The Whirlwind Season
Updated: Apr 8, 2022
Sometimes I feel like race results are somewhat unimportant and struggle to find meaning in competition. That said, the other half of me recognizes why racing is important to me. Racing is a product of hard work which gives me a reason to reflect and write about my experiences in competition. Not to mention competition provides entry to a caring community of likeminded individuals. I have met many of my best friends and partners through competition. Overall there are plenty of reasons to appreciate competition hence my continuum in racing post covid-19 hiatus.
The 2021/2022 race season was short but sweet.. The first stop on the Canadian series was at the Castle Mountain ski hill in southwest Alberta. I have raced at castle twice in past years. This year I was fairly unmotivated to make the 14 hour drive to Castle and made the call to start my season racing in Nelson instead. The following months included some serious financial struggles after the District of Squamish evicted Katarina and I from the airstream trailer we were living in. I could go on forever about my frustrations with the DOS but whats done is done and it is not worth my time or energy. Despite the winters financial struggles I still managed to train hard and with consistency. It was also nice to have Nick around again since we share very similar interests in terms of training and being in the mountains.
To my disappointment the second Canada cup in Nelson was cancelled due to covid related staffing issues. It felt like my season was getting smaller and smaller. Good thing I love being in the mountains training otherwise I think I would have been pretty bummed. Fast forward through to March 4th Katarina, Nick, and I were finally on route to the PNW classic VertFest situated at Snoqualmie Pass in Washington. It had been close to two years since any of us had participated in a Ski Mountaineering race. Needless to say I was feeling some apprehension and anxiety on how my body would react.
We rolled into North Bend that evening and checked into the cheapest hotel we could find. After arriving Kat went to have a shower only to find that the water coming out of the faucet was light brown in colour. I guess you get what you pay for.. Ha! Living cheap while travelling to the races certainly has its pros and cons. Overall I find it often makes the experience more adventurous. Let's just say I find a lot of humility and have better memories in low budget trips.
After a rough sleep and a big cup of coffee we made way to Snoqualmie pass. Through a blur of excitement and angst I found myself toeing the start line with 150 other racers (a lot for a small scale Ski Mo Race). My heart beat strongly and everything went silent before the blare of the air horn. Off we went. I settled into a nice pace behind Nick. Breathing hard but not at my max effort. I eventually took over the lead and gave a hard effort to the top of the first climb to try and make some space. The descent that followed was generally unpleasant through ice chunks and tall moguls. the last climb went by smoothly. I could still see Nick not far behind me and was nervous he might catch up. Thankfully I kept my lead until the final transition where I began my descent at a more casual pace to the finish in an effort to preserve my gear.
After a near perfect race at VertFest finishing in first place I felt some confidence come back. It turns out that not much had changed and that I was seemingly stronger than in 2020
Next up was North American Championships in Golden, BC. I had roughly three weeks between races which was enough for a couple longer training weeks. I do almost all of my training in the backcountry which keeps me motivated and enjoying the process. I could likely be a little faster if I chose to spend 80 % of my time on piste but then again that is not why I train. I like to do what keeps me happy which is spending time in nature away from civilization.
At the end of March Kat, Nick, and I left for a two week racing trip first to North American Championships , then to Jasper for Canadian Nationals. I find the Canadian ski-mo schedule to be fairly odd.. Very little to know racing from December to March then 6 races in the span of two weeks. If I had it my way I would space it out over the winter but these are the circumstances and I am thankful to have races to attend that are largely run by volunteers. After some highway stalls and an unexpected free stay in Revelstoke thanks to the generous hospitality of Janelle and Mark we eventually rolled into the hostel in Golden. Knowing these next three days would be somewhat painful I tried to to rest as much as possible before the afternoon vertical race.
At 4PM we started the Vertical. The course started out steep followed by a long flat section and a very steep final punch. Cam Smith quickly put time into us but was within sight which was good motivation to push hard. Adam Loomis and I battled it out. Eventually on the final steep punch I was able to put some space between us finishing in 2nd around a minute behind Cam.
The individual race started the following day. My favourite event in Ski Mountaineering Racing. My lungs felt somewhat worked from the previous days vertical race but that feeling was mutual with all the competitors. Thankfully the course was a true skiers course. No boring groomer racing for lack of better words. Technical descent's and steep climbs made up for the 1700 meter long course. The race started and without surprise the Americans pushed the paced hard on the first climb which happened to be a low angled groomer for 350 meters. Knowing that Cam and Tom are in better shape than me I settled into a slightly more "reasonable" pace with the chase pack. For the rest of the race Tom and Cam were in sight of me but unless I found some sort of 6th gear I was not going to close the gap. Adam Loomis and I battled it out for the majority of the race until I was able to put time into him on the 2nd to last boot pack and most technical descent. As I reached the final climb I could see Tom. It seemed as if I was gaining on him but with only one climb to go I would have to do something special to close the gap between us. It gave me some good motivation to push hard on the final climb. After smashing through some unpleasant moguls I finished in third 4 minutes back from first place.
Feeling somewhat destroyed both from the racing and typical noisy nights in the local hostel Nick and I forced ourselves out of bed and to the start line of the teams race. The race started with a 1100 meter climb up a groomer, steep moguls, and then some pleasant skin tracks in the alpine. Within the first couple minutes Cam and Tom decided to take off never to be seen again.. Nick and I stayed with three other teams on the first climb. The pace was not super fast but I was appreciating not having to redline the first third of the race. Nick and and sped down the first chute arriving at the transition with Eric and Matt. With a smooth skins on transition we were off ahead of the 3rd and 4th teams. We found our rhythm moving strong up and down the steep ascents and technical descents with Logan and Adam hot on our heels. Thankfully both teams were working hard so the gap did not close. Eventually Nick and I suffered our way up the final short boot pack and calmly clicked into our skis. At this point we cruised down the final descent knowing that Logan and Adam would not catch us and Tom and Cam were likely near the finish line. We skated our way through the finish in 2nd place feeling content with our race and knowing that we worked well together.
The week in between Steep Dreams and Canadian Nationals involved more time holding onto ice tools then on skis which we felt would be better for recovery. We probably should have sat on the couch but when in the rockies it makes sense to climb ice. Thank you to Em and Justen for letting us crash and explode our gear at their town house in Canmore! Kat, Nick, And I arrived in Jasper feeling tired from the previous week of racing, bad sleeps, and climbing. That said I was feeling excited for some more racing.
The morning before the vertical the three of us relaxed in the sun, ate pastries, and prepped for the afternoon vertical race. Like many Canadian races the turn out was quite small. 14 races toed the start line of the vertical. That didn’t stop the pace from being hot right off the start. The nature of the race changed as we hit an unpleasant wall of moguls. Thankfully I decided to use full length skins which let me go strait up while the other had to do more traversing. I put some distance between Nick and I and held it through to the finish in 1st place. Ouch, High altitude and dry air does a number to the lungs..
The next day was the Sprint race. The sprint format is not my favourite. I think it is somewhat contrived. That being said it is great practice for fast transitions. Long story short Nick won by a good margin but was penalized 20 seconds for getting his glove stuck in his binding. This bumped me to first place although I do not agree with this. If Ski-Mo Canada is gong to penalize racers they need to be consistent. For example I did not race with a "ski" certified helmet for the whole event and nothing was said but when Nicks glove got caught for some reason it was a big deal. I my mind Nick was still first place in the sprint.
As it turns out booking the cheapest hotel can sometimes have repercussions. Rooms at the Athabasca cost 129$ per night but little did we know that there was a night club on the first floor. We struggled to sleep with the pounding bass and screams of young partygoers. Lesson learned, book accommodation early not last minute.. Ha!
The next day we woke up in a hurry to make it to the start of the individual. Poor Kat had a fever but having driven across the province still decided to race. In hind sight I had a cold coming on too but was to stubborn to let it get to me.. The race started out at a more friendly pace. Before I knew it I was breathing hard again with tired legs as I wallowed my way up the first boot pack. Similar to Steep dreams this course involved some steep climbs and reasonably technical descending. Not to mention the skiing was also great! The course ended up being quite short at around 1300 meters. Split up into 6 climbs and boot packs the intensity was high and the race was over in flurry. I was able to put a small gap into Nick halfway through the race eventually finishing in first place with a time of 1:21:00.
The Ski-Mo race season was over but the feeling of rush was not.. The 3 of us zipped back to the car after awards and commenced a long haul back to Squamish. We made good time and stopped very little. My ass was sore and constantly on the verge of cramping while driving. I think the driving was more mentally draining than the racing. I drove to Merritt were I was rendering useless. Nick then took the bull by the horns and drove through a nasty rain storm getting us to Squamish around 10:30 PM.
Now Kat and I sit at home bored and sick with a sinus cold that is likely Covid-19. These fast paced trips of racing combined with bad sleep are not good for the immune system. That said I think my body needs a week of doing nothing so the forced rest is probably a good thing.
I am looking forward to a summer of climbing, running, cycling, and time in the mountains with friend's and family.