Last weekend, Taylor and I drove to Central Oregon for the second skimo race of the short PNW season. Mt Bachelor hosts the smallest of the Vertfest races, but of the three (others: Brighton and Alpental) it has the most lighthearted vibe and fun atmosphere.
I raced skimo here two years ago and surprised myself with a third place finish. Coming back this year, now with unflattering speed suit and real race skis, I wanted to win. The week before the race I felt well-trained and strong, but I also went backcountry skiing a bit too much. A couple of long days left my legs feeling a bit flat, and when race day rolled around, skimo psych wasn’t particularly high.
The weather that morning was a pretty miserable mist-rain. A field of sixty-some racers lined up for a mixed start of elite and recreational divisions, with six or seven folks in lycra across the front. The snowball dropped and we hit the first climb in the classic 0-180 bpm sprint start.
Up the first climb, strong local and consummate gentleman Aaron Talbot took the lead, and I settled into the second slot next to Tom Nelson, also from Portland. When Tom started to let Aaron sneak away, I surged around him back onto Aaron’s heels and hollered at Aaron that we could gap the field. Hitting low angle terrain before the first transition, we made a quick break and came into the transition with a small lead.
Transitioning quickly, I led down the first descent and back up the second climb, wasting some energy breaking new trail as an alternative to the ice-glazed skintrack. Though I did more work than I maybe had to, I still held the lead into the second descent, where I was promptly misdirected by a course marshall.
As I floundered unnecessarily on a bump run, Tosh sped past down the adjacent run, yelling that I was going the wrong way. I clocked a new skimo best of 61.5 mph skiing back to him, but he still hit the last big climb with a significant lead. I was mad, and transitioned like a demon to start chasing him.
The third climb had a friendlier skin track, but though I was pissed, I couldn’t make up the ground back to Tosch. Looking back, I slowly built a good lead in front of Aaron and felt securely in second. I skied to stay on Tosch’s tails should he crash or blow a skin, but he’s smart, and he didn’t.
The rain had turned the snow into knee-busting slop, so we both picked our way up the final booter and down the breakable crust of the final descent carefully. I hit the line 56s behind Tosch and a safe 1:31 in front of Aaron.
If I’ve got to lose to someone, Tosch is my preference. Still, the misdirection and poor course marking were a disappointment. The ISMF has easily understandable standards for course marking, but the PNW lags behind as usual, with race directors reinventing the wheel every year. I appreciate all of their hard work, and know that the races wouldn’t happen without them. Still, wooden survey stakes every 100 yards don’t stand out at fifty miles an hour.
It’s hard to say if Tosch would have caught me without the error, but pulling out a second place finish on what felt like an off-day was still better than I could have hoped for. Plus, that kid is strong, and he’d probably have whupped me anyway.
Taylor and I are headed to Vertfest Alpental this weekend to round out the PNW trifecta, but El Nino may have other plans. If it’s pouring warm rain, we might find ourselves on the mountain bikes, eating the cost of the lift tickets required to race at Alpental. Tosch and co will be headed to the US champs at Crested Butte and NA champs at Brighton, so the PNW will be well represented. Go get ’em buddy!
Do you also like that butterflies-in-the-stomach pre-race feeling? Do your friends think you’re crazy? Do you like to suffer? Do you pine for leg cramps?
Well, you can support Mountain Lessons and the skimo community by finally buying some race skis from Skimo.Co. Not only do they have the best selection anywhere in the US, but they’re also the most helpful humans in Utah.