After last years inaugural event saw a maxed out field, nearly 2 ft of new snow and a wonderfully unique venue the buzz of anticipation has been nearly unbearable! The 2nd annual Irwin COSMIC race, once again, did not disappoint. While we didn't have the huge snow we did have adequate coverage and weather that is best described as blue bird!
Since Irwin is located about 7 miles outside Crested Butte and winter access is limited by the seasonally maintained Kebler pass, getting to the start is an experience in itself. For those who had snowmobiles, a quick 15 minute sled ride brought them to the scenic start line at the restored "movie cabin". The folks that didn't have access to snowmobile, a shuttle in one of Irwins 3 luxurious snow cats was offered. A third option, which I took, was a mellow 30 minute skin up through the townsite of Irwin and across the lake... it made for a great warm up and chance to say hi to a friend living "off the grid" in a sweet little cabin a few hundred yards down the hill from the lake.
I arrived at the start with about 40 minutes before the gun and had a chance to ski around and catch up with folks that I hadn't seen since last years races. The rando race scene, while growing fast, is still a small niche of great people who are among the friendliest and supportive around. Even though it's insanely competitive, the atmosphere is still light and jovial. Things got only slightly more tense when everyone lined up for the start. I'm not sure but I think the race filled up with 65 slots available and looking around I could see all the usual suspects and new it was going to be a fast and furious start! I took a spot on the far side of the front line and hoped for a good position on the first climb. The route's first climb begins with a few minutes on a cat road before entering some lower angle single lane skinning in the woods. I wanted to make sure I got a solid start on the road in order to enter the skin track in a good position. When the flag dropped there was a mass scramble as everyone started to jockeying for position. About a hundred yards in things sorted out up front and I found myself in third position behind Marshall Thompson and my teammate Brian Smith. I thought "not bad" but about 5 minutes in I started feeling the pace and could tell there was at least one racer on my tails. As we approached the old lodge just before hitting the skin track I moved over to let them by - it turned out to be 2 people Brian Reipe and my other teammate Bryan Wickenhauser. I jumped back in the line and tried to hold the pace. By now Marshall and Smithy were solidly ahead and Wick was looking to get around Reipe in the more "techy" skin track. He made his move and proceeded to pull away as I was redlining just trying to stay with Reipe in 5th. Through the first climb we maintained this order and I could feel some serious pressure behind me but didn't look back. It wasn't until the transition that I got a look back at the rest of the field. I had a quick skin rip and was able to start the descent just ahead of Reipe and noticed all the others just seconds back - Pat, Jared, Jan, Jessy, Billy... All much better descenders! The conditions were really pretty good considering the shallow snow pack. There were a few inches over a nice crust that supported even on our short skinny rando skis. As I picked my way down through mix of open meadows and gladed trees I got passed by Jan, Pat, Jared, Brian and another guy who I didn't recognize but was able to stay close enough to hit the transition together and jump in line in 8th position. The second climb went right into a skin track and I was able to pass a couple racers back and work my way back into 5th position by the time we hit the boot pack 3/4 of the way up. At this point we took our skis off and stowed them on our packs for the climb up a tight little couloir complete with a hand line. The initial part was thin icy and the line was helpful but as we got into the couloir
At the finish line I found out how the race unfolded up front with Marshall taking the win and teammates Brian and Bryan filling out the podium in 2nd and 3rd.
For the women local Stevie Kramer beat out Sari Anderson and current National Champ Janelle Smiley with Team CB's Jari Kirkland just off the podium in 4th.
I want to give a special shout out to Wick, Jake Jones, Billy Rankin and all the others who helped make this event happen. I know it's a ton of work but you guys made it look easy! Thanks!
Next up is the US National Champs in Jackson on January 7th.
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