Jackson Hole: Part 1, U.S. Nationals

Epic
Well, life has once again become hectic – it has a nasty habit of doing that, doesn’t it? Part of the chaos come from the place where Dan and I work being sold, but I’ve had more than enough of work as of late, so maybe that will be touched upon later. A big part of our busy was, quite simply, fun.

As at work we have the awesome ability to take 6 days off in a row, we decided to head up to Jackson Hole. The last time I skied outside of Colorado, I was 15.

The ride was appropriately long and drawn out, as Dan and I really don’t excel at sitting in the car for long periods of time, but we finally pulled into jackson Hole around 7, and promptly were assaulted by the cold air. Colorado doesn’t tend to get too cold, just mildly so, which caused my body to freak when I stepped out of the car to find the air temperature a frigid -12. The Motel 6 we were staying at recommended an Italian restaurant that was just across the street, and we drove over to Teton Mountaineering, where we were supposed to register for the race we had signed up for the next day. I wasn’t sure how to approach this one – it was the U.S. Ski Mountaineering National Championships, but we figured that we would just go our pace, and get it finished. It would be good training for our March trip, right?

In Teton Mountaineering, I quickly noticed that the other women there were giving me the serious evil eye. It was definitely a little off-putting, and we got out of there fast and headed over for some pasta at the Italian restaurant recommended to us. Clearly this restaurant does not understand the ski bum lifestyle, so we ended up ordering the cheapest thing off the menu. Jeff, if you ever come across this – you still make the best marinara sauce I’ve ever had! (And p.s. All of Nederland wants you to open up Neo’s again.)

The next morning dawned incredibly chilly. The temps hovered around -20, and it was early…I wanted to crawl back into bed where it was warm and go back to bed. Somehow my brain overcame my body and we ended up at check-in, where we huddled against each other. Somebody reassured me there was an inversion going on and it would be much warmer at the top. My toes refused to believe him. I watched from beneath my hood as bunches of sponsored athletes mill about, listening openly as a woman on Team Crested Butte discussed how she was bringing three pairs of skins because Sari Anderson had gone through two pairs last year, and it surely wasn’t going to be the weight of an extra skin that slowed her down.

I was clearly out of my league.

The start time was nearing, so Dan and I headed out of the semi-heated tent into the freezing air. I held my hand over my nose, as it instantly felt like an icicle. My early morning fumble-fingers were having trouble extracting my skis from the rack where everybody’s skis were piled up, and hence was alone when I turned to find a dark-haired girl standing in front of me. She tilted her head to the side and half smirked at me.

“Aw, look at those fast boots!” And before my foggy brain figured out what was going on, her hand darted out and snatched my skis out of my hands. “And such heavy skis,” she proclaimed, lifting them up and down as though to portray their obvious heft.

Now, I can wake up in the morning and go for a run, or a bike ride, or a ski. But don’t ask me to talk. My brain could not comprehend why she was acting like that, so I let out an awkward laugh, took my skis out of her hand, and walked away from her towards Dan.

‘What’s up?” He asked me, “What took so long?”

“Just really odd,” I said, shaking my head and clipping into my skis. We did a quick little warm up, which proved that indeed that air was incredibly cold, as Dan’s entire nose turned chalk white. He borrowed a bandana from a race official, and all of a sudden it was time to start. Race starts always make me feel like I’m going to puke, and this one proved no different.

Start
The starting lineup

All of a sudden we were off. It was quickly pretty steep, but I found myself surprised and very pleased by the fact that I was in general keeping up, and even passing some people.

This changed when we were about half way up an odd mogul field. I was finding it harder and harder to get my skins to stick, until at one point, looking down, I realized that I had had a complete skin failure. My glue was no longer sticky. People were gaining on me, passing me as i stamped and struggled with my skis. The skins were held on to the ski by the tip and tail attachment, and every time I took a step, my ski would slid about four inches in the snow until some of the skin grabbed. I was pissed. I had had my first good race start, and I could see it all crumbling.

Fortunately, we always carry a couple of Voile straps on us – life savers in the case of a skin failure. Strapping one on each ski, they effectively held my skin in place, but completely removed any glide. I was essentially on two oddly long and narrow snowshoes. Fuming, I continued the skin up, sincerely glad that Dan was racing with me. The moral support was much appreciated at that moment.

We reached the top of the first skin, I removed both of the straps, my skins, and soon we were off down a crazy mogul field on our little skis. It was an exhilarating run, super soft boots and tiny skis ricocheting around the icy moguls. We reached the bottom and put our skins back on, me the straps back on. Now I knew that I was really going to be slow – there was no saving the skins.

We may not be fast, but we definitely are the most classy looking people out there, as we always race in our Dale of Norway sweaters, which we received a lot of compliments on as we skinned up. The top of the second skin, and we were down an extremely fun little chute – steep, narrow, exciting. I was stoked. This was the first race I’d entered that actually had us skiing fun terrain, not just some silly groomer. My uphill skills being limited, but my downhill background being pretty good, we actually passed a couple of other racers on the way down – soon to be passed again by them as we began the third climb of the day, to our first, and only time cut off.

We beat the time cut off with a good amount of time to spare, and began the boot pack up. The boot pack was clearly set by giants, each step an uphill lunge for me, rather than a simple kick step. NOLS would not approve! The top of the boot pack came, and we did a short skin until we reached another fun little chute to ski down – at this point, I was pretty happy. Maybe my skins weren’t working, but at least there were fun descents! This one proved to be just as fun, but altogether too short, for soon our skins were back on, and we were heading for the part I dreaded: a boot pack up, and then a ladder climb out of Corbet’s Couloir. I didn’t really want to see how well my boots did on a ladder. But, inevitable, we reached the boot pack, and I went into autopilot. One boot in front of another, up, up, up, don’t look down. Whoops! Looked down. The world reeled and dipped until I focused on the deep shadows in the snow in front of me, avoiding another look down at all costs. And now we were at the base of the ladder. I let go of my poles so that they dangled off of my wrists, and began up, my entire body a buzzing bundle of live wires. I realized halfway up that it was two two ladders, held together by the very same Voile straps that had been holding my skins to my skis the whole time. I gulped, and focused on the blue sky above me. I was nearing the top. Finally, there. I stumped onto the solid snow, my knees shaking, Dan soon following.

Climb
Not either of us, but that's the boot up Corbet's.


Download-7
The ladder up Corbet's

It was indeed much warmer up at the top, but I could
feel the temperature plummeting as we skied down, down, down 4,000 feet. The
bottom was an interesting myriad of snow with willows poking through, which
made for interesting skiing, and none of this descent was nearly as much fun as
the others.

At the bottom we had just one more skin left, my hands
were numb with cold, my nose was surely a block of ice on my face, but let’s
just skin, get to the top, and ski down. I warmed back up going up. It felt
like up and up and up. We’d heard this last skin was a doozy – it seems like
the people who set these courses like to put that last skin in just to really,
truly finish you off. But finally, finally, we reach the top of the fifth and
last skin, ripped skins yet again, and rocketed down the groomer that was the
course, my hand plastered in front of my face the entire time, trying to
prevent my nose from freezing off.

Sliding to a stop in the finish line, Dan and I gave
each other a hug – this may have been U.S. Nationals, but it was still the
easiest race I’ve done, coming in at 8,600 feet of vertical climbing. We
stumbled into the semi-warmed tent to change, and to devour several slices of
pizza.

I came in last – out of six girls total – and Dan, who
could have done much better, stuck with me through the entire thing. In Europe,
the skimo races are team races. It seems silly that here we are required to
carry beacon, shovel, probe, but no partner is necessary. It’s obviously still a
very young sport here, and is going through some serious growing pains, but the
passion and the thrill is there!

All photos courtesy Mark Gocke photography and Jackson Hole Randonee.

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