Monday, April 30, 2007

Cosmic skiing

From Gazette writer Andy Wineke, who specialized in indoor AND outdoor writing (TV watching/trends and outdoor activities - biking, skiing, paddling, etc.):
Crested Butte ski patroller Ethan Passant made a clean sweep of the inaugural COSMIC series with a win Saturday in the season finale race at A-Basin.

We've talked about the ski mountaineering series on the blog before, but seeing it in person was very different than I thought it would be. I got a workout just trying to keep up with the racers, and I got to use the lifts.

For instance, I'm at the start line with my camera and my notebook. I spend maybe five minutes taking pictures of the mass start. Then I pop down to the Pallavicini lift and head up to the top. I'm on the lift maybe 12-15 minutes after the race started.

And as the lift crosses over the runout from Pallavicini, who comes sailing by? Passant.

The dude climbed to the top of Pallavicini and skied back down faster than I could get from the starting line to even midway up the lift. Yeah, A-Basin is famous for slow lifts, but the fastest high-speed detatchable quad might not have beat him.

It was pretty much like that all day -- I got up to the top of the mountain, where the racers had to bootpack up to North Pole, ski down the double-diamond chute, ski back up, then come down Willy's. Passant had already done Pali twice, climbed up to the top, skied down Montezuma Bowl and was climbing back up.

It was nearly impossible to keep up with him. I took a couple pictures of people on North Pole, skied down to the base and arrived literally five seconds before Passant finished. Dude did 4,000 vertical feet, a half-dozen double diamond runs and I don't know how many miles of uphill in an hour, 56 minutes.

I talked to a few racers from the Springs, all of whom were trying it for the first time. Mike Hagen, a local bike racer, finished a very respectable 10th in the competitive class.

"I got crushed on the downhills," he said. "That was incredibly hard. Just amazingly hard."

Tracy Crowell raced in the rec class (which had a much shorter course), while her boyfriend Fred Hankinson tried the competitive class. They're both triathletes, but discovered ski mountaineering required something more than physical fitness and mental toughness: bravery.

"You have moments of fear in here, too," Crowell said. "Like the narrow chute at the top of North Pole: I left blood all over the snow."

What struck me was the number of people like Crowell and Hagen at the race: Serious endurance athletes who were relatively new to backcountry skiing. I sort of figured most of the racers would be serious backcountry skiers having a little fun trying a race. Given the number of distance cyclists, triathletes, marathoners and mountain bike racers in Colorado, I think ski mountaineering may have a bigger potential competitor base than I'd imagined. I'll be interested to see how the sport grows in future seasons.

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