Sunday, January 05, 2014

Skimo in Jackson Hole WY - Epic!

Ventured to the 3-stage 2 day Wyoming Rando Round Up skimo race based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with Canadian skimo buddies Michelle Katchur Roberts and Steve Sellers. The stage race format was intriguing!
We made the long drive down arriving 8 pm on Thursday Jan 2. Roads were smooth sailing, though I was disappointed Customs took my organic Mandarin oranges away!
Main square in Jackson Hole has one of these arches in each corner. The arch is made of elk antlers from the National Elk Refuge; Snow King hill in background
Stayed at Couchsurfer Kristie's right in town. Super convenient and nice to be in a family home environment. There was an awesome green juice place blocks away.

Stage 1 - Sat Jan 4 - Grand Targhee Ski Mountaineering Classic - Elevation Warm-Up!
On-route, we passed the turnoff to Targhee from the small tourist town Driggs. Race start was delayed 1/2 hour for avalanche control, and started at 9:30 a.m. Temp was reasonable at -7C.

Exciting to be amongst a crowd of racers all decked out in racing gear. Still a relatively small field but fast crowd. Starting pace was a sprint.

At this base elevation of 7400', I started gradually to let my 2200' elevation lungs acclimatize. Once the climbing got crazy steep, I eased into a good pace. A few of the lead guys began switching-back though most of us could grip the steep skin track.

3 ascents, 1 bootpack, 3 descents
First transition went smoothly. My first descent of the season went ok considering I was in the mix of a bunch of women. Next ascent gentler, then a gnarly descent which was not so steep with lumpy snow. Lizzie from Bozeman cheered as she gracefully zoomed by.

3rd ascent was ok until half way up where the headwinds were strong. The climb took forever. At the top, the snow was sparse for the descent, then went through the coolest narrow rocky chute. The rest was a fast easy groomed run. Since the flags were spaced far apart, I shunned my speed until I realized I was already at the finish.

Longer race than expected for the 1st of 3 stages, 2 1/2 hours with 5500' elevation gain... much a fitness race.

Ran straight inside to warm up. After awards, we got back to town by 2 pm-ish leaving minimal time to dry gear and get ready for the evening race at 5 pm.

Stage 2 - Sat Jan 4 - Snow King Sprint Race - Gong Show!
Fortunately, it was a 5 min drive to the hill from our accom.
site of the Sprint Race
We parked right at the base. A few racers were checking out the 3-Loop Course with a skin direct up 400' elevation, a short bootpack of carrying the skis, with descent through slalom gates.

Start went fast with a mass of racers. With no desire to sprint, I hung back. I figure I was the racer living at the lowest elevation.

Racers with mandatory headlamps on
The start was chaotic with bumper to bumper skiers. The bootpack section bottle-necked. Race finally spread out on the first descent.

Lead guys stormed past me as I was into my 2nd climb. All my transitions were a gong show with some technical aspect forgotten as the timing was so quick. All in all, the event was super fun! Only 1/2 hour effort and another 1200' elevation gain.

Stage 3 - Sunday Jan 5 - Jackson Hole Randonee Rallee - EPIC!

I was surprised to have a good night sleep following 6700' of racing and sleeping so high. Making our way to Jackson Hole Resort that morning was eye-widening to see the massive ski hill. It is understandable why it is one of the top ski resorts... so many epic steep descents of chutes and couloirs.
Fast start - photo Jeffrey Kaphan Photography
Start was early at 8 a.m. Racers shot off fast as I trotted off back of the Open field and in front of the Rec field. Once the climbs rose steeply on the groomers, I started to make ground. Mid-way was a few km of cross-country ski flats before heading into a climb of steep snowy terrain. It was a long ways up.
Made it through the first descent. Snow stuck to my gloves which were sweaty from the first climb. I thought my effort on the 2nd climb would warm up my cooling gloves.

The 2nd descent was amazing Tower 3 Chute - steep, snowy and fun! At the next transition, there were 6 women and 1 guy. Awesome to have so many women around!

I started the 3rd ascent with cold finger tips... the thought of a possible DNF due to cold fingers crossed my mind.

On a gentler slope, I shuffled along and attempted to warm my fingers under my armpits. I finally conceded to stop to put on my spare gloves.

My goal in this stage race was to get through each event comfortably and finish. Time was not a factor. It was all in training and at an elevation I was not prepared for.

I decided to overwork the saying... if your fingers are cold, put on a jacket. At the base of the 1st bootpack section, I dug into my pack and put on my windbreaker jacket, an extra toque over the balaclava I was already wearing, and even put my overmitt shells over my gloves. This was my emergency backup for fingers! Tossed the already heated small handwarmers into each glove as well.

Bootpack was straight-forward and 3rd short descent, though after that it was not clear when to put skins back on. Ahead, I saw what looked like skate-ski tracks so I did the same up the more than gentle rise. Finally, realized skins were to be on again.
Barely moving into the wind with head down - photo Mark Gocke

The wind was blustery and it was really difficult to put the skins on while hoping my poles would not blow away. While I was skinning next to another guy, we were both lifted off in the wind - super scary! Most of the time, I had to put my head to the side to shelter from the pelting snow.

Super excited to make it to the base of the 2nd bootpack section. A few hearty women volunteers made sure I was warm before heading on. The scenery was epic though the weather conditions were harsh.

super steep! - photo Mark Gocke
I went as fast as I could up the barely visible kicked in toe steps in the almost vertical climb. Fortunately, the wind was blowing me into the mountain as it was scary to maintain a steady effort up. The bootpack took awhile. Closer to the top, a rope with knots was visible though I felt more stable with my kicked-in toe steps.

The actual ladder climb was a haven as it gave a rigid secure support to hug. Made it to the top to full on wind. I was told I had a little white frostbite showing on my nose. Since I had my balaclava on, I just pulled it up and wished to continue on as next was a descent.

Shortly into the 4th descent, the wind was lessened. Made my way down following another woman racer. It was a long descent from top to bottom (guess close to 4000'!). The last section was horrid through cut alder and sparse choppy snow conditions.

The 5th and last ascent was sheltered from the wind and at a warm temperature. It was challenging with energy depletion as well as the steep pitch and loose snow. I finally started cutting my own skin track at a lessor angle.

One last sketchy descent starting with a bony mogully section with exposed rock, then finally an easy groomer to the end. Took awhile to debrief after this one!

Another 8200' elevation gain to total 15,000' for the weekend!

Most everyone had their own venture with the cold with 75% of the racers having frostbite. At the top, the temp was -8F with a 40mph wind. Hard to not get frostbite with blowing snow and sweaty faces!

Sad to see Michelle head off to first aid at the finish. Her fingers got cold to the point of not feeling them, hence continuing on. They were a tad blue at the end. She was as eager as everyone else to finish this event.

I've had my fair share of the mind persevering over the body in past events and coming out with the prize of a chronic injury. This one from 24 Hour Worlds Solo mtnbike is memorable...

All in all, the event was EPIC and I would gladly come back!

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