Tuesday, March 29, 2011

2011 Elk Mountain Grand Traverse - The Year of the "Social"

The EMGT has had a lot of stories come out of it over its 14 years of its existence….
-The slide for life year
-The frost bite year
-The garbage bag years
-The first AT victory
-The Lost years
…now after this year we have "The Social”. 

This years pre-race build up was great as weather forecasters had a volley of small to medium sized storms lined up across the West…so would we even ski over to Aspen???  Would it be TWO Grand Reverses in a row…ugh!  As if everyone was stressed enough with their gear preparations!

Jon Brown and I were pretty focused on winning this thing and comfortable with our gear so…the only thing that had our attention was the weather, but the savvy snow forecasters out on course gave us the “GO” at about 6pm Friday night….we were going to make it to Aspen via this “window “ between these storms!
Driving up to the midnight start I had to nearly come to a stop on the roads outside CB as winds were blowing snow all over, making driving nearly impossible…all I could think of was “The Lost Years” all over again…ugh!  …after seeing this we threw in an extra Gore-Tex jacket into our packs!

About 10 minutes before the start there was all the “normal tension” amongst the 130 teams on the line, the calming factor this year was that there was 3-4” of new snow on the Nordic track which would slow the tops teams and make this race a more “social scene” all the way to the Friends Hut ….and beyond.
My first “mini epic” happened as we left the Nordic trail to climb up to the resort.  We all stopped to put our skins on and before heading up hill.  No more than two steps into the climb,  I had lost a skin ugh!  I didn’t panic and told Jon to keep going.  I quickly cleaned the base of the ski with my glove and put another new skin on and took off to catch up….why is “this” happening to me already?!!

Individuals took turns breaking trail up to the ski resort as a train of lights tip to tail, followed the broken ski trail.  At the entrance of the resort Jon & I were comfortably tied for 2nd place, right where we wanted to be.  Next to us were some young Collegiate nordic skiers Scot Krankala and Reid Pletcher.  I knew Scott as he goes to WSC and has borrowed my light weight AT gear over the last two Winters.  I jumped into their conversation and asked if they heard about the collegiate skier who just won the NCAA 20km Classic race ….he was only the 3rd US born skier to win that title!....”yup, that’s me!” replied Jeff…..I pretty much got down on my hands & knees and worshiped the ground he skied on!  Wow!...I was embarrassed needless to say, but very impressed.  Apparently they both grew up in Sun Valley and now were doing the EMGT together….pretty impressive.

At the top of Crested Butte Mountain Resort, we ripped our skins off and headed down off the ski area to the East River Valley.  Ethan Passant was breaking trail as we skate skied across the vast Summer ranch land in 4” of new snow.  I relieved Ethan of the breaking duties and took us to our next skin transition as we began our march up Brush Creek.  The breaking duties were shared by many folks and because so much energy was exerted by the lead skier …the pace was reasonable beign and quite the banter & laughter could be heard from the 20+ teams behind…all tip to tail in unison.

I had my second skin issue about an hour before the Friends Hut as we were “just marching along”….ugh!  Once again, because the pace was so slow I was able to put on a fresh skin and regain the lead pack and ultimately move my way up to the front of the pack.  I had started the race with four skins and now used three of them...not good.  The temperatures at this point were very good for racing and the winds were light as we were protected in the trees.

About 20 minutes from the Friends Hut, Jon & I pulled to the front and took over trail breaking duties leading the procession of teams to the first check point.  We refueled quickly, threw on a wind breaker and began the climb up to Starr Pass in 1st place with Sari Anderson & Pete Gaston in 2nd just behind us.  As we topped out on the exposed ridge the moon was out and there were no winds to be had…amazing! 

We entered the Starr Pass descent still in the lead and enjoyed 8-10” of new snow on a supportable crust for the 1400ft downhill, in the dark…heading towards the large bon fire maintained by CBMR ski patroller John Mortimer.  This marked the start of Summer trail 440 and the climb up to Taylor Pass.  All the top teams were still close together and we put our skins on for the climb.  No more than two strides into the climb and I blew my third skin…Grrrrrrrrrrrr!  I grab a ski strap and tried to force the skin to stick by wrapping the strap tightly around the skin/ski...but this didn’t work either….so I limped onward on one ski/skin combo and one ski with nothing.  This worked reasonably well but was not efficient and left me struggling and wondering mentally, why this skin problem was happening to me …my skins & glue have been “dialed” all season! I caught up to Jon and he said he had one fresh skin left and gave me it, as we now struggled to maintain 7th place. 
We saw day break at the Taylor Pass aid station …still no wind…I love this race!  We skied right through the aid station and began the climb up the first “bump”.  Upon topping out we caught a beautiful sun rise and descended down in wind swept “sustrugi pow”.  I didn’t want to risk not having my skins stick at the next transition so I left my skins on for the short downhill….as luck would have it, the same ski that was giving me fits all race, now shed Jon’s borrowed skin!  Luckily Jon was behind me and found the skin in the snow!  …That’s the best luck I had all day, ugh!  At the bottom with two more climbs to go before the Barnard Hut I had no fresh skins left and decided to put on Extra Blue kick wax on this troublesome ski, and keep the skin on the “good” ski.  It worked reasonably well in the newly fallen snow, but mentally I was super disappointed in my efforts.  My hydration and nutrition were going well, but this skin issue had me mentally.  Jon was feeling good as well….so I struggled mentally…. wondering “what the out come of the race would look like if we were right there battling for the lead!”.

We pulled into the Barnard Hut aid station for the mandatory 10 minute stop, ate some Romen noodles, watched my frozen Red Bull explode and applied Extra Blue kick wax to our skis for the last section to the Aspen Sun Deck.  With the 4-6” of new snow on course through this section it worked great…but all Jon & I could think about was this skin issue that cursed me…and what could have been.
As we pulled into the finish line on this gorgeous, sun drenched day, we were psyched to finish still in the top 10, but our goals were much bigger this day.  

This day was to be the race where we saw two new names on the trophy…and rightfully so as they have finished 2nd twice in prior years, Ethan Passant & Travis Scheefer…Congratulations boys and way to keep the trophy in the Valley for another year!!  Just as impressive as the overall victory for the top men’s team…was the performance by Stevie Kramer & Marshall Thompson, who placed 2nd and Sari Anderson & Pete Gaston who placed 3rd , overall!  Never before have co-ed teams placed this high in the race’s history

….raise a drink for the “social”.

***so why the skin issue for me?? 
1) Don’t EVER, EVER put Fluoro wax on your bases…the glue will not adhere well to the Fluorocarbons.
2) Keep your waxes organized!  (I knew of the golden rule above, as I had learned this lesson the hard way at a ski mountaineering race in Silverton 4 years ago).  When waxing my skis Thursday before the race I didn’t have my blue waxes labeled and in hind sight grab a Fluoro wax for one of the skis…the ski that shed 4 skins!


  1. Sorry you had such troubles Wick, but seems like you figured it out pretty good. Way to prevail!

    Lets ski soon!


  2. Bummer. But good effort.

    Do you even use the low fluoro wax on your skis? I've always used the low fluoro stuff. Maybe I should stop!

  3. Thanks Xavi & Jared.... I "think" it was low-fluoro wax...but it could have been high fluoro ....lesson is label your old "scraps" of wax so you know for sure!

    Let's ski!

  4. I am so impressed with this race so I follow it every year. I fiqure I could do it maybe in four days? In any case, what skis do most of the racers use (nordic, backcountry/ traditional telemark or AT/fat telemark)? I would think that AT might be great on the downhill, but the weight of the skis and boots and the resistance of the wider skins would be an energy and calorie robber; plus stressful on the joints and muscles. Would like some comments. Great race and great athletes.

    STG Bozeman, Montana

  5. After I entered the above post, I noticed a list of equipment at the top of this page. I checked out the equipment and was amazed at how light the gear was and now understand that the concerns I expressed about AT gear in the above post would not apply. The gear sounds great and worth the price.

  6. Totally worth the price....8 out of top 10 teams were on this light weight AT gear...it can ski back country pow and low angle climbs with the best Nordic gear. 100% mohair skins are the way to go as well if you get a set up.