Saturday, January 12, 2013

Castle Mountain Ski-Mo Race - Double Black Diamond?!

Ahhh, what happens when a cross-country skier gets put on a double-black diamond downhill run... a long and tedious shuffling descent full of snowball tumbles and burning quads! I definitely would have won the longest timed descent section :)
top of Lone Star, bottom 2000' down double-black diamond slope - photo Levon Jensen

An eager group of 27 ski-mo racers lined up for the 1st ever ski-mo race at Castle Mountain in southern AB, nick-named "The Best Ski Hill You've Never Heard Of".
Michelle & Marg amongst the Canada Team suits - photo Levon Jensen

The course circumnavigated the ski resort counter-clockwise, mostly at the ski boundary line. Maybe 3-km of the whole 13-km course was on groomed trail. The rest was skinny trail steep incline bushwacking, scrambling rocky terrain, descending double-black diamond 30%+ pitch powder, and navigating thru tree-d cat-skiing powder.

Original course plan
The course was EPIC! As the event progressed, I thought the challenge was as tough as some of my adventure race experiences.

My endurance fitness helped me with a good start following the lead guys into the single-track trails. Once we hit the steep pitches needing kick-turns (yeah, first time doing these!), I had to let a couple guys and the next couple women, Michelle Roberts and Katarina Kuba, pass by as I was flailing like an upside down turtle.

As a newbie, I was glad to use my ski leashes, definitely a ski-mo racer styling faux-pas. When my ski tip got stuck in the snow on one of my kick-turns, my ski-boot released from my binding (I forgot to lock the front binding). I was happy the ski was dangling from the ski leash and had not run off.

After countless short STEEP switchbacks (50-ish), I eventually got better with finding my balance point and not sliding backwards. The occasional tree branch was my friend as I grabbed it for support. Once the climbing followed a straight-away, I caught back up to lead woman Michelle.
sketchy rocky bootpack - photo Levon Jensen
Almost 3000' elevation gain later, we reached the boot-pack section together on the open windy ridge. I was surprised of the technical difficulty of the next scramble on the rock, 220' up and 220' down. Had to slide thru a rocky crevass to land safely on the snow below.
the rock crevasse with the landing a long jump away - photo Levon Jensen
At my height, my skis are not far off the ground when hanging off the pack. My skis were jostled and I had to re-adjust them on my pack a few times.
Michelle quick on the boot pack - photo Levon Jensen
Michelle dashed ahead nimbly. My gloves became damp and fingers were now cold from tumbling in the snowy scramble. I stopped in a sheltered area from the wind to switch to dry gloves, extra hat, and sunnies before reaching the transition.

views outstanding - photo Levon Jensen
At transition while I was removing the skins, two more women caught up, Sheri Foster and Katarina. I shakily followed Sheri's line in the off-camber ridge to the top of Lone Star and gulped when I looked down the double-black diamond snowy run. It was a continuous 30-degree+ fall line for about 2,000 feet!

Gosh, I struggled like a beginner mountain biker on their first attempt at a technical descent... no, it was WORSE as I couldn't get off my equipment and walk down! Wide-eyed, I did my best to scuttle and swoop down. I traversed as far as I could before I forced myself to turn. It took FOREVER to get down.

My quads were aching. I stopped many times to take a breather. Took an effort to push on through my fear. My breath-rate was higher than when I was climbing!

2/3 way down, I stopped and looked back, then wayyyy up... crikey that was steep! I managed to actually swoop the rest of the way down as it might of been only a black-diamond run.

I was happy to hear two volunteers blowing a whistle and made my way towards them. I jokingly told them I was a x-c skier. They pointed me towards the course and said "to enjoy the cross-country ski trail"!

A short respite on an easy traverse, then transition to skins. Meanwhile, another woman showed up on a split-board! I cheered as I was impressed not realizing it was Christine Misseghers, a fellow mtn-biker from my past racing days.

Peter with speed - photo Levon Jensen
I was thrilled to be climbing again and scooted off with full energy. I was surprised the hard effort of slow skiing on the descent did not hurt my climbing muscles!

Following the Huckleberry chair, descending snowboarders cheered! When I heard a cowbell in the distance, I was excited to see AB Ski-Mo's biggest fan Mary Knight, Peter Knight's mom and great supporter.

Caught up to Katarina, then Michelle. Only Sheri ahead.

At the next transition which was supposed to be boot-pack was now the descent, as we managed to skin up the potential boot-pack section. I did not see Sheri. She is a strong climber AND descender, so first was out of contention.

Wide-eyed I scanned the full-on powder in a VERY steep tree-d cat-ski area. The volunteers said to go straight down and to turn at the cat-track road not visible from where we were.

I cried, and again scraped my way down, this time with the trees in the way and deep cat-skiing powder to contend with. Oh, it was not pretty and took me FOREVER. I tumbled many times though never hurt myself.

Straight down from the top of Haig Ridge - lots of trees!
Finally, I saw the cat-track road when I was on a high ridge. I did not care to backtrack for a safer route, and slid on my butt down to the road. It was now awesome to skate-ski and double-pole to the finish.

Finished just under 3 hours... 4 min back of Michelle and 15 min back of Sheri, with Katarina and Christine back only a few minutes. Awesome woman's group of racers!!

This was my first "back-country" experience. Yeah, nothing like learning all the details in a race! I am very GREEN with no real downhill training.
We had scrambled over that rocky peak in the race!

Ideal weather... -13C, sunny blue skies, minimal wind. The scenery was outstanding whenever I made the effort to glance about. Total elevation gain 4950' and around 12.8 km in distance.

RACE REPORT by lead man Stano Faban

newspaper article

Big thanks to Brent Harris and Dave Dornian from Alpine Club of Canada for their enthusiasm to put on this race. Everything was done well. I totally enjoyed the friendliness of the racers and support.

Also, super thanks to racer Paul Leroux who I met while I was getting my gear together before the race started. I was frazzled, and he was calm and helped me.

Finished off the weekend with an awesome cross-country ski at Allison Creek x-c ski trails in the Crowsnest Pass with a social ski with my old Edmonton buddy Lori Mangion, and with past adventure race teammate Dave Whitten.

It was fun to follow Dave on the twisty fast x-c descents needing quick technical decisions. Gosh, there's skill in me somewhere to learn how to AT downhill!

Thanks to Levon Jensen for his awesome photos...

Final homeward destination... spring water haul near Longview.
Love the mountain view with the sunset!

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