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.

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