Vertical Logic

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Irwin Skimo Race

The photos of skiing in Crested Butte were enough to provoke jealously all Fall. Adding Irwin to this winter's race calendar seemed like a no brainer because of the conditions. Complete with a cat ride to a full backcountry race, an awesome post race party with the CB crew and a powder day on Sunday -- all expectations were exceeded.

The Irwin ambience
The Race

My favorite slippers
The morning was cold, but not as cold as expected earlier in the week -- around zero with light wind and snow. After a quick change into boots under the La Sportiva tent and warmup I towed the line with the rest.

The first climb started up a low angle cat track for the first 400 ft vertical, suitable for the drag race. I took the holeshot and focused on good technique, getting some glide instead of the inefficient jog. The breathing and gear clatter decreased as the race unfolded. Once we exited off the cat track we started up a skin track set the day before. There was now a couple inches on the skinner.

Not wanting to give up the work I had put in off the start, I kept some pressure on. At the first kick turn I saw Marshall Thomson, John Gaston and Brian Smith behind me. Once we got above treeline, about 1k ft of climbing I sensed that the race was coming back together without a fresh skintrack. I stepped aside to let Marshall take a pull. The last 500 vertical of the first climb provided more trail breaking for Marshall and a good opportunity for the rest of the field to hitch back up.

Lots of spandex in the backcoutnry
At the first transition John took off first, followed by myself. In the flat light John went down in some variable snow. I lead until the flat just above the trees where Max Taam came by. The mellow powder run was a blast. Max, myself then Brian arrived at the bottom transition (adjacent to the start/finish line). Brian got the jump on me to the start of the second climb.

We were treated to a fresh skintrack and the race was on. I followed on Brian's heels and we made an efficient ascent through the forest. Unfortunately we caught the individuals freshening up the skinner in less than 1000 ft vertical. The course then made some kick turns up to the booter. Towards the base of the bootpack I stepped out of my binding on some firm snow. I frantically messed with it and tried to catch back up to Brian.

The booter itself was very short -- 100 ft vertical or so. We switched back to skinning from the top of the booter. Unfortunately again there was significant trail breaking from the overnight snow and winds. The race came back together. Notably John had caught back up.

I got the jump out of transition but was quickly passed by Brian, Max and John on the powdery flats, at which point I hitched a ride on the train. At the bottom we all arrived within seconds of each other.

I had a good transition and was out first, stepping over ski tails and poles as I squeezed my way from the back of the transition zone. Brian and John followed closely. I threw down what I had left on the next 900 ft vertical. The third climb hadn't been freshened up either and when I hadn't dropped Brian or John I gave them a turn, hoping to recover for a final move and preserve the gap we now had over Marshall and Max.

Brian took a pull and then John. At the top of the climb instead of making a move I was on my heels. At the transition John was gone as I started to rip my first skin and Brian was gone when I ripped the second.

The third descent was steeper up top and had nearly a mile of double poling and skating to the finish line at the bottom. My legs protested on the final descent and the double poling on unsupportable snow was painfully slow. Finally I hit the cat track for the start of the skate. Only one set of tracks was on the snow in front of me. Shortly after though Brian, a strong nordic skier, passed me. Despite a hard effort that was how it remained -- losing to Brian by 5 seconds and John 28 seconds.

Post Race

One of the funniest stories of the race was that Brian and I somehow switched poles in one of the transitions (bottom of the second descent?). Fueling the narrative further, my poles are 5 cm longer -- for a shorter guy a convenient length for the skate to the finish! Honestly I never noticed the whole time, but it makes an entertaining story.

The post race party at the Brick Oven in CB was fantastic as well. Free pizza, beer and hours of talking skiing! Does it get any better? Put this race on your calendar next year.

Thanks to Wick and the other race org for a great event. Looking forward to other trips to CB this winter for more racing.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Wasatch Citizen Series is Back

Ski mountaineering racing in the Wasatch is back! On tap for Thanksgiving morning was a Vert 60 race. I arrived at Brighton early Thanksgiving morning to set out some wind blades for the starting line and transitions with Jason. Unfortunately though he forgot his boots, so I skinned to the top of the course solo, carrying a bunch of signage. When I got back to the start line I couldn't believe the mass of people -- someone got a head count of 90+!

Photo by A OK
I took it out hard enough to taste some lactate on the first climb. By my third lap JD had showed up and we raced together until the hour was up. I was pleased to get in 7 laps and 3500 ft of climbing. Good fun and crazy turn out. Looks like this season's citizen series is going to be the biggest yet. Someone is even making dramatic videos...

Wasatch Citizen Series from Kyle Walcott on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Waiting for Winter

After some early October storms we've had extended high pressure here in Utah. I've contented myself with time trialing local foothills and building fitness for when the snow does fly. Last weekend Jason and I had grand ideas for stringing together local peaks. Unfortunately there was enough snow up high to make travel difficult and ultimately force us to bail on original plans.

A bull moose had us bushwacking for 20 minutes on Timp

Nonetheless on Saturday we climbed Timp via Aspen Grove to Emerald Lake and bagged Lone Peak's South Summit. Later that evening I tacked on some vert on Grandeur with Garrett who had also been doing a bunch of vertical. By days end we had both racked up over 4,200 meters (13,800 ft) of elevation gain.

Lone S Summit via the Hamongogs in 1:52

I had a 10 mile and 4,000 ft climbing group run planned on Sunday and with another Grandeur lap in the evening rounded out about 21,000 ft of climbing for the weekend.

It was quite pleasant at 11k feet
As you may have noticed from my blog widget, I use Strava. I had signed up for a vertical challenge the previous week which was starting on Saturday. I expected it to give me some extra motivation to go big. I also expected, given it is a world wide challenge, that to win would require something like 10k feet/day for the 10 day duration. Maybe the high country is becoming increasingly snow covered or weekend ultras started on Friday or not many people use Strava -- but by the end of the weekend I found myself in the lead!

Monday and Tuesday I have done two Grandeur laps each day. It happens to be some of the most efficient vertical anywhere and with the recent storm it hasn't received much snow. Also the trailhead being only mile from home makes it convenient!

I'm sure there is someone who hasn't uploaded yet and might come over the top at the last minute, but it has been good fun so far.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Baldy Main Chute - October Skiing

It felt great to put on skis and go for a walk today. Andy and I went up to Alta to see for ourselves what the first storms of the season had left behind. We weren't the only ones -- a number of skiers had similar thoughts.

As we ascended, the skin track became gradually less and less travelled. On the Baldy shoulder we passed the last of the people ahead of us. Andy and I traded turns breaking trail for the final ~700 vertical. The sensations of skinning and kick turns made the outing worthwhile by themselves.

High on the Baldy Shoulder (photo by AD)

We reached our objective, Baldy Main Chute, to find a rocky entrance but otherwise looked pretty filled in.

Andy consulting the Instagram oracle

The rest was way better than expected!

Photo by AD

Andy deep in Main Chute

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Mount Timpanogos

Jason, Lars and I met up Saturday morning to get some vertical. We had the whole morning and not having been up Timpanogos it was an easy choice.

We stepped out of the car at the Timpooneke trailhead in winter conditions -- 20s F with a skim of snow and ice at 7500ft. At that point I took the liberty of mocking Lars' and Jason's choice of half tights, but really I was worried about keeping warm myself. Fortunately as we began moving the calm morning became continuously more pleasant.

A nice morning

After a nice social hour we were around 10,000 feet taking in the views and snapping some photos. From there the snow started getting deeper and our jogging pretty much ended at the saddle. We traded turns breaking trail through new snow drifts.

The slow travel had us thinking about how nice it will be to trade shoes for skis -- hopefully very soon.

Mt Timpanogos Summit
We all had plans for later in the day so we didn't linger at the summit. For me I went to support Dominique in her quest to swim a marathon -- over 42,000 meters for those metric types. In the process, I ended up swimming 6k myself.

Making waves in Lane 2

Friday, October 4, 2013

Seasons Change

It seems only a week ago that summer ended and now it feels like autumn has wrapped up as well with the second cold front bringing snow to the Wasatch. It's a welcome change.

The summer was plagued by a frustrating running injury. Like most overuse injuries it could have been easily avoided -- too much too soon. And so a summer filled with trail running and off road triathlon goals came up short. It was a good time to work on mountain biking skills and use the bike to get above the valley heat. With what fitness I could put together I raced some local events including Park City Point to Point and Xterra Nationals.

Nearly recovered now, I've hung up the bike for the fall and have been getting out into the foothills and mountains on foot.

Today I had a nice trip up Mt Olympus with JD. With the snow overnight the ambience was excellent. We gained the saddle pretty quickly despite the snow, but the scramble up to the top was nice and slick. Fortunately any concern about going fast was quickly abandoned when we came across two mountain goats. They were already on the summit ridge and let us get quite close.

Photo by JD

There were several inches at 9000 feet, I'm sure a few people got out for the first desperate turns of the season today.

Here is an obligatory "Pano" shot using the new IOS 7 feature.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Otter Body

Three words that have been resonating in my head for the last 24 hours. It’s been that long since Andy and Jason Dorais and I reached the Bradley-Taggart trailhead after a perfect day in the Tetons.

It all started with a text from Andy Wednesday morning, “Call ASAP. Tetons?”. Of course I missed the text and didn’t return with a call for a few more hours. But as fate would have it he couldn’t round another person up in that time. I knew exactly what I was getting myself into before even speaking with him. “Tetons” meant skiing The Grand -- the GFT! He confirmed and I told him I’d call him back after I checked if I could swing it. Secretly I was mulling over the ramifications of accepting: steep ice, mandatory rappels, committing lines and one of the most coveted ski descents in North America. I emailed my boss and called Andy back within 10 mins -- I was in.

Nevermind that I hadn’t swung an ice axe, or rappelled off anything. I was chuffed on an invite to the Tetons, these dudes had been there and knew what it would take. That was enough for me.

That afternoon we all met up at Andy’s, packed up our gear, threw it in the back of his truck and hit the road. On the drive I entertained them with my naive questions regarding Teton geography and unpracticed skills I’d need the following day. At least they were laughing at the absurdity -- not turning the car around.

Andy had been in contact with Zahan and he was finishing up guiding The Grand as we were driving. He left a message, relayed by Andy but the only thing that came through in translation was, “Blower pow off the summit!”. The stoke meter was through the roof and we hashed out all the possibilities for the following day. Ultimately the plan was to bring the kitchen sink for the baddest stuff on the mountain and if we had energy to keep going! An ambitious group indeed.

We reached Jackson as the sun was setting, repacked gear in an open bay of Z’s garage and laid on a couch or floor for a sleepless hour before we set out for Bradley-Taggart. We started skinning directly from the parking lot. Skiing in the accessible Wasatch, it’s easy to practice the light and fast methodology. My pack is always feathery compared to the pack I was now putting on -- filled with a myriad of ice climbing equipment plus lots of food and liquid for a big day.

The moon was full and bright and made it feel as though we were traveling at twilight despite being 1am. We moved efficiently for heavy packs. Passing the Taggart and Bradley lakes, then onto the Boulders and Meadows with the Middle Teton in plain sight, illuminated by the moon. The moon was blocked by our objective as we made our way up the Teepee glacier, only to come out once more below the Teepee Pillar with ourselves stunningly silhouetted.

We reached the top of the Teepee glacier in less than 3.5 hrs. I thought to myself, “Not bad only 1700 vertical to go, we could ski this thing in the moonlight!”. After putting on crampons and harnesses at the Glencoe col the mountain quickly responded to my hubris. The winds were now whipping, the Stettner couloir showed no signs of Z’s tracks from the day before. It was a deep snow wallow up the Stettner, our vision blurred by the couloir walls, blowing snow and encroaching icicles on our faces.

Then we missed the turn to the Chevy -- we booted right passed it in those conditions. Luckily when presented with an unfamiliar fork the Dorais brothers recognized the error and with Andy’s massive light we were able fumble around for it. In the Chevy I pulled out the climbing gear I was carrying and responded to orders for items. Andy took the lead and Jason and I fed out twin ropes. The ice bulges were small but the winds and spindrift washed over Andy likes breaking waves. Andy then belayed Jason and I. Despite never having ice climbed I was eager to get moving -- I was now shivering.

The first ice bulge was cake and I was over it without issue. The second and slightly bigger bulge, maybe the size of a car, gave me a moment of pause when I had trouble sinking the pick. A piece of advice was shouted down, “Flick your wrist!”. I gave it a try and sure enough the pick went in with a satisfying thunk. Over the last bulge, we were now done with the ice tools and rope, so they were stashed away and we switched back to whippets.

Somehow hours had gone by since the Glencoe col due to the weather, booting conditions and messing with ropes. Thankfully though as the day was breaking and the change of aspect in the Ford couloir the weather became incredibly pleasant. The winds completely stopped.

When we arrived onto the southeast snowfield, the sun was now upon us. The summit was there for the taking. We switched to skinning for the last few hundred vertical. It felt amazing to skin all the way to the summit. The vantage is often described as moonlike -- my first summit of The Grand can only be described as euphoric.

Now the question of the rest of the day needed to be answered, as it had been kicked around the whole ascent. It was 8am, about an hour later than our projected “slow time” and the link up possibilities seemed to be in doubt with the clear skies and rapid warming.

We had all of the necessary Otter Body beta and equipment, so we thought. Ultimately we were pulled toward the OB like gravity, its allure was too hard to ignore.

The descent was unreal! We had pleasant turns in some dry but wind affected snow before we took a hard left towards the OB. Jason took the lead towards the choke in the East face which would drop us onto the Otter Body proper. As we neared the choke it was impossible to ignore the convexity and exposure of the slope. It rolled over into the abyss. Jason worked his way down the skiers right of the choke and then cut in under a landmark rock for safety. Andy and I followed.

Andy took the initiative in the choke and we watched on. The firm, but grippy snow in the sun gave way to a slick icy surface as the slope steepened in the choke. Andy stopped and found the rappel anchor and began readying the rope as I came down next, then Jason.

Andy rapped and then it was my turn -- my first ever. I was probably a bit slow, but otherwise it went well. I was on the Otter Body itself and we were committed to the line. When we were all off rappel it was now my turn to take the lead, since Jason was putting his skis on and Andy was coiling the rope.

The Otter Body is a shelf above a massive cliff which drops to the Teepee glacier. It hugs the mountain until it ends abruptly in the Otter Body chimney. The shelf itself would be a comfortable skiing slope if it wasn’t for the exposure and increasing convexity. The turns can only be described as exhilarating. I linked one after another until I approached the shade of the chimney. There I encountered steep slick snow once again. I stared transfixed eager to continue making turns, no steeper than the previous few, but on an unforgiving surface. Under the crust was dry sugary snow which would have made self arrest very difficult or impossible.

I stood there in indecision and looked along the walls above and below for the first rap anchor to keep my mind off the slope. No signs of any anchors the walls were caked with snow.

Andy joined me and had the same perception of the snow in the shady chimney. Without hesitating he ripped his skis off and started scraping the walls and down climbing. Jason arrived and the two of us followed Andy down climbing. I had hopes to continuing skiing, but the snow only worsened and the chimney became narrow and rocky. Still no sign of anchors until Andy spotted something on the skier’s right wall, not where we expected it. Andy rapped off it and then found the next one quickly.

This was to be our final rappel and after some debate about whether to go right or left of a large rock Andy disappeared over the 30m cliff. Shortly after Jason and I heard a loud shout which sounded like,  “TEEEPEEEE!”.

I enjoyed the adrenaline of the my first overhanging rappel and the relief of setting down on the Teepee was overwhelming. The metaphor for the moon was complete -- I had just reentered the atmosphere and touched down safely! I took great satisfaction in yelling “Off rappel!”.

With the East face still looming above, we moved quickly before the full on celebration. I punched it down the Teepee which felt flat compared to our previous slope. I made some clumsy turns in heinous breakable crust, arrived at the base of the Teepee. I watched the other two hack their way down the Teepee and arrive safely. At which point we gave way to spontaneous cheering!

The exit was more variable refrozen snow, which confirmed for us that we had a solid buffer before any wet activity -- we made the right call.

As we skied out, I looked at the Middle Teton and other peaks marveling at the inspiring terrain around. I look forward to coming back!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

ISMF World Championships Week

On Thursday 2/7 Dominique and I left Salt Lake City and flew to Torino, IT. We arrived Friday, despite a juggled itinerary and several lost bags. We spent the majority of the day in the Torino airport waiting for our bags and picking up other teammates. When everyone had arrived we stopped for lunch at a cafe in Torino and then set off for France.

After about 45 min on an Italian autostrada (highway) we split off onto winding mountain roads going up and over several mountain passes. We went through Briancon and eventually to the mouth of the Ecrins valley where the competitions were to be held. The Ecrins National Park consists mainly of the Massif des Ecrins a series of high peaks, many of which are glaciated and over 4,000m (13,000 ft). In fact we were only a few miles from the steep skiing mecca of La Grave. The pass to La Grave is closed in the winter and our hotel was located at the end of the paved road in the Ecrins valley in a small town called Pelvoux. Directly across from the hotel was a small ski resort with one lift and two pomas. Climbing steeply to the lookers right of the resort was Mt Pelvoux, nearly 9000 ft above the valley floor.

On Saturday morning, with the teams race the following day, we checked in as a team and headed out to recon the course. We drove to the resort of Puy St Vincent, just down the valley from where we were staying, outside the town of Vallouise. Max Taam, John Gaston, Andy Dorais and I rode the lifts to the top of the second climb, and then completed the course from there (minus the 4th climb which was essentially an out and back). The snow was fantastic even on tiny race skis and borrowed gear (Dom and I were still missing bags). Having too much fun we called the other guys and told them not to wait for us at the van. We skied all the way back into Vallouise where the finish would be held and then hitched a ride back to the hotel.

Our bags had thankfully been delivered while we were out and I was starting to feel good about the following day’s race. We attended the opening ceremony and then headed back to the hotel to lay low. Interestingly during the ceremony, the ISMF president shared that the IOC would rule on whether ski mountaineering would become an Olympic sport by this May.

Sunday morning we all shuttled down to Vallouise for the start of the teams race. The race got underway at 8:45am - the start was fast! The tops teams flew away on the flat XC track. It was immediately apparent that kicking and gliding was a huge weakness of ours in the US, as we bobbed up and down jogging the flat section. Nonetheless the track did start to go up. I was feeling fantastic, keeping my pace in check and taking the occasional glance back to find Andy behind me. The first climb was pretty mellow in grade but still gained about 2,800 ft. The first descent was incredibly short, just a few hundred feet right into a packed transition zone with dozens of other racers. The second climb was mostly kick turns through the woods ascending the shoulder of the Puy St Vincent ski area. The technical skiing suited Andy well and the two of us were holding our own with Luke Nelson and Marshall Thomson next to us and the top Canadian team just ahead. There were plenty of others in the mix too, Solvenians, Austrians, etc.

After 2,000 ft of the next climb disaster struck - my skins were failing. I stopped and swapped skins only to have my next pair fail shortly after. I was gunning it trying to catch back up since Andy had a bit of a gap at this point. Andy gave me one spare and then another at the next up transition. Several minutes were wasted, Max and John passed us along with many other teams. We babied our skins, since we each only had one working pair now that I had borrowed Andy’s spares. Each transition was painfully slow. On the third climb (1,000 ft) Andy was climbing stronger and it was all I could do to hang on.

The fourth climb I finally started to feel better, we were making up ground on some other teams and Greg Ruckman and Scott Simmons were coming into view. We cramponed up for the final steep icy booter. We passed one team there (Austrians?) and then after a quick transition we passed a team of Andorrans in the steep choke of the next descent.

Having previewed the course the day before I felt confident on the descent. I gapped Andy a few times, but he was never far behind. Towards the bottom of the descent I saw Greg and Scott, which added motivation to ski harder. I skied up on their tails, but couldn’t pass since I couldn’t see Andy! Finally I saw a white suit behind. We skied into the transition, but the white suit wasn’t Andy. He had gotten held up by another team. I transitioned slowly and waited, finally and definitely outside the legal distance (50m) Andy arrived. He had a good transition and soon we were back on the heels of Greg and Scott.

The final descent we both skied well and passed our countrymen, only to have them claw their way back on the XC skate in Vallouise. There was one final transition skinning to the water fountain in the middle of town. It turned into an all out sprint where Andy and I managed to pull ahead. We came thousands of miles across the ocean to race each other!

Across the line I was happy to find Dominique who had her own adventures that morning trying to spectate the race. They involved trudging up and down Puy St Vincent after inconsistencies about being allowed to ride lifts without skis!

I couldn’t help but think about the “what ifs” of my skins problems. In hindsight the issue was waxing my skis the night before and not scraping well enough. Nevertheless 20th was not bad and the US men did respectably (10th, 17th, 20th, 21st) even cracking the top 10! The US women did even better with a 5th place finish for Janelle Smiley and Stevie Kremer.

Monday was the sprint race and without fresh legs on the men’s team or dialed transitions none of us got out of qualifying! However, the women fared better - Nina Silitch crushed it and took the first US podium at a World Champs in 2nd place. The sprint race is approximately 3 min long with a skin, bootpack, skin, ski through giant slalom gates and into a skate finish. It is very technical, touching all aspects of skiing and very intense with the short duration. Throw in 5 other racers at once and it is fun to watch! With 18” of new snow, a rest day the following day and Nina’s success the atmosphere at dinner was celebratory.

The following day John, Max, Marshall and I went out to recon the individual course. We went right to the top of the second climb via a lift and poma, skied down the ascent and then rode back up again. By the second lap the guides had begun to put in the skin track to the top of the course along a knife edge ridge. When we caught up to them we chatted with one of the guides. To my excitement he brought up Mt Pelvoux as a great ski mountaineering objective. When I pressed for more details he suggested it for May or June, not Thursday! We took in the awesome bluebird day with fresh powder in sublime surroundings before transitioning and starting down. We were then treated to what we unanimously agreed was the best powder run on race gear ever! We checked out a bit more of the course and then skied into Vallouise for lunch.

At this point in the week the days were beginning to blend together. We had another hang out session in “living room”. The hotel common area was the only place anyone got internet reception - slow as it was. There was another team dinner in the hotel which I had begun to look forward to each night. We had a team briefing for the next day’s individual race and received our numbers. Mine was 77, the highest in the race, a placement which which I planned on improving the following day!

The day of the individual race was another beautiful day, sunny and crisp in the morning with warming already happening by the race start, 9 am. The race start was fast and again the kick and glide of the field was impossible to ignore as we flew up a gentle groomed run. Despite wasting energy running, I made it to the double skin track in good place just behind Reiner Thoni of Canada. The pace slow as we bottlenecked and I got a nice reprieve from the fast start. We had a few dozen kick turns through the woods up to a couloir in the rocks above. At which point we switched over to booting and exited out on the plateau and village of Puy Aillaud. I held my position over the coming flats and then more kick turns as we gained another ridge. There was a quick descent and after transitioning, John was coming in behind me. He had been making up ground after the booter. At this point the sun was in full effect on the southeast aspect we were on. I was getting hot! The fast pace was also taking a bit of a toll, I felt heavy. I tried to back off a bit so that I didn’t completely implode. John caught up and passed me and I started to lose contact with the main pack in front. There was a pretty big gap to the racers behind.

At the top of the second climb I was still out mostly alone, but I did get a glimpse of Marshall’s orange helmet making up some ground. I felt like I had a pretty slow descent in the chopped powder but no changes occurred. Max Taam made up a bunch of ground on that descent and entered the transition as I left. After a kick turn or two on the last climb I kicked off a skin. Max went by and I managed to hook the bungee back on. The final descent was fun and fast.

The fast start probably hurt my overall performance, but I was happy to go all in and see how it panned out. Now it is back to the drawing board, I learned a lot of good lessons during these races and have plenty of ideas for training going forward.

I managed to borrow some skimo gear from Janelle for Dominique so she could try skinning and skiing on Thursday. After a leisurely breakfast we headed out to watch the vertical race start - on skis. The original plan was to ski up and down the nordic trail which went through the valley, but she didn’t want to miss (or me to miss) the vertical finish, so we hopped on the ski lift. We rode up 2k vertical feet and would have a trial by fire on the way down!

With everyone trying to get on the lift to see the finish we missed the top finishers, but made it just in time to see the US men and women finish. The vertical race finish is incredible to watch since nearly half of the competitors collapse at the finish line! Race officials take skis off of athletes as they lay on the ground, lungs and legs burning.

After everyone finished Dom and I headed over to a groomer and started our descent. The piste we were on would be considered solidly blue square or harder skiing in the US. Not bad for her first run! Apart from all of the race traffic skiing down on us, the run went well. Although I think she was wishing she could trade the minimalist rando race gear for her snowboard by the bottom. She was a good sport and put up with my attempt at ski instructing.

We went back to the hotel where I met up with Andy, Scott, Micah and Mark Smiley for one last ski adventure. We set off skinning up the valley on the closed snow covered road, eventually passing through the nearly empty town of Ailefroide. The mellow skinning was welcome since most of our legs were spent, most of all Andy’s and Scott’s after competing in the vertical that morning. After a few miles we began to see a wide chute which seemed like it might “go”. As we got closer Andy and Mark recognized it as a line they spotted from a previous day on La Blanche. 4 miles from the hotel and only 2,000 ft higher we turned off and start our way up the chute. After about 1500 ft, Scott and Micah thought it wise to bail since they were competing in the relay race the next day. On their heels, taking advantage of our nice skin track came Luke and Chad.

Andy and I traded trail breaking up the chute, choosing the lookers left branch when it split. There seemed like an obvious saddle below a rocky peak which we both wondered if we could stand on top of before dark! We kept chugging away and what had appeared to be a saddle kept extending away from us. The incline kept rising as well and we chose to regroup with the others, now a party of five. Everyone agreed to press on and we switched to booting. We continued to make progress despite some punchy snow and the rocky peak which had been escaping us was now very much within our grasp. To get there without scrambling, we had to cross a different aspect and chutelette. With the change in snow and some trepidation about the late hour we flipped it around. If only we had another hour of daylight we would have scrambled the last 300 vert to the summit! Still it was more adventure than I had anticipated for that afternoon - I had left unprepared with no water or food. 10 snowballs later and some bummed candy bars I was standing on the top of a 5,000 ft chute with over 7,000 ft of skiing back to the hotel!

The skiing was variable, the light was nearly gone but it was fantastic nonetheless. We skied straight back to the hotel, popped skis off and traded stories with the rest of
the team over dinner.

The next day would be a whirlwind of travel which would hopefully land us in Moab, UT for a trail run on Saturday. This weekend had been in the works before I qualified - her parents, our friends Garrett and Kristina and numerous others were going to be there. We packed up our gear, slept for a few hours, drove to Torino at 3 am with Andy and connected through Charles de Gaulles where we nearly missed our connection to SLC due to a massive passport check queue.

We arrived in Salt Lake City feeling tired but Dom and I both agreed we felt better than when we landed in Italy on our departure. I dealt with another lost bag and then Garrett drove Dom and I home where we grabbed running shoes. Having now met up with Kristina I drove the four of us down to Moab. Four hours later due  we had arrived and I was ready to pass out, too tired to eat. The other three went out for some food and thankfully brought me back some pizza. My stomach changed its mind. We said hello to Dominique’s parents who were next door and then promptly passed out for the night.

I woke up before my alarm, wide awake at 5 am and to my surprise feeling pretty good. I went through my pre-race routine for the fourth time that week. Since we had missed the check in the night before, I was stuck with my original choice - the 55km (34mi). Garrett, Carol (Dom’s mom) and I were in for the ultra and Dom and John (her Dad) were going to run the 33km (20mi) together. It was my first ultra and Dom’s longest run ever straight off a week of travel and racing!

I wished Dom luck and headed to the start line with Garrett and Carol. At the start line I thought it was pretty novel how simple running is after dealing with the mental gear checks and rechecks in skimo racing. The gun went off and I rolled along with the lead pack for the first few miles. I had a healthy respect for the distance, so I let the battle rage on in front of me and slipped off the back of the lead chasers around mile 4. I was running alone taking in the scenery, laughing to myself about the absurdity of all this and ticking over nicely.

At mile 15, Karl Melzter, an ultra runner badass passed me and I ran with him until mile 18 when I could feel my hamstrings protesting the pace. I took 2 dixie cups of coke at each aid station and felt fantastic energy wise. From mile 20 to 27 my legs got abused by the slick rock (the term in Moab for the bedrock jutting out of the desert). It’s as hard as concrete and not running since October was rapidly catching up to me. Now it was my quads protesting. The last 6 miles were a struggle even though they were all downhill! Just before the finish line I caught up to Dom and her Dad who had started the 33km race after us. I got some water and a kiss - a perfect ending to the race and a crazy week. We did it!