In 2015/16, Andy Anderson worked with Sugarbowl to schedule an uphill ski race- only to have it canceled at the last minute. When Sugarbowl announced a Spring 2017 race with full buy-in from their ski patrol, the TahoeSkimo crew was elated- the first ISMF/USSMA-compliant skimo race in California!
Unfortunately, a set of storms forced Sugarbowl to push the race from Feburary to March- forcing Andy and Pat Parsel, two of the area’s strongest skiers, to drop out of the race. Thus when I drove up to Sugarbowl on the morning of March 25, I didn’t know what to expect- whether Dave Riggs and I would be the only two spandex-clad skimo freaks, or whether we’d end up drawing serious competition from far outside of the Tahoe area.
Walking up to the start, I was completely intimidated- over a dozen people were walking around in spandex and race gear, with boots and skis which I’d only drooled about on gear sites. Rushing up with only a few minutes to spare, wearing worn-out boots I’d gotten on eBay for $200, and having only worn my skimo suit once before, I felt intimidated.
The start was a rush- sliding downhill and through the Sugarbowl village, I wiped out twice when my skis crossed in the mad dash to get into a good position on the skintrack of the first climb. In 4th place as the pitch steepened, I told myself I just had to hold onto the front cluster- but the leader (Bryce Clark) was incredibly strong, and seemed impossibly far ahead.
I could tell from the skintrack that somebody was dealing with serious glopping, and chatting with the racer in front of me (Tim Tollefson) it turned out that he hadn’t brought spare skins, hadn’t been prepared for glopping, and had no idea what to do. As we kicked into the gliding section at the top, I left Tim behind and caught up with the second-place racer (Ben Logan) at the transition zone.
Flying down bumped-up powder on skimo skis is not an easy task- my only strategy is to avoid turning, cutting wide and awkward zig-zags across the slope. Sweat had clouded my glasses, making it difficult to see the bumps ahead, but I cruised to the next transition as Bryce was taking off.
I was afflicted by serious glopping on the second climb, which featured a set of rollers that would have made good glide invaluable. Bryce was out of sight at the transition, but Ben and I started down at about the same time.
The flagging was unclear as we wove down the ski runs, and I relied on my memory to guide me back to the Judah lift and the checkpoint. Shooting through the start/finish chute, I skated through the village- Bryce out of sight ahead of me, and Ben out of sight behind me.
I caught Bryce at the transition, as Ben pulled up behind me.With no other racers around us, it seemed clear that the three of us would be on the podium, but the final ordering was still completely unclear.
The skintrack had been nicely packed by the horde behind us, but as the pitch steepened Bryce started falling behind until Ben and I passed him. “Burned too hard on the first lap…” he puffed as we went by. I didn’t know whether he was serious, or planning for another burst at the end- best to keep on Ben’s heels and keep up the gas!
From the last lap, I thought that I could gain 10-15 seconds on the last descent- so as long as I could keep him in sight, I might have even odds of finishing first. The second climb, I dug deep and pushed hard- just trying to keep Ben in sight as he poured on the gas, trying to pull into the lead.
I felt destroyed as I kicked towards the final transition zone, yelling at snowboarders to get out of the way as I saw Ben disappear down the slope. Shoving my skins into a ball in my suit, I launched into the descent- barely in control, my skinny skis bouncing around the bumped-up snow.
I saw Ben as I came over a rise, the arc of his turns showing that he wasn’t worried about being passed. Crouching into a tuck, I slipped by and tried to get out of range as I aimed for the lifts and the finish line.
The course managers weren’t ready for us, and I had to again yell at the traffic to get out of the way as I dodged resortgoers lazily lining up for lifts. I felt bad about barging through, but as I shot over the finish line and slowed my heaving breath, also felt justified- giving Ben a big high-five as he came to a stop seconds behind me.
I won by a mere 9 seconds, all thanks to the downhill. I’m glad I didn’t attempt to hold the first place on climbs, as I’m atrocious at pacing myself.
A few lessons from the race:
- Prepping climbing skins is critical- I wish I’d waxed my climbing skins, and had shortened my backup skins.
- Switch skins as soon as you have issues- skin issues are never going to get better
- Expect a lot of sweat and humidity- move glasses down as soon as they begin to fog, to avoid worse visibility issues when it matters.
- Learn how to skate better to be able to move more efficiently on flat terrain. Talking with Dave Riggs, this is critical for success on long low-angle routes
- Flex boots to test that they’re locked in before beginning the descent
- Wax the binding areas to avoid snow/ice buildup. I had to force my bindings off on the later laps.
- Using low-angle kick/glide terrain to down a Gu is great- this avoids taking time from transitions and means that your blood sugar is surging in time for the next climb.