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At Arapahoe Basin last week, I jumped into the first race of Dynafit’s Rise & Shine Rando series. Birds chirped. Trees stood dark against dawn’s coming light. Each step went “shush-shush.” The taste of blood crept up from my lungs into the back of my throat. Yep, my first experience skiing uphill lived up to the hype.
As Skiing Mag’s resident ski-touring noob, I was intrigued. As a veteran long-distance runner, I liked the idea of earning my turns—busting a lung, even—but lacked the know-how that most Skiing staffers have. I mean, as an intern here a few years ago I had to Google “tech bindings,” and last spring the Grand Traverse stories we put online baffled and fascinated me. When editor Sam Bass told me about the mid-week, pre-work race series, it seemed like an opportune time to try a little randonnée.
Signing up was not, however, without hesitation. I had a lot of questions. Namely: WTF am I going to wear? Are those tight speedsuits required? How do those bindings work? How do climbing skins work? Will I bite it on those skinny cross-country-esque skis once they point downhill? Will I get last?
With help from Sam and a demo setup from Dynafit, I figured out how get into, out of, up, down, and around with tech bindings, plus learned how to put on and remove skins. On the morning of the race, that is. I wish I’d had a little more time to practice, or had read the how to ski-mo article in the December issue of Skiing beforehand.
When the fittest looking racers, all clad in Spandex, charged off the line at A Bay’s base, I didn’t dare try to keep up. After all, I was wearing regular ski clothes. Sam said he’d stick with me to show me what to do, which was immensely helpful. Slightly competitive, however, I set my sights on trying to maybe keep up with a man in fluorescent green pants.
As we headed up High Noon trail to a transition at about 11,000 feet above sea level near Black Mountain Lodge, I thirsted for oxygen. At the transition, I fumbled a bit with de-skinning and clicking my heels in, and got passed by a few people I’d passed on the way up. Eventually I skied down Ramrod behind Sam. And the fluorescent pants guy. And a man in jorts.
At the second transition, back where the race began at the 10,780-foot base area, we re-skinned, freed our heels, and pointed our skis uphill again. This time, we hiked past the first transition area, up Dercum’s Gulch to Lenawee Face, and then up an increasingly steeper (feeling?) windblown slope to the Snow Plume Refuge, where wind whipped around, my hands went numb, and we finished at 12,474 feet above sea level.
By that time, I’m pretty sure Fluorescent Pants and Jorts had me beat, but I drew contentment from passing three dudes in the final ascent. The sun rose on smiles all around the hut. I got hooked—particularly on the ski down.
Skinning, I’ve learned, is crack for fitness fiends, money in the bank for the powder days to come, and a powerful gateway drug for aspiring backcountry skiers. And skiing downhill after having climbed up sans chairlift? Ecstasy.
See you on Tuesday, January 6 and/or Tuesday January 20?