break, we were off for Loop 2.

    Wow, my body was noticeably tired. Within a few km, the muscles got back into active mode. Despite the -14C temperature, it felt warm in the sun. Realistically, we were barely in the sun as we were sheltered in the trees. The tracks were not fast like in the morning. Many daytime skiers had already trampled by. We re-grouped a couple times. It was easy to get chilled waiting, so the onus was to continue on at each own's pace. From the top of WhiskeyJack, I skied solo the rest of the way only seeing the guys on the out & back trail of Blueberry Hill.

    2nd time up Blueberry, was now at a slower pace. The descent was still super fast and fun. My decision was to go up Whiskeyjack a 3rd time instead of backtracking the sloppy trails. Just into the climb, a couple fingers were very frozen in a scary way. Dark was approaching. I was just barely dressed appropriately without any spare clothing. I still had 13-km to the finish.

    I had to stop. Tossed my damp cold gloves into the crotch of my tights. Threw both hands against body warmth inside as well. I huddled and just counted, and deep-breathed. Not the best feeling to be out in the cold alone at that moment. Within a couple minutes, I was happy my fingers unthawed. My gloves even had warmth to them. Suited up, off I went. Surprising, the rest of the 4-km climb went by in no time. It was ultra welcome to have the descent down Pocaterra trail to the finish though I really had to focus on the last double-pole section.

    101-km, ~8:10hr, 6700' elevation gain --> pretty awesome!!

    I ran to the car and threw on whatever dry clothes I had left. I was hooped for abit with my body shuddering from the close call of hypothermia. Meanwhile, the rest of the group was returning. I eventually found out the hut was still open. It was good to sit by the fire and chat about our epic ski before heading home.

    Thanks to Tony Smith for being main instigator. It was an awesome group of skiers to meet & ski with. Good representation from Canmore, Calgary, Edmonton & Golden! I look forward to the 3rd Annual!

    Check out Blaine Penny's awesome video from the 1st PLPP 100km challenge