Catching up on old half-written posts, but the 2020 race day was recently announced, which reminded me of this long-standing draft...
Two seasons ago local skiing fast-guy Eric Carter (and a small army of volunteers) organized a ski-mountaineering race based off of the Squamish gondola. I wasn't really sure the course was long enough for me to be competitive, but was pleased to place second in the "heavy metal" category (the category for those with regular touring gear, as opposed to race-specific boots and skis), despite having major climbing skin issues and (what I found out to be) pretty slow transitions between skiing and skinning. It was my first race, and a lot of fun. They did it again this spring at Blackcomb as the Darkside Skimo Race, so I signed up. In addition to bringing my full-width climbing skins I made a ski-hook to allow me to attach my skis to my pack faster and actually spent an hour practicing my transitions (after studying a few youtube videos). I was amazed at how much faster it is to rip my skins from the front! All these years I've been ripping them from the back...
Check-in time was pretty early Saturday, so I stayed at my old friend Caroline's place in Squamish. She and her roommate Tara had signed up for the race as well. I convinced them both to switch to the long course, which is seriously under-represented in the female heavy-metal category. The day of the race the weather was poor, so unfortunately they needed to scale back the course to stay clear of the alpine, but excitement was nevertheless high at checkin time. After checkin we had some time before the race starts so we took a trip back to the car to drop off some stuff... Caroline and I met up by the gondola to wait for Tara. We were surprised to only see one other skimo racer upload while we waited, but the gondola attendant (resort employee, not race volunteer) thought it was the right place for the race. After waiting quite some time we thought we might miss the start of the race, so we uploaded without Tara. Turns out she had made a similar decision to upload without us - only at the correct gondola. As we reached the midstation we started to suspect our mistake. We met the other racer (Olivia) we'd seen upload earlier when she ran over to us and confirmed it. Oops. None of us really skis much at the resort, and we couldn't really see where the lifts were going because of the poor weather. We checked the map and made a plan to take a different lift up and ski diagonally across the resort to reach the start area. We got there just in time - I ditched my warmup jacket, put on my climbing skins, and started looking around for a place to relieve my (very) full bladder when Eric started counting down the race. I guess no time for that!
I was in the middle of the starting area when the race began, but pretty quickly made my way to the front. I could see the leaders, and counted about 14 people in front of me as racers found their pace and the pack thinned out. It looked like they were all sporting spandex and race skis, but I wasn't quite sure if there were any other Heavy Metal competitors in front of me. Over the course of the race I managed to overtake a few more, generally loosing time in the transitions but gaining it on the uphill and (somewhat surprisingly as I was on telemark skis, which don't have a reputation for speed) held my own on the downhills, even gaining a bit on some competitors in the moguls. Close to the end I was overtaken by the lead female as we passed another competitor; I tried to match her speed but my calves started to cramp up so I had to call off the chase - she was an experienced racer and had paced herself better than me.
I came through the finish line still feeling strong, but like I'd pushed myself. This was better than the previous year, where I'd saved too much in reserves. I took a quick look around and didn't see any fat skis in the finish area, and it was soon confirmed that I'd won the heavy metal category (42 racers) and placed 11th overall (80 racers) (results here). Olivia, who Carline and I barely made it to the start line with after taking the wrong gondola, rocked in later as the lead female in the Heavy Metal category. I skied the resort the rest of the day in a whiteout with Tara, while wearing my big wooly warmup sweater... it actually turned out to be surprisingly comfortable outerwear for a winter storm as it caked with snow and made me look like a mammoth. Unfortunately my boots, which have been in questionable condition for a while now with cracked bellows, really started falling apart in earnest and this would be their final trip. If only somebody made carbon fibre tele boots I could compete in the open category... maybe some day. I've still never gone skiing on alpine gear, and it would be a shame to have to start locking my heels down just to get some lightweight boots...
Say Nuth Khaw Yum
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