Mar 25, 2011

Doubling down on the 12 Hours of Sunlight and The Aspen Power of Four

Waiting my turn at the start enjoying the sun

Racing in Colorado has given me the chance to experience some completely different style skimo events - most of them lately seeming to be very long in duration. Due to work commitments and other travel options I chose not to head over to the Ski Mountaineering Worlds in Claut, Italy. Instead I accepted an invite from pal and newer ski mountaineer Adam Frisch to run a few laps at the 12 Hours of Sunlight near Glenwood Springs, Colorado. The event used to be 24 hours, but was recently changed to twelve - which was fine with me.

Adam and Lyndsay at the finish

Held on February 13th with all action taking place between 8:00 am to 8:00pm the 12 hours drew people from as far as Jackson Hole (Congrats to JH resident Carey Smith for taking the men’s solo title with 19 laps, and time for a 20th). The day dawned Colorado bluebird, sunny and bright which would undoubtedly make the experience much more enjoyable. Adam toed the line first and we figured each lap would take us anywhere from 30-40 minutes including the transition and ski down at the turn around point. The course was entirely on-piste starting out fairly flat giving way to a rather steep finish before coming into transition and a fun, fast descent to the bottom. Adam set a great pace on his first lap that I echoed at 32 minutes a piece. Not a bad start and away we went back and forth for the next twelve hours.

I much prefer team races, but even though this was a team event I didn’t even get to see Adam, just a wave as he came into the tent and had his bib scanned. I took off as I heard the electronic beep while he yelled out encouragement. At one point he lost his bib and was issued a new one causing it to look like I was racing the whole event myself with a mystery bib out there running laps solo.

Race results. Adam lost his bib resulting in my long lap, actually a combo of our times

Adam and I surprised ourselves by leading the event by three or four minutes until around 5:00pm. We were fortunate enough to be racing against pals and endurance athletes Christy and Ted Mahon which made the day way more fun. We were two of only three co-ed teams but the Mahons themselves make it a great race anytime they roll up to the start. Ted who was deemed the “human metronome” due having all lap times within one minute of each other passed Adam with a few hours to go and the sweethearts claimed the co-ed duo title by three minutes. Ted gives another great account of the race here. I smell rematch for next year and huge kudos out to Adam, father of two for diving into this sport and giving it his all. It was a great event despite some feelings of Groundhog’s Day and I managed to keep all lap times consistent between 32-36 minutes, a great exercise in speed training and consistency. We each managed 10 laps in just under 6 hours each for a total of roughly 15,000 feet (4500 meters) of elevation gain and descent. After each lap we had about 20 real minutes of downtime in the lodge and thanks to Christy for bringing her Pilates foam roller, very helpful!

Congrats to winners Christy and Ted!

Less than a month later we all lined up for the first inaugural COSMIC Aspen Power of Four Ski Mountaineering Race. This event was the talk of the town (also called the Fourskin) as teams would touch all four Aspen Valley mountains in a day covering 26 miles and some 10,000 feet of elevation gain. We started at 8100 feet of elevation and topped out at 12,300 feet at the top of the Highlands Bowl. I was racing in the female teams division with Jessica Phillips who literally returned from Worlds in Italy the night before. She was game to give it a go and we lined up amongst Aspen’s finest at 7:15 am in the Snowmass Treehouse area.

Jessica and Lyndsay at the start

The course went up and up Green Cabin to the summit of Snowmass, across the Burn, down Hanging Valley Wall and back up to Elk Camp. We traversed the ridge towards Buttermilk past the Sugar Bowl with a bit of technical terrain before hitting West Buttermilk. Flying down Tiehack we hit our first aid station and figured we were about a third done. Ski celebrity Chris Davenport sat this one out due to an ailing partner and instead passed out water and inspiration before we hit the hard part of the course.

Summit of Tiehack looking down over Aspen

The next two ascents comprised of the bulk of our elevation gain. We skated, skied, and ran skis on packs to our next climb starting at the base village of Aspen Highlands. Highlands was packed with people and while the first climb up Thunderbowl was brutal, it was made much easier by all the cheers and support from skiers passing by and the tunes thumping from the freestyle comp taking place on the same run. Jessica and I started up Highlands in first place for female teams by just a few minutes. We could see the competition below us coming on strong so we fought to hold on to our short lead. Both accomplished skiers we hoped to gain time on the descent down the Highlands Bowl and the technical Congo Trail.

And we’re off!

As we reached Loge Peak, Jessica complained of nausea and thew in the towel, not surprising after such a hectic travel schedule. She insisted I head on alone and confident she was in good hands with the Highlands Patrol I headed up the Bowl. I have never seen so many people hikingĀ  - all of whom were very respectful and stepped out of the way when I yelled “racer!” One woman even said to me, “I am so in awe of what you are doing.” Comments like that are as good as a sports gel, they give me an energy boost. Speaking of which I had consumed about a gel every 45 minutes and was coveting the PB and J I had made for the long road up midnight mine. Nothing like solid food after sugary gel for hours.

I hit the smallish summit of the bowl with about 40 other people cheering me on - it reminded me a bit of the Pierra Menta. Skis on, skins off I headed straight down Ozone but not before my buddy Nick had remembered my request and handed me a small coke. Jackpot - he was up there working for Aspen Expeditions marshaling the event and it seriously made my race.

The Bowl was in great condition and I managed its powdery steep 40-45 degree face without stopping (yes thigh burner) and navigated the Congo Trail without incident. Probably one of the most technical descents on little skis I have made to date, steep, narrow and lots of sharp turns. I alternated between short turns, power plow and alternating high speed side slipping. Fun to see my pal Thierry down low in the trees taking photos.

Aspen Highlands Bowl

The final climb up Midnight Mine seriously took an eternity. I think I aged. Maybe a new gray hair. Very low angle and over snowmobile tracks it went up and up and up, and on and on and on. I happily ate my sandwich and finished my Coke. I could see a few teams up ahead so I caught up to the first and chatted for a bit. My pace a bit faster I saw another team in the distance. I focused on them working my way up. They were a bit harder to catch but when I did I recognized my pal Alan Peterson who was racing with Teague Holmes. They were entertaining themselves with stories and I was pleased to have caught up.

Alan, entertaining us until the end!

“Wait, are you racing alone?” said Alan. “Um yes, why?” I said thinking it was obvious as there was no one behind me. “Oh man, sorry, we thought you were a girl’s team so we have been trying to ditch you!” I laughed and we settled into stride together with Teague leading the way effortlessly kicking and gliding. I think Alan and I wanted to kill him just a little bit. In fact he actually finished the race switch (amazing athlete). We took turns telling stories and speaking with funny accents to make the time pass. Just when we could see the Sundeck I warned that it was miles away and in fact seemed to move farther away before we actually gained ground. It was during these last few minutes when I wondered why in the heck I had not taken up underwater basket weaving or some other more reasonable sport.

Ted and Christy at the finish

The final push took us behind the Sundeck where we could see the people eating inside both the main and private restaurants. Little kids pressed their faces to the glass waving while chewing their fries and we smiled and waved back sensing the end was near. Ripping skins we descended the Ruthies side of the mountain down car sized moguls on Silver Queen, into Lazy 8 Gully finishing at Lift 1A. I finished in 7:42 roughly an hour and a half behind the winners Brian Smith and Bryan Wickenhauser who crossed the line in 6:15. Had I my trusty partner with me we possibly would have taken the female title, but it takes two to tango and Jessica had actually suffered major dehydration and needed an IV bag or two to get her back on track - kudos to her for giving it a go after a rough few days travel. Jari Kirkland and Eva Hagan took the female title in 7:58. Despite losing my pal I had a great event and owe my finish to the last fun hour with Alan and Teague.

Midnight Mine

The first power of four was a sell-out with 75 teams lining up at the start. Roughly 50% were not able to finish due to missing the 2:00pm time cut at the Congo trail or from equipment issues. At the finish we learned that in fact the race was closer to 27 miles and 12,600 feet of climbing. From all accounts COSMIC organizer Pete Swenson, The Aspen Ski Company and Aspen Expeditions (thanks guys) were very happy with how it all played out and we can look forward to the second annual Power of Four next year. Rumor has it the event could even be World Championship material one of these years. For complete stats on this event click here. One of the greatest things about the Power of Four is that its high profile location hitting all mountains on a busy Saturday really opened up many an eye about the great sport of ski mountaineering - we are getting there!

Aspen Sundeck with Highlands in the background

So start looking for that partner, and maybe bring some music for that last climb for 2012. For another great write up, check out Ted Mahon’s account about finishing the race on a broken ski on his blog Stuck in the Rockies. Congrats to all who attempted this amazing event and for photos click here. For full results click here.