Last year I participated in my first randonee race (backcountry ski) by doing Vertfest up at Alpental, and I remembered it as being a good time so I planned on doing it again this year. I registered the week before, but when Saturday night rolled around I checked the weather for Alpental and it said that it was raining at the base and they expected rain for the next day. Stinker! I found myself wishing that I hadn't registered, but I consoled myself with the thought that you can't live in the PNW if you need to stay home and sit on your couch every time there is a little liquid sunshine in the forecast.
I woke up early the next morning to get my stuff packed up, and lo and behold there was a blue sky outside my window! This was great for my morale, and after a delicious breakfast and a molto bene cappucino I jumped in the Jetta and headed for Snoqualmie Pass. I had tried to convince Roanne to join me but to no avail, she had decided that she would rather stay home and read mystery novels. Registration ended at 9:00am, followed by the pre-race meeting, and after that everyone headed out to warm up a bit by going up and down the lower part of the ski hill. It was a bit funny to overhear some of the comments from the "normal" skiers who were there for a day of riding the lifts, they seemed to think that it was completely insane to want to race each other up and down the hill. It really isn't that crazy, I'm sure lots of those incredulous people go on hikes in the summer, which involves walking up a hill and then walking back down. Why not strap some skis to your feet and do it while there is snow so that you can have some fun on the way back down?!?
Eventually the start lines were marked out and people started to assemble, as seen in the photo below (the only photo I took, sorry about that!):
There were two lines, with the first for people on the "race" division who would go up and down twice for over 4000 feet of vertical and the second for those in the "rec" division who would only go up and down once. I had, of course, registered for the race division as I can't turn down the opportunity to suffer a little longer for the same entry fee. After a beacon check there was a short speech to commemorate a local backcountry skier who had passed away two weeks prior in an accident in Snoqualmie Pass, a pretty sad situation.
We then clicked up our heel risers, the gun fired, and we were off! Like last year, many people started sprinting up the hill which is ridiculous in my books since you can't maintain that. I just tried to keep a brisk pace so that I wouldn't get stuck behind too many people, which worked well as I was in the top 15 or so skiers by the time we were all lined out. The front guys were in skin suits and had really small skis, so I knew I had no hope of hanging with them, so I was happy with my position. I felt pretty good and leapfrogged up a few positions before settling in close to another guy who was about the same pace. We headed up around the base of Chair 2, and continued up towards the top of Denny Mountain. There were 2 boot pack sections, at which point the suffering really began. I don't have a fast way to mount skis on my pack so I just carried them up in a really awkward (but faster than stopping to mount them on my pack) manner, also really tiring.
I made it through those, and soon after was de-skinning at the top of Upper International ("Upper Nash" in the local dialect). I headed down, and after a somewhat sketchy drop into the moguls I was on my way down. I felt better than the year before when it had been icy, but nevertheless I really began to suffer about halfway down. Randonee racing is a funny thing, when you are ascending you can't wait to descend, and then when you are descending you can't wait to start ascending again. I guess that is because the only time you don't feel like falling over and throwing up is for the short interval following the transition between skins and no-skins when you have gotten a 30 second rest.
I finally made it down and then managed to convince myself to head back up for the second lap. This was a real grinder, I was in all sorts of misery and ruing the day that I ever signed up for the race, and promising myself that I would never do another randonee race. Regretfully, I couldn't stop thinking about how I already signed up to do the Wasatch Powder Keg randonee race in Salt Lake City in a month, a similar race but longer, more difficult, and held at 10,000 feet above sea level. After successfully powering down my mind I continued on, and eventually reached the top of the second ascent where I de-skinned and headed down again.
I actually felt better this time down and skied pretty well, I have been doing a lot more skiing this year so maybe that has been helping my downhill skills or maybe I just got lucky. In any case, I finally shot across the finish line at the base after about 1:57 from the start. I can't remember my time from last year, but I am pretty sure I was over 2 hours though the course was shortened a bit. I didn't bother trying to do any lift-assisted skiing afterward, having learned the year before that after a randonee race your legs don't work well enough to have any fun doing that. I also didn't stick around to see the results so I'm not sure how I did, but I'll post it when I find out.
So, I guess it was fun. I think an essential skill for people who do these sorts of things is a short memory and transformational retrospective so that things which seemed horrible at the time somehow have a very positive memory associated with them. I am pretty sure that I have these skills, so if you ask me in a few days I'm sure I won't be able to stop raving about how much fun HurtFest was, and how you MUST do it with me next year.
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