Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Mountain running?

In the past couple of skimo seasons, I have felt strong in vertical races and the first climbs in individual races. An interesting project that I have taken up this summer is to see how well that vertical speed translates over to the steeper trails up to some of the local summits.

The FKT board at skiuphill.ca after my latest exploits
Ha Ling and the Lady Mac Teahouse strava segments were my initial targets. Both are similar in duration and vertical climb and are relatively untechnical (I'm not skilled enough to challenge for a fast time to the summit of Lady Mac). While I was initially just trying to put my name on the top 10 of the respective Strava leaderboards, initial attempts showed that I had the speed to challenge for the digital FKT's. It took a second attempt on each, carrying less stuff for me to take down both segments.

Ha Ling: Strava: 29:50, watch (green gate to summit): 31:53
Lady Mac (teahouse): Strava: 35:49, watch (parking lot to platform): 40:49

I also put in an attempt on the trail under the Sulphur mountain gondola. This trail isn't as steep and my running speed wasn't fast enough to come close to the current FKT.

All in all, something that makes me really look forward to spending time in the mountains and I have my eye on some segments throughout Western Canada


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Ken Jones Classic - Pan American Championships

With World Championships happening every 2 years, there has been a push to get a continental championships going on the other years. The idea is that the venue will alternate between Canada and USA. This year, it was Canada's turn (Crested Butte in 2012, Wasatch in 2016, etc..).

The three day event took place at Lake Louise with a vertical race on Friday, a sprint on Saturday, and an individual race on Sunday. Going in, I wanted to focus on the vertical and have a good result in the individual, and I wasn't too concerned with how the sprint would play out which would be beyond my control. So I skipped the sprint.

The vertical race took place on the final climb of the Ken Jones classic individual course. Up Larch, through Rock Garden to Elevator shaft. This is a climb that I have suffered up many times with fatigued legs at the end of the races, battling with 1-3 other skiers. This time, we'd be taking it on with fresh legs and starting with the entire field!

After a comfortable start, it started to feel a little too comfortable...so I attacked. By the time I was caught, just as we reached the flatter section, there were just 4 of us in a front group, but my legs were hurting! The course finished with a single skintrack section so while I entered the pain cave early on, I didn't have to worry about passing, just about hanging on. Barely. In the end I finished 4th. I had a strong race but was regretting not pacing better.

Sunday's individual race started early and cold with not much time for a warmup. The race would be long with the ER5 bootpack added in (as it was in 2016), in addition to the rest of the normal course! I let others dictate the pace and pretty much dangled in 4th place the entire race, seeing Rory in 3rd at skins-on transitions. With a strong bootpack, I had increased my grip on 4th place, but definitely was looking forward to the top of the final climb (the same climb as Friday's vertical race). 

The large field. Not only did a bunch of Americans come out, but it seems like there are more local guys donning skinsuits every year!

Grabbed a shotski from the bar to bring up onto the podium
The legs are happy the season is over but I'm feeling pumped for next year after keeping it together during the busy March schedule.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Marmot's Revenge. Racing and course design

The idea of hosting a race at Marmot Basin has been tossed around before, but Alex Stieda was the first to go through with that idea. The namesake "basin" on the mountain provides a great amphitheater of terrain that is perfect for a ski mountaineering race. The mountain is a bit of a hidden gem, but it has the terrain and skis pretty good for the snowfall it gets. Unfortunately, I hadn't actually skied the terrain since 2005, as when I checked out the mountain on the 2017 closing weekend, the upper mountain was closed due to rain and warm temperatures causing avalanches to ground!

Course setting morning, I was relying heavily on the local knowledge of volunteers and staff who were seeing "skimo" for the first time. While things seemed a little hectic in the morning, by the end of the day, we had skintracks that had been bedded in again, and big GS gates on some of the descents. Big kudos to the volunteers for picking things up quickly and making it happen!

"Is the race going up the Cornice? That's pretty steep!"

Race day went pretty well. I took the lead off the start as I usually do, and because I wanted to make sure everyone went the right way as it was not a straightforward cat track. The group was pretty well strung out heading into the technical skinning section and the steep section directly up the ridge to the top.

Then came the descents, into whiteout, which would be the theme for the day. Rocks were hit if you veered too far from the cornice at the top of Tres Hombres. Fortunately the red pin flags provided the definition to get us down. I'm sure even the skiing public appreciated them unless they were content to stick below treeline.

Eric and Nick took off from me for the rest of the day, likely breaking trail on the old skintrack that had been skied over, putting in a huge chunk of time into me on the last climbs. The peak bootpack seemed to go on forever. The elite course did some extra climbs than the recreational course and it was nice to swap encouragement with the skiers as we passed by. In the end I finished 3rd, what I expected, but I couldn't match the pace on the last 2 climbs.

If I were asked to redesign the course for a future event, I would look to changing up the course. 3 descents down the busy Basin Run down to the mid mountain chalet is a little dangerous with all of the people there! The course was a little long and I didn't get to fit Eagle East or Caribou Knoll into the course. I appreciated the technical skinning, but the 1st climb was steep, and we had to repeat it again. So here's what I'm thinking:

1. start at Chalet and climb Eagle ridge
2. descend eagle east to transition at Slash
3. Climb Slash, and Eagle ridge to top of Cornice
4. descend cornice to transition at Knob (avoid going down the busy Basin Run!)
5. Climb to peak (same climb as this year)
6. Descend peak, transition on upper traverse of basin run.
7. Short climb to top of Tres Hombres
8. Descend Tres Hombres to just above traverse
9. Climb up to lower gate of Tres Hombres to top of Caribou Knoll
10. Descend Caribou Knoll.
11. Climb up to lower gate of Tres Hombres
12. Descend Showoff Cattrack to finish!

If that seems long, maybe eliminate 2 and 3.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Panorama Steep Dreams

With a week filled with lots of skiing (backcountry, cross country, and ski hill!) it was hard to remember to leave something in the tank for the Steep Dreams races at Panorama. A vertical race on Saturday followed by the individual race on Sunday.

The vertical (equivalent to a hill climb bike race) is probably my strongest discipline, but with some very fast biathletes crossing over I was a little nervous, as there aren't really any special skills required for the vertical. But I put the nervousness behind and set a brisk pace to the top of the first pitch of the vertical that only Nick could match. Joel from Montana closed the gap as Nick broke some trail which deposited us at the bottom of a very steep groomed section. Nick took off straight up the hill while I took a traversing line and had something left at the end to out-sprint Joel for 2nd.
Vertical Start

Individual race start!

The individual race the next day had a novel format with skiers repeating the same climb 3 times going to a different descent each time before finishing with a different climb. This worked great as from my experience helping set the climb after the vertical race, it was a lot of work to put in just one track. While the track was generally at an appropriate gradient, lots of switchbacks and some short steep sections rewarded good skinning technique and penalizing others with wasted energy and skin failure.. Further magnified as the climb was repeated 3 times!

The short, flat/rolling 1st climb followed by a descent presented an interesting scene as the first 2 transitions were more crowded than usual.

The technical skinning was no problem for me, but unfortunately, I lost sight of Nick after the first descent. Let's just say the timed downhill results from this race quantify how much work I have to do! But I held on for 2nd place.

Unfortunately I will miss the Squamish race (which has an astonishing 82 entries as I write this!), but will course set at Marmot and aiming for a good result at the NA championships at Lake Louise at the end of March.

Roam Randonee at the Coldsmoke Festival

This year's edition featured a different course than when I last did this race two years ago with 3 big climbs, the classic "skins-on descent" and a flattish skin out to the descent of West Ymir run. In the grand scheme of the Canadian race series, the race kicks off a stretch of 5 straight weekends of racing!

I did my usual thing and took to the front off the start and with only minor trailbreaking in a couple of cm's of new snow, me and Eric were clear at the top of the first climb. Eric took charge on the 2nd climb picking his route and scanning for course markings, "trading off" to me after overshooting a switchback after which I finished off the trailbreaking which ended up being quite deep in the fan up to the base of the bootpack. I could see a group of 4 below, but fortunately that was as close as they would get. The pace along the flat section towards West Ymir was brisk. I fueled up at the top of the descent and dropped in right behind Eric, only to have him gradually disappear into the distance and leave the skins-on transition before I even got there.

On the final climb, I pushed hard to try to close the gap although it was obvious there were a couple of short spots where Eric did some significant trailbreaking. After pushing hard and running the flat section of the bootpack, I counted my time gap, only to lose another minute on the descent to the finish line. So obviously I need to work on my downhill skiing to be more competitive at this level.

The next race is the Steep Dreams at Panorama, so I decided to take a week off of work to do some skiing.

Monday, February 12, 2018


Every so often, Edmonton gets blanketed with consecutive storms that drop a bunch of snow before sun and wind can get to it. While not the deepest snowpack that I have skied, it was great to be able to take advantage of conditions that don't happen every year.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Fernie Lizard Skinner

The 3rd edition of the Fernie Lizard Skinner went off last weekend with promise of a more interesting course and the addition of a sprint race on the Sunday.

Avalanche conditions in the week leading up to the race were interesting, forcing the organizer to juggle around different course options. In the end, we would be racing to the top of the White Pass chair after a similar "first lap" to the top of the Timber chair as in previous years, before skiing on Stag Leap, which had been closed to the public during the cycle.

The classic groomer drag race remained, but a group of 4 (Me, the Joels, and Tyson Smith) remained at the top of the first climb. I was able to string things out further on the longer 2nd climb and managed to get a gap on the group of Joels. The 2nd descent was interesting with the Megasaurus trail mixed in there, which required some sidestepping in soft snow before a short bootpack partway up Stag Leap.

The conditions on the descents were much more enjoyable than in previous years where we had to battle rain crusts. Although Big Bang was a no-go due to avalanche conditions, we got to enjoy excellent powder skiing on Stag Leap down to the finish. I held on for the win!

Final Start
On Sunday, we sprinted on the short race training pitch by the Haul Back T-bar, although it was tough to watch people skiing powder across the bowl on Snake Ridge. Again, the racers worked the course, making it wider with more opportunities for passing. It is nice being able to provide some input. I had a series of excellent races with dialled transitions and good pacing to take my first sprint finals win! Tyson's sprinting was impressive as he was always able to build up a huge gap before the bootpack but some bobbles in transitions and descents cost him a spot in the finals.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Skimo FAQ

Can you put your skins on without taking your skis off?

No. Even if you could, it probably isn't faster due to all the fiddling and you have to take your boot out of the binding anyways to change from ski to climb mode. Wait...

Do competitors have to analyze avalanche conditions during the race?

The courses typically take place at controlled ski areas (in North America) or are approved by guides (in Europe) so that competitors from first place to last place just have to focus on racing and not navigation or safety. As well, the course is set in advance. Wait...
Wouldn't that be interesting though, "you can centrepunch that steep, crossloaded, slope if you want and you'll be 5 minutes faster!".

I'm a hotshot nordic skier. Can I try a race on my skate skis?

If your glutes can handle 1500m of herring bone climbing on ungroomed terrain, keep your skis from snapping into pieces, grip hard snow with no metal edges and soft boots, and trust that little metal bar to stay on your boot and in the binding on double black ski terrain then be my guest. But it's a terrible idea. And it's against the rules.

How well are those plastic edges, and boots with no for-aft support doing?
Could you keep up with this guy?

What's with the skin tight suits? Don't they get cold?

Only if you stop moving!

How long is a race?

Typically the first finisher is done in 1hr 30mins to 1hr 45minutes.

No, I mean how far do you cover?

 The target goal for setting a course is more based around elevation gain. 1500-1700m of vertical. The overall distance isn't that important, but is usually 12-17km.

12km? That's it? That doesn't sound very impressive.

Lausanne 2020 Youth Olympics

If you are reading this and you know a kid born in 2002 or later who is possibly interested in ski mountaineering racing, run, don't walk and tell them that they could represent Canada at the Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland in 2020. Canada gets 2 spots each for male and female. Qualification takes place at ISMF sanctioned races, and unfortunately the last chance in North America before the games is the Ken Jones Classic at Lake Louise this March. MEC and University of Calgary Outdoors Center rent equipment suitable for qualification or if you really want to make a statement, you could demo some real ski mountaineering race skis from SkiUphill . After qualification, there is plenty of time to iron out the finer details of what will hopefully be a longer term pursuit into ski mountaineering racing!

Update: Unfortunately, the United States Ski Mountaineering Association found out from their Olympic committee that there will be none of the USOC's limited athlete spots allocated to Skimo. Should the Canadian Olympic Committee follow the same decision, it looks like there wont be any North American athletes selected.

Friday, January 12, 2018

New Scarpa Alien Carbon?

Note the carbon weave on the cuff
What appears to be an updated boot from Scarpa with some features Alien RS. Lower shell appears to be like the current Alien 1.0, but with covered Boa system borrowed from the Alien RS. Does the lower shell maintain the existing internal laid-up carbon fiber internal skeleton or does it utilize the carbon reinforced injection mold plastic of Scarpa's RS boots? The CF reinforced injection mold material is reportedly stiff, but difficult to punch! A Scarpa Alien RS 1.0?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

2018 Castle Mountain Skimo

Sprint Race:

"Well, at least they don't need to bring out the chainsaw". "Does anyone have a real shovel?"

It took some hard work from the organizers and Eric to chisel a skintrack into the slope for the sprint race. But by the time the race started, we had sculpted a good course. And that is something I love about these sprint races. We are given a bit of freedom to add elements to make passing easier and racing fairer (more equitable lines, larger transition areas, wider turns).

I felt like I never really found my limit in my qualifying, quarters, and semi final runs, but was in for a rough awakening in the finals when I found myself off the back at the start. Unfortunately I kept picking the wrong set of skis to follow but eventually worked my way up to the tail end of the group finishing dead last in the heat but still only 6 seconds behind the winner.

Start of Semi Final heat


Chiseled skintracks

Individual Race:

Although only really consisting of 2 climbs, this course has it all: A nice groomer start to spread things out, skintrack with kick turns, ridge bootpack that both ascends and descends. Steep cattrack drag race. Excellent skiing on smooth wind buff and "bottomless" powder.

Nick wasn't here this year to tag team with Eric and string out the group, so I took on those honors. The first uptrack was a little blown in. Noticing that other skiers were coming up only a couple of switchbacks below, I took a pretty solid turn at the front to keep the pace up, but not blow up, focusing on keeping the skins gripping. Eric upped the pace at the top following some downhill ski tracks and continued even through some deep trailbreaking. Mike Foote also got away blitzing the downhill ridge bootpack section. There was a bit of confusion when the bootpack started to ascend again as we didn't regain the ridge, instead sticking to the groomer (and marked with green "skinning" flags) until popping out onto the ridge just before the top of the climb. Mike and Eric were later penalized 1minute for skinning part of this section. High winds on the ridge made things very cold and visibility difficult, but once at the top of High Rustler, it was excellent skiing on wind "groomed" snow. The slower first climb meant that I had a lot left in the tank and I blasted my fastest time ever up the cat road for the 2nd climb. I had heard speculation of horror stories related to the snow quality of the final descent with some rain crust evident at the base of the ski area but I found nothing but dry, bottomless powder. Tiring, but fun skiing on the race skis. Happy with a 3rd place, and gives me a good idea on where I can improve (pacing and descending) in future races.

Lots of good war stories at the end once people started rolling in: A broken ski, faceplants, burning legs on the descent, skin failure, kickturn struggles and bottlenecks, time cuts (with high winds and cat ski area availability a good call by the organizer to ensure the future sustainability of this race...)