Twenty paces from the starting line, the trouble started. The woman in front of me stopped mid-stride to put her boot back in walk mode. I deftly changed course just before my ski-tip would have impaled her, mentally noted the brand of her boot to make sure it wasn’t the same as mine, and I continued on with the spandex-clad crowd.
The race, called The Heathen Challenge, took place at Sunlight Mountain Resort, a small ski area outside of Glenwood Springs, Colo. All over the Centennial State, a number of ski areas were struggling through a dry November, December, and early January, but a blast of snow the week before the race gave the organizers at COSMIC a green light. I signed up for the Full course, which involved three laps from the base lodge to the summit, a total of 5,000 vertical feet of ascent and descent, and 11 miles of travel.
Not far from the walk-mode mishap, the course evolved into a number of switchbacks up a steep face. In the middle of the pack, I watched a number of men and women struggle in the thin sugar snow to complete kickturns. Some had to step off the skin track completely to adjust malfunctioning bindings, skins, and boots. I silently wondered if I might win, simply because my equipment was working.
When I finished the race in last place, however, the thought I had at the third switchback seemed laughable.
I have a fair amount of backcountry and ski touring experience, which helped with the ascending technique others struggled with. What I don’t have is speed. For the race, I demoed a pair of Dynafit PDG skis, which probably weigh as much as a single toepiece on my regular touring set up. While I was able to nail switchbacks all day long, I was not able keep up with the better trained competitors, which apparently was all of them.
But I did learn a lot about strategy, and will likely make up for it in another fun race soon. Until then, it looks like it’s back to training as I get ready for the Power of Four Race in March.
Photos courtesy of Ben Brashear. Follow him on Instagram for more.