Friday, January 29, 2016

Ski-Mo Race First Timer Tips

Maybe you’ve seen a race pop up on your local mountain’s events calendar. Maybe you’ve been curious about the sport after reading about it in a Running/Skiing/Outdoors magazine. Maybe you’ve seen pictures of your friends doing it. You’ve finally mustered up the courage and decided to register for a Ski Mountaineering/Rando Race! It’s late on Friday night, here are some tips to survive and thrive in your first race. The races are set up like a typical day of ski touring, only the decision making and avalanche control has been done for you. So use the gear you are comfortable touring with.

-The best way to answer any questions about the difficulty of the course is to ski the course beforehand! Descents are often on double black runs and snow conditions can range from the best skiing on the hill to...the worst skiing on the hill! Course maps are often posted in advance. Study the course map to limit the chances of getting lost! Take note in the racer meeting about how climbs, descents, transitions areas, bootpacks, etc. are marked.

-If you are unsure if you can handle the long course, sign up for the short course. There are lots of great prizes if you end up on the podium anyways.

-Make sure you have the mandatory gear:

Clothing: 3 full arm upper body layers (baselayer, insulating layer and windbreaker). A heavier softshell can probably double as an insulating layer and a windbreaker. 2 lower body layers (baselayer and shell), again a heavier softshell might let you go “commando”. Hat: Buffs are great here! You can store layers in your backpack, but pick stuff that you will be comfortable exerting yourself in! Maybe you can speed up your transitions by not having to layer up for the descent. Light softshells work great for this. Borrowing your friend’s downhill race suit from when he was 12 is not necessary!
My first race. Downhill suit for a 12 year old. Boots with 1 buckle and powerstrap removed. Bike helmet. Sunglasses. Thin Gloves. Thin hat.
Gloves must be worn at all times, so don’t wear a pair that will make you sweat!
Space blanket: Seriously, pick one up at a gas station.

Safety gear: Beacon (must be operating!)/shovel/probe (must be at least 240cm).

Backpack: The backpack needs to be able to carry skis. If you are really keen, there are some tutorials ( on how to add a quick access ski carry system so you don’t even have to take your pack off to put your skis on.

Skins: Make sure the glue on these can handle 4 or 5 laps. Mohair skins are fast, but make sure they are not too narrow for your skis. Sliding backwards wastes energy. Practice taking the skins off without taking the skis off. Don’t worry about being able to put them on without taking your skis off: Nobody does that!

Skis: At least 150cm long for women, at least 160cm long for men. At least 60mm underfoot. Splitboards and telemark are ok as well! The current crop of 85-90mm underfoot skis (Dynafit Cho-Oyo) with carbon weighing 1100g are a great option for touring and racing on the same pair. No, you can’t use your cross country skis.
Some race skis, some normal skis.
Boots: Typical AT/Telemark or Splitboard boot. I would suggest finding a way to simplify boot buckling at transitions. Can you ski down comfortably without having to use powerstraps or extra buckles or tongues? Can you leave some buckles closed on the way up? The current crop of 1000-1200g (Dynafit TLT6) boots are a great option for touring and racing on the same pair.

Helmet: Required for all descents, sometimes required for climbs. Pick a helmet that doesn’t get too hot. Climbing or bike helmets work great. Goggles or sunglasses are required for eye protection. Sunglasses are great for the climbs as long as they don’t fog, goggles are great for the descents.

Hydration/Nutrition: Being out in the cold and racing, it can be tough to remember to eat, but the races can be up to 4 hours so it is important to stay on top of your nutrition. Pick food that does not get rock hard in the cold and is easy to eat. Gels are popular. Camelbak hoses and waterbottle nozzles can freeze. I like to store hydration bladders or soft flasks in my clothing so that they stay warmer.

Techniques: A ski mountaineering race is not too far off a normal day in the backcountry. Focus on dialing in your kickturns. Work on simplifying your transitions. Practice skiing on black and double black runs in a variety of snow conditions.

Alright, now the actual racing! It’s probably not the best idea to line up on the front row as it is easy to get caught up in the commotion with poles and skis flying everywhere. The fast racers might start hard, but try not to get too caught up in the excitement or else you will pay for it later on the last 2 climbs. Pace yourself, remember to eat, drink, have fun, and try not to let tired legs bring you down on the descents. Meet people. I’m sure you’ll have lots to talk about after.

If you enjoyed yourself and would like to pursue the sport more seriously, it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of gear and training. Consult ‘s Ski Mountaineering Manual. also has a schedule of the races so you can find the next one close by.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Skimo Etiquette

The continued existence of the sport in North America is dependent on 3 groups of people:

-The resort staff: We need their permission to race, we need ski patrol support, meeting rooms, and groomers not running over course markings. Having the race go is just a small fraction of their weekend operations. They have to keep the rest of the public happy.

-The organizer: Someone has to set the course, wrangle up the sponsors and volunteers.

-The racers: If nobody shows up, why bother putting on a race?

The racers have to make sure that they don't piss off the first two groups.

We are fortunate that we don't have to deal with the hassle of leashes or the expense/complexity/weight of brakes. Yard saleing above the parking lot and having your runaway skis hit cars puts this in jeopardy. Take that extra second to make sure your bindings are on properly after a bootpack (or organizers should put in a short skinning section before the descent). Make sure your skis are mounted properly. Make sure that your skis don't fall off your backpack. The skiing public at the resort are required to have leashes.

 Should race courses be easy to encourage more crossover athletes (runners, cyclists, triathletes, XC skiers) to compete, or should they be tough to prepare the elite athletes for hard European courses and and draw in more local ski tourers? What about the short courses? While only a handful of top athletes end up racing in Europe, I think that the tougher terrain does a better job of showcasing the sport, avoids more of the skiing public, keeps the downhill speeds reasonable, and is more representative of what skiers want to ski when they go out for fun. Skimo newbies with a background in downhill and backcountry skiing progress to higher levels of the sport. So the courses go down double black diamonds. How steep is this run? "If you have to ask..." I would like to see more vertical races or first climb primes pop up so the crossover athletes can see how they stack up. Take a ski lesson and spend some time skiing the resort so that ski patrol doesn't view the racers as a liability.

If the sign says that you can't bring your gear into the lodge, don't bring your gear into the lodge.

I'm an advocate for free public access to crown land but if a resort is hosting a race, make sure they are cool with uphill traffic if you plan on training there before or after the race.

Thank the volunteers and the organizer. If the organizer chooses to impose a time cutoff, it's so that the volunteers can eventually go inside and enjoy their well earned nachos and beer. I would suggest doing at least one ski touring day around the same vertical gain as the race before attempting the big course. There are always great prizes for winning the recreational course!

Don't piss off the skiing public. Adhere to the skier's responsibility code. Don't take up extra space in the lodge or the parking lot.

Unfortunately, until the profile of the sport is raised, we have to tiptoe and be on our best behaviour.

Fernie Lizard Skinner

The target on my back was even bigger coming into this race. Warm temperatures and precipitation left icy and crusty conditions on the lower half of the mountain. The groomer skiing was icy and any lower mountain ungroomed skiing was sure to be challenging.

My typical race start is impulsive. The holeshot is there for the taking. This time, I relaxed and slipped into the 2nd row...before attacking on the inside of the first corner! My gap was formed and with some great kicking and gliding I maintained my lead through the flats and the slippery steeps of the first climb. Skinning technique was important as the slopes got steeper!

Travis and Ben caught be on the descent and the battle was on! Travis got away on the 2nd descent and put in a gap I could not close on the 3rd climb. The final descent was below the rain line and the skiing was icy and crusty. I was happy to get to the groomed trail at the bottom after getting rattled around. He put even more time into me and I came across the line in 2nd.

The Guide's Hut put on a good race and were open to feeback on the course. Hopefully the resort gives the sport and the organizer the respect we deserve and let us race to the top! The whole resort under the shadow of a large corniced headwall presenting challenges for avalanche control.

I am happy with how the first part of the season is gone, I feel like the fitness is there, and I can focus on working on my descending.

Whitefish Whiteout

Brimming with confidence and coming off of a chill week after the Castle Mountain Skimo, I was pumped to tackle the Whitefish Whiteout. I’ve never really put together a good race in Whitefish, so with my new found speed, I was looking to put an end to that streak.

After a great sleep at the Duck Inn, I hit the start line with just a couple short warmup laps. But off the gun, the legs were ready to go and I took off with my usual fast start. Typically, I am reeled in shortly after and I settle in for a battle. But nobody came. I measured my progress with frequent glances behind. Were they letting me fry out here on my own? I put my head down as to not encourage my chasers further and hit the summit in 27minutes after opening up at the very top.

After regrouped with Travis, Ben, and Mike, we skied the rest of the course together, enjoying the fresh snow on the descents. I managed to slizzer my way out of most of the trailbreaking duties on the bootpacks. On the final two climbs, Travis and Ben suffered from skin failures, and it was just me and Mike on the final cattrack drag race to the end. I attacked early on and held on to take the win!

New course was fun and included some skiing beyond the boundaries of the resort. The skiing was awesome and I came home with some great prizes from the sponsors and the resort.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Castle Mountain: Guess who's back!

Sprint Action. Photo from Mark, the organizer of the Fernie Lizard Skinner race  on January 23, 2016

After racing well at the Vert 180 and putting in some good training at camp and over the Christmas break, I was looking forward to Castle. Brent, the organizer, even decided to throw in Canada’s first ever sprint race to kick off the weekend. 

The course was shorter than what I had raced, a vertical of only 40m, which happens to be in the same ballpark as Edmonton Ski Club. Dave and Brent had managed to chisel through the groomed run to create the transition areas, but the skintracks were not as hacked in so skinning technique would be important. 

I was paired up with Nick and Matt for the first heat. Nick crashed right off the start and I got my skis tangled up, but I managed to chase down Matt to win the heat. In the next heat, I was paired with Travis and Ben. Not wanting to get caught up in traffic, I attacked after the 3rd switchback and rocked the bootpack hard. Then I had trouble stepping into my skis, even blowing a ski and watched myself slide back into last. I was having fun and wanted to see if I could put down a dialed run, Nick too was looking for redemption and we were able to gather another two for a “B” final of 4 racers. I was able to match Nick up the bootpack, but again I had issues stepping in. I need to be more patient.

The sprint was lots of fun and having two races over the weekend really made it worthwhile for those travelling from further away.

Kylee had rented out a condo for a bunch of us skimo types to stay in. This was awesome, we all got to hang out together, eat good food, and go to bed uninterrupted by hostel shenanigans. Great idea!

The next morning was the main event and the legs were well loosened up from the sprint race. The resort was getting blasted with winds so skiing was smooth. I took off hard off the start and only Nick and Eric were able to get ahead of me. I watched Nick keep attacking Eric, not convinced that the pace was high enough as “Peter was still there”. When the course veered off the cattrack and onto the switchbacks, I focussed on skiing smoothly, nailing my kick turns and keeping Eric in sight. 

The bootpack was a good time. I only had the faint bootprints of Nick and Eric to follow, which were getting covered up by the wind. A couple of spicy downclimbs with exposure below, but I was able to find my way around a crux feature that was a hot topic of post-race discussion. 

Down the descent and up the steep cat skiing road. Still in 3rd place, I might just pull this off. And despite my frequent looking back acting like a magnet to Travis and Ben chasing behind me, I did pull it off. My best race since moving back from Canmore. Yup, pretty awesome to be working full time, pulling in real dollars, training in the river valley and being competitive with my past life living the dream in Canmore with only a part time job.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Castle Mountain Ski Mountaineering Race 2016 Info

Our next Ski Mo. race will be at Castle Mountain! Pay close attention when you register because there are TWO different race types this year (You read right, two types of races).
Race day 1: Saturday, January 9th, 2016
-9:00am to 12:00pm --> Registration is open on
-10:30am to 12:30pm --> Sprint course is open for athletes to practice
-12:30pm to 1:15pm --> MANDATORY racer technical briefing
(Including ACC waiver signing, bib distribution, lift ticket distribution)
-1:30pm to 3:30pm --> Ski Mo sprint races!
-7:00pm --> Awards ceremony (day lodge)
**6:30pm to 10:30pm -->First ever Ski Mo. Social**
Race day 2: Sunday, January 10th, 2016
-8:00am to 8:30am --> Registration is open on
-8:45am to 9:15am --> MANDATORY racer technical briefing
(Including ACC waiver signing, bib distribution, lift ticket distribution)
-9:40am --> Racers to start corral
-9:45am to 10:00am --> Last minute race instructions & Beacon check
-10:00am to 2:00pm --> CMR individual Ski Mo. Race
-2:00pm to 5:00pm --> Awards ceremony (day lodge)

Typical Mandatory Gear list
Each racer must be equipped with the following
  • Alpine Touring (AT), Telemark, or Splitboard rig
  • Skins
  • Transceiver
  • Shovel
  • Probe (240cm long)
  • Day pack, food, hydration (pack needs to be able to carry skis/snowboard)
  • Helmet (bike, ski, climbing helmet acceptable)
  • Inner & outer wear layers (wind breaker, insulating, and base layer for top, wind breaker and insulating for bottom). Race suit can count as an insulating layer for top and bottom.