Saturday I toed up to the starting line at the 9th US Ski Mountaineering Championships at Jackson Hole, as I looked around all I could think is this is going to hurt. A few weeks prior to the race an announcement showed up on the USSMA homepage; it was a very detailed explanation about how the US Ski Mountaineering Team will be selected for the 2010 World Championships in Andorra. It continued to explain that the top two finishers at the 2009 US championships would automatically be given the first two spots for the team…. As I was waiting for gear check early on Saturday morning I overheard a very well known racer say to another “this may be the deepest field of US rando racers I have ever seen gathered at one race”.
Now gathered at the starting line it became clear that there were a lot of guys that really wanted to represent the US next year, more than half of the Race class had on race suits and full meal deal race gear. Granted I had on a second hand race suit and pretty light rando gear, but so many of these guys had on new race suits ( or at least they looked new) and the lightest gear made. Given that this was to be my 7th randonee race ever I was intimidated. Once the start happened it was off to the races, the lead pack went off running, and unlike at other races that I have been to they/we kept running, as a matter of fact we ran until I thought my lungs were going to blow right out of my chest, and as soon as I thought I would pop completely everyone seemed to drop down a gear, allowing me to keep hanging on. Although the pace slowed, I continued to red line, which felt good in a painful masochistic kind of way. Although the lead pack started to drop me there were a couple of other stragglers as well, there ended up being 5 or 6 of us spread out in the no man’s land between the lead pack and the large group of people that formed the chase pack .
Photo By Mark Gocke
We hit the top of the first climb, the just shortly after the leaders which made me feel very good about my pace, at least to this point. I managed to pass one person on the first descent, but he quickly passed me after the transition up the second climb. This second climb, just like the two races previous this year, was the low point in the race. As I got further in to the climb I ended up alone; not right behind anyone or right ahead of anyone for that matter. This always seems like a difficult place to be, I imagine that the guys ahead of me are suffering just like I am and hopefully the people behind me are suffering more, but you don’t know because it’s just you and all you can do is rely on your training and push! The next descent was the most difficult skiing of the race, it was a mix of frozen death cookies and tracked powder and I paid careful attention not too miss the corner like I did last year. The next ascent was the first boot of the race and as I transitioned I looked up to see the ten or so racers that were ahead of me… all of them, in a nice line up going up the booter. This was an awesome feeling for me, I wasn’t as far off as I thought, this put some extra uupmh in my steps as I hurried to gain ground on them. I slowly closed in on Zahan Billimoria, and Scott Coldiron (I think it was Scott) during the ascent but lost them as I struggled in the transition and across the up and downs of the traverse across Pepi’s bench. I floundered quite a bit during this part and lost the ground that I had made up. The traverse/descent across Pepi’s led to the final climb: the boot up the famous Corbet’s Couloir.
Photo By Jeff Vanuga
On the way up I put my head down, got cozy in the pain cave and pushed to gain what I had lost, upon topping out I threw down the quickest transition of my life and decided to lay it all out there on the big descent from the top of Jackson Hole. I hoped that I might gain a place or two on the way down. On tired legs I pushed as fast as I could to gain or at least see somebody ahead of me , near the bottom of the very moguled Hobacks I passed one person, but as I started to skate up the last slight uphill under the Union Pacific chair I realized that laying it all out there had blown me up sufficiently to have no juice for the skate and the racer I passed repassed me just before the crest over the top, he gained a few seconds on me that I would not regain. I finished in 13th and I was totally stoked on my race. Everything went well, I ate well, I drank well, and enjoyed my time pushing deep into the cave. I don’t think I could have done any better given the small amount of specific training that I have done this year. To top it off my time was 5 minutes faster than last week at the Wasatch PowderKeg with an additional 1200′ vertical (2:15:40 and my altimeter read 6234’ of ascent/descent). Now with the Randonee season coming to an end it is time to up the mileage and get ready to get the vertical on the dirt. See you on the trails!