Aspen Power of Four Ski Mountaineer Race
Eric wanted a redemption run at the Aspen Power of Four SkiMo race and it jived with our hockey schedule, so I was in. Due to COVID it was a mystery as to whether or not it would actually start, but fortunately the stars aligned. Eric was doing a ton of training in Winter Park and I was real nervous about getting almost zero training in, except a few blister-filled skins up/down High Drive.
We met in Denver on Friday at noon and passed time on the drive quickly with catching up after not seeing each other for close to a year. We picked up our schwag in Aspen and headed to the Pokolodi Lodge in Snowmass. We took a test run down/up to the base of Snowmass then ate at Venga Venga. Since we’ve had problems with our skins before I brought two pairs and Eric brought three pairs. One of them didn’t quite seem right and we figured out that the tip and tail were on the wrong ends, much better to figure that out now!
I was up at 4am on Saturday after a decent night’s sleep and started the morning routine. Our wave started at 6:24am and we milled around the start in 23 degree temps…. 20 degrees higher than four years ago! Off we went with a line of racers in front and behind us, the temp was perfect for going uphill and no headlamp was needed. The first climb is about 3k under Snowmass’s Elk Camp Gondola and easy cruising with just a couple steep sections. After 1hr 20mins we were at the top of Burnt Mountain and ripping skins enjoying the warmth of the sun. The downhill and traverse over to Buttermilk required full attention due to tight trees, rocks, deep powder, and a no-fall zone down a steep rocky section. I was quickly reminded that I haven’t done much downhill skiing in the past two years. Glad that was over! Back on with the skins for a short climb then we were at the top of Buttermilk Mtn an hour after leaving Burnt Mountain. It only took 10mins to lose the hard-earned elevation flying down fun runs under the Tiehack Express on the front side of Buttermilk. Then another 10mins of pushing and walking around the rec center (where our hockey tourney was in October), over the bridge, and to the base of Aspen Highlands around 2hrs 45mins, exactly like last time.
We refilled water and snacks, and stripped off layers since it was getting near 50 degrees. This is where the wheels fell off last year and we were hoping for a different outcome. Only 4k to the top! Heading up Eric’s skins were holding really well, I had a couple of slips, and some other racers were having a helluva time slipping and sliding. I was absolutely pouring sweat and trying to keep up with fluids. There’s nothing to do but put your head down and keep moving. It was a relief in the shade of the trees and with the occasional breeze knowing we were inching higher. I was afraid to look at my altimeter but couldn’t help it. It was fun reaching the spot along the ridge with a great view of the Highlands Bowl and the rocky step down climb. Unfortunately Eric dropped a glove here, fortunately he wouldn’t need it again. Finally we reached the top of the Loge Peak lift and had a short downhill then time to start the boot pack. This is a great spot knowing there is only 800ft left of climbing with awesome views of the Maroon Bells and double black diamond runs going down either side of the ridge. We reached the top of Highlands Peak in 5hrs 35mins, 40mins faster than last time. Eat, drink, rip skins, point ski tips downhill. This time we went right down the double black diamonds runs in the gut of Highlands Bowl. The snow had softened up a bit, but it was difficult skiing with quads burning with the crazy steepness. There was lots of side-hilling until I built up the courage to knock out a bunch of jump turns. We were trying to avoid the trees and the slope finally relented for the rest of the cruise to the base of the Deep Temerity lift, it took about 25mins down and right around 6hrs total. Easy skinning in hot temps to the top of the Congo Trail for another water refill.
The Congo Trail had more powder on it than last time and wasn’t as icy, but wasn’t much easier. It’s a narrow mountain bike trail that loses 2k of gain with trees close on either side and tight turns. Sore legs don’t make for easy turns and often we would just slide off the side to lose speed then start again. It was a painful process that luckily only lasted 30mins before we bottomed out at Castle Creek around 7hrs total. More water and snacks then we had to carry our skis for about a ˝ mile before there was enough snow. It was a relief knowing there was only 3k of gain left! The slope is much easier and cruises uphill along the Midnight Mine road. I was starting to lose energy fast while Eric was feeling great, and we were guessing our finish times. We passed teams this time instead of being passed and played the same altimeter game, trying to only look every 100ft this time. Eventually after about 2hrs of climbing we could see the top of the lift at 11,200ft. WooHoo! Fortunately the black diamond run was closed so we had to take blue runs to the finish. The finish was moved to the A1 lift and we ended at the gondola… figures! Instead of skinning part way back up a run, we asked a few people then walked 3 blocks through town and up to the A1 lift, finishing in 9hrs 40mins. At least they weren’t taking down the finisher tent right after us this time! 26 miles and 11k gain.
We grabbed vegan burgers (for Eric, not me) and walked back to town for a bus ride back to Snowmass and the long drive back home. It was great to finish another race with Eric and improve our previous time. It’s unfathomable that the winners finished in 4hrs 15mins!