By Bryan Wickenhauser
Heading over to Aspen Friday night before the race, we new the racing would be tight. New snow had fallen the last several days and the competition was getting more sophisticated as teams were staking up to take the title.
The Aspen skimo crowd is really growing and has two great races for the Aspen crowd, and ironically both are partners races...the Grand Traverse and the Power of Four (and two races at Sunlight down valley). The folks really get the sport over there.
The air temp at the start was about 6F, but unbeknownced to us it would be hell on Highlands Ridge! The race started literally with me waiting for Smithy to get out of the bathroom as the start gun went off...I couldn't believe it (actually I could...). It was quite comical as he and I are making our way through the entire field playing catch up to the front of the course....a nice way to say "hi" to all our friends who we wouldn't see for the rest of the race. Once we got up front, about 3 minutes later order was restored and Smithy took to the front of the field, to the top of Snowmass Mtn.
Across the back of Buttermilk it was a total social as the top six or so teams took turns skiing pow and breaking trail, on down to the base area and over to Highlands ski area. At this point all the top teams were right there and trading the lead.
Up Highlands the top three teams pulled away 1st- Smith/Wick, 2nd Kloser/Simmons, 3rd- Gaston Bros. The climb was long and steady and no one really got much of a gap, most all the teams were on tow to keep the partners close together....then all hell broke loose....
As we all entered the top of the resort towards Highlands Bowl winds picked up to 30-40MPH sustained winds, with gusts near 60MPH. We were leading and wearing our CAMP Flash Anoraks (Life savers when going Fast & Light) with hoods up and our nylon covers from our G Comp Wind Mits out trying to stay protected. It was nearly a white out and freezing cold as we started our skin up the Ridge. For some reason Smithy stopped in front of me and started doing an impromptu boot pack. I tried to argue and reason with him that we should continue skinning up the Ridge but in fierce, life threatening weather I sided with him and began trying to put my skis on my pack. Quickly there after, Team Kloser and Team Gaston skinned by...I argued again, but Smithy didn't want to hear it....all I could do is try and start moving to regain any kind of heat.
By the top of Highlands Bowl I was wondering how many folks would incur major frostbite, and how I was going to do a transition with no dexterity in my hands? We caught back up to Team Gaston as they had major "cold hands", but Team Kloser was gone with an approximate 3-5 minute lead....Had Mike done it to us again I thought? You give him the lead in the race, and its usually a done deal.
Smithy & I tried to hang with Team Gaston as we dropped into the "mystic" Highlands Bowl gut, but we were clearly out matched on their home turf. At the bottom we were able to out transition Team Gaston as their hands were slowing them down. Next up was the single track DH descent through the Aspen's on the Congo Trail to the bottom of Ashcroft Road. It was a fun and fast track as we had tons of soft snow to keep our speed in check and avoid trees (not sure how the back of the pack enjoyed it after it was chewed up...ugh).
Now the race was on, we caught Team Kloser at the bottom of Midnight Mine Rd, with the Gastons hot on our tail. This was a slog up to the top of Richmond Ridge (Grand Traverse route to Aspen Ski Resort). We maintained a slim lead and tried our best to get any unfrozen liquids & food down to have energy to fend off an attack. At the top we maintained our slim lead into the Sundeck with now the local Gaston's on our tail by only about 15 seconds.
With a new route down Ajax Mountain and totally blown, we knew the race would be settled on the downhill. With locals chasing us down and wearing "those big targets" on our backs, it was everything we could do to to hold them back. At Sparr Gulch we were all clocked at nearly 60MPH on 160cm skis...it was a full on downhill tuck to he finish and the Gastons took it by two seconds at the line! Ugh!!!! Could we have skied a cleaner race and found two or more seconds? We of course think yes, and that's what motivates us to get out the door and train harder for the next one! ....Plus some much needed powder!
Photographer Kevin Krill's photo gallery
Aspen Times Article on the race recap