Subaru Vertfest at Alpental

Alpental Vertfest
Dumping snow at Alpental. When it’s a powder day, I prefer to Skimo race.

Yesterday was the first SkiMo race of the season for me. To anyone in Colorado that must seem late, but to those of us thus-far confined to the Pacific Northwest, we’ve only just begun to have a snowpack, let alone to race in it. This is the first race that I’ve done since the Wasatch Powderkeg in 2012, and with such break, I figured there’d be some hiccups. Boy was that right.

The Subaru Vertfest left me feeling proud, if a little battered. The tricky skinning caused silly equipment failures, but I feel reasonably good about my fitness, and even better about fighting through the equipment issues to finish the race.[divider_line]


Vertfest is the largest SkiMo race in the PNW, with somewhere around 130 racers competing in a variety of categories. The course involves two climbs and two descents through the Alpental Ski area. The recreational division completes only the first climb, while the Race category does both. (Distances and vert below per my GPS measurement). Winning race-category time this year was 1:19:57.

Rec — 3.2 mi, 2640′    Race — 6.0 mi, 4500′

Subaru vertfest Alpental course map
Subaru Vertfest Alpental Course Map

Race Report

I was more nervous before this race than I’ve been in recent memory, feeling race jitters in my stomach a full day ahead of time. I’ve run around on tiny skis for weeks now, but at Alpental I faced the season’s first external measure of my race-readiness.

Vertfest friends
The Vertfest crew. The best part of any racing culture is the excuse to hang out and not race.
Vertfest start
Settled into 6/7th off the gun. (stolen photo)

I had no real plan for the race: the course was steep, the weather tangoing between rain and snow, the competitors alternately sporting Gigawatts or Speed Suits… it was hard to know what to expect. The one thing that I did know was that I didn’t want to get caught in the crowd at the start. As usually works for me, I decided on the start line to go out fast with the lead pack and hang on as much as possible. Start fast and dumb, suffer, finish tough. Not a well-paced MO, but one which has served me well.

After the gun went off and the crowd spread out on the first climb through a mogul field,  I found myself settled into about 8th place. I was surrounded by a pack of about 5 speed suits chasing a dominant and disappearing leader.

The first climb (and, it turns out, the second) was steep, with an intermittently disintegrated skin track that mixed loose dry snow with chalky ice. It was a challenging skinner, and I was slipping left and right, wasting some energy to power through despite poor technique.

Part-way up the first climb I had a skin failure, beginning what would be the theme for the day. Losing two places while I replaced my skin, I quickly jumped back into the fray and with quick transitions through the two boot-packs, managed to fight back up two places. I reached the top of the first 2567′ climb is about 46:30. Visibility was challenging and the descent pretty bumpy, though uneventful. After a quick transition at bottom, I started up the second climb in around 7th place. That’s when I imploded.

The second climb, for whatever reason, caused one skin failure after another. Six separate times I had to stop and swap skins as first one set then the other peeled off, contaminated with snow. I grew more and more frustrated, dropping in position as my skins failed to dry. I briefly considered dropping out, but stubbornness is one of my few race-worthy skills. Someone took pity on me and tossed me a pair of ski traps with which to fasten my glueless skins, and after a lengthy battle, I turned the corner into the transition and made an uneventful kamikaze descent to the finish in 1:52:54 (15th place by preliminary result).

The face of frustration.
The face of frustration.


I’ve never had a skin fail before, and always wondered how that would go. This spiraled rather quickly, as my second pair failed before my first dried, leaving me up a creek without a paddle. While I’d like to blame my glue, no doubt my race jitters and faster-than-usual pace led me into poor technique and more back-sliding than I’ve ever had. My technique took a nose-dive, and my skins peeled.

A hot mess of skins
A cold mess of skins post-race. Four skins, five meters, zero stick.


Looking back on my GPS track from the race, I spent 17:49 during this race on skin failures. While it’s hard to estimate how things would have gone without the failures, straight subtraction puts me back in the mix at around 7th place. That’s meaningless, but technique aside, that leaves me feeling decent about my fitness. Now it’s time to train some steep and high turnover skinning. Next week’s Vertfest stop at Bachelor will be the next test.

Subaru Valentine
What could be a more romantic Valentine’s day evening than to drink bubbly pinot while eating beans out of the back of a Subaru?

They say that you learn more from failure than from success (vomit-worthy). It was clear to me even during the race that I had the fitness to be competitive, but didn’t have the technique to hold it together. Surrounded by gents in speed suits sporting carbon boots, I was self conscious of how much more I was slipping while skinning, flailing around my non-race poles and stopping replace snowy skins.  How to train that kind of technique remains a good question, but that’s the next step.

Still, sharing beers after the race and watching the snow come down was a sweet reward for breathing my throat raw. Racing hurts, but it hurts so good.


Category: RacingSkiing



  1. you speak the TRUTH: “you learn more from failure than from success”

    just make sure the failures don’t kill you 😉

    fortunately NYC heavy metal division didn’t kill me this time.

    nice race man. see you in the mountains.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: