Monday, March 14, 2011

Wasatch Powder Keg

After skiing slush in the cascades all winter, in early March Roanne and I decided that it was time to head to Salt Lake City for some dry Utah powder. We cleverly planned our trip to coincide with the Wasatch Powderkeg backcountry ski race, and on Friday afternoon we headed to SeaTac and caught our flight to SLC. Our friends Mike and Laura were kind enough to host us for the weekend (Mike was doing the race also), so after meeting up with them at their place we all headed to the pre-race meeting that took place Friday evening, the night before the race. There was nothing too interesting revealed in the meeting, except that they had made the course longer and harder than last year by adding an extra climb (which seemed strange since it had seemed pretty stinkin' hard already last year). Oh well, I had no illusions of actually doing well in the race, having just flown in from sea level (the race started at 8800 feet of elevation and had a high point of 10,600 feet) and being a terrible skier to boot. Misery + more misery is still just misery, so it wasn't too disconcerting to get this news.

After the race meeting we grabbed some dinner and then headed back to Mike and Laura's place where we packed up our gear for the next day before heading to bed in advance of our 5:00am wake-up call the next morning (the race started at 7:00am). Our alarms went off the next morning and after grabbing some breakfast we headed up Big Cottonwood Canyon to Brighton Ski Resort where the race was starting. Here is a shot of Roanne and Mike suiting up in the pre-dawn light:

After getting geared up we walked over to the lodge for the gear check (probe, beacon, shovel, jacket, and helmet) and then headed over to the parking lot where the race was starting. One strange thing this year was that the race was starting with people running a few hundred yards with their skis strapped to their packs, then putting their skis on and starting to skin. If you think walking in ski boots isn't awkward enough you should try running in them, and if you still would like to feel a little more ungainly, do with with some heavy skis strapped to your back. Here is a shot of everyone waiting to start:

The only saving grace for the start was that they had a bagpiper blasting away getting everyone in the mood for the ensuing battle:

At 7:00am the gun fired and we were off, shuffling across the parking lot towards the snow so that we could put our skis on and start having fun. I had made a conscious decision not to completely slay myself on the first climb (or any of the climbs for that matter) since it was going to be a long haul (10 miles with 5500 feet of climbing), so things went according to plan as I chugged up the hill at a good tempo, passing some people but not going crazy. It was perfect weather, calm with no wind but overcast so that it wasn't too hot. I would say that I felt a little better in the race than I did last year, since I am more comfortable on skis now and I knew the course which also helped. Roanne was doing the Recreation Division version of the race (I was, of course, doing the Race Division) which cut out a few climbs, so at one point in the race we got to hang out briefly as I re-passed her after our courses merged again. Here is a course profile for the Race Division:

You can see that there are two big climbs with some smaller ones mixed in; by the start of the second big climb I was really starting to feel it, and by the start of the 700 foot booter to the top of Mount Millicent (the top of the second big climb) I was REALLY starting to feel it. Nevertheless I managed to hold it together during the final descent, though I had some serious leg cramping issues and a few near missed going through a section where I had taken a digger last year.

I was pretty happy to see the finish line come into view as I made my way down the final slope, 3 hours and 35 minutes after the gun had gone off. Roanne had just finished 15 minutes prior (her course was about 3 miles and 2000 vertical feet shorter) so it was nice to congratulate each other and enjoy the post race barbeque. Here we are celebrating our successful races:

Mike finished a little while afterward (he was in the Telemark division, Roanne and I were both in the AT divisions), and we headed out to watch the awards ceremony, where it was very humbling to find out that the winner had done it in just over 2 hours. Holy smokes! That was almost twice as fast I went. I know I have a heavier set-up than most of the people there (Fritschi Freerides and BD Havocs; most people were on Dynafit bindings and many had short and small skis) and that I just came from sea level, but those excuses combined are probably only good for about 20 minutes at the most, that doesn't even get me under the 3 hour mark! I guess I'll just have to spend more time skiing and less time working next winter. Here is a shot of the crowd gathered for the awards:

After the awards and the raffle (where I won a nice green shovel) we headed back down into the valley where we snoozed a bit for the afternoon before heading out to a birthday party in the evening for some of Roanne's book club friends. The next day we woke up feeling a bit sore, but, being in Utah, unless I couldn't stand up there was no way that I wasn't going skiing again. I met up with one of my former graduate students, Ondrej, and we headed up to Alta for an awesome day of riding the lifts and exploring the resort. Here we are the chairlift up:

It was strange to see the sky that color, in Seattle we don't have that (ours is gray if it can be seen at all) and I was also unfamiliar with the glowing orb that moved across the the sky. It was fun to catch up with Ondrej, and we made plans to hang out again in Seattle when he makes a trip out here in the summer. That night we made a good dinner at Mike and Laura's, and the next morning Roanne and I packed up our stuff and headed up Big Cottonwood Canyon one more time for some skiing at Solitude before packing it in around 3pm to head to the airport and catch our flight back to rainy Seattle. What a great weekend, I'll definitely be back for the PowderKeg in 2012 and you should too if you are reading this!

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