Project GT: Keeping it Tight

Of course they wear matching skinsuits. They’re Team Dadfit.
Eric "Hende" Henderson approaches the North Face of Mt. Toll in Colorado's Indian Peaks Wilderness.

With Elk Mountains Grand Traverse just around the corner, Hende and I (the two members of Team Dadfit) decided we probably oughtta get at least one day of on-snow training together. While Team Under Par has been getting out for weekly Wednesday night 12-milers, this was to be—in true Dadfit style—our first actual training ski together. Yes, of course we should have had a few more skinning sessions, but what do you expect? For the family men in this competition, what should be is different than daily, on-the-ground operational reality. And it's not as if we haven't been training; we’ve each been skinning on our own, Hende’s been doing stadium circuits at Boulder High School (near his office at Dynafit North America HQ), and I’ve been getting my ass kicked since September at The Alpine Training Center.

Anyway, we decided that last Thursday, March 20, the Vernal Equinox, would be a great day to go skiing and call it work. Hende had to be back for a midafternoon meeting, so after our children were safely deposited at their various schools, we drove his rig up to the Brainard Lake Recreation Area just west of Boulder, packed as much of our actual Grand Traverse gear as we could find (to simulate the actual race payload), and skinned up into the Blue Lake drainage.

This is one of our favorite local spring-skiing haunts, and once the corn cycle starts, the snowpack locks up into beautiful expanses of spring corn. On this day, however, the surfaces were the same wind-blasted crust and sastrugi typical of this region’s mid-winter conditions. Considering the conditions and our goal of rapid movement as a team through rolling terrain, we steered clear of potentially suspect avalanche slopes and simply tried to keep moving.

It was a windy but gorgeous blue-sky day, and I was amazed at how fast Hende was on the uphills. It made me worry that all of this gym training had simply made me strong, big, and slow (it should be noted that my build, at 6’1” and 195lbs, is perhaps better suited to stacking stone into piles than endurance racing). But my fears subsided once we broke out the tow rope and linked together.

I’m not joking about the tow rope. It's a trick used often in endurance races involving teams of two. Ours, like most, consisted of a simple eight-foot length of bunge cord connected via carabiner to our harnesses. It doesn't so much provide a free ride for the skier in back as a psychological reminder for the faster guy to pace himself and the slower guy to keep up. We resolved that, in the actual race, Hende would tow on the uphills, and I would give him a lift when and if he ever needs one.

As I write this, that training day was a few days ago and we’ve got exactly a week to go before Hende and I pull into Aspen, 40 miles and (hopefully) fewer than 12 hours after leaving Crested Butte at midnight on Friday, March 28. My 10-year old son has promised to meet me at the finish line with a Coke (I’ll be pretty thankful for a little sugar and caffeine at that point), but I think I’ll be ready for a beer or two also.

Oh, and what's with the skinsuits? Well, Hende being a Dynafit employee and all, we decided to wear them for the race. And as much as I used to chuckle at the sheer Euro-ness of this trademark piece of rando-racer gear, after wearing it Thursday, I'm sold. I know it makes me look like I think I'm really fast, but the suit is comfy as hell, pretty warm and windproof (compared to, say, the downhill suits I used to wear as a teenage alpine racer), and blessed with huge, strategically placed pockets that swallow anything from water bladders to food to avalanche tranceivers. If I'm doing a big rando race, I reason, I might as well go completely native.

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Connie Sciolino (center, in red) is the founder, owner, and head coach of The Alpine Training Center, a gym in Boulder, Colorado, designed specifically for mountain athletes.

Project GT: The Pain Cave

Connie Sciolino's gym, The Alpine Training Center, caters to mountain athletes. We're using it to prep for the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse.