One More Post – 24 Hours of Sunlight

Post by blogger | February 14, 2006      

Okay everyone, I know we should get back to covering backcountry skiing here, but one more 24 Hours post is in order, just to present some opinions and a few facts for the historical record.

Backcountry skier Noelle in 24 Hours of Sunlight uphill/downhill ski race
Our team member Noelle starts a lap.

The uphill Course was interesting. If you skied up and down it once for fun you’d call it easy, but it was actually quite tough to do multiples on, and got more difficult as the event progressed and it was scraped down to a layer of hard snow. The first few few feet were easy, up a perfect skinning pitch. Then the pain began as you wove left and right trying to avoid frequently unavoidable double camber skinning. My racing skis have straight skins, and I had to be careful here to set my skis flat and not try to edge. After that, the course steepens to what Greg Hill agreed was the crux and required extra “power” — a six or seven hundred vertical foot section of icy steep snow without a traverse track. You had to power straight up or risk trying to tiptoe traverse on your edges. Lots of people took backslides here. If you slid you’d go more than a few feet. After the “wall” as it came to be known, the course went level for a few hundred feet, then slightly downhill for a short distance. This section seemed like it would just get in the way of the record attempt when I first viewed the course, but I don’t believe it hurt in the end, as it provided a changeup rest after the Wall. After the flats the course took an efficient low-angled climb to the changeover tent with a stunning view of the Elk Mountains rising to the east.

Downhill Course was equally wild. While the down didn’t include and “regulator” sections such as those in randonee races (steep couloirs and such that require real ski gear and skill), it wasn’t any cake walk in the dark. The snow on the steep section was extremely hard — in one place a pre-release or fall would have smacked you into a big tree in the middle of the run. Worse, the uphill and downhill were on the same course. The organizers tried to separate the racers by having the uphillers stay to the side in certain sections, but as it was the double camber sections and steep bulges sent the uphillers scurrying all over the course looking for the most efficient line. At 3:00 AM it was quite racy looking up the run to see elite racers maching down toward you with only a small headlamp. Let’s just say you moved to the side a bit faster once you knew their intended line.

Gear was an issue at the event. Some of the elite racers tried their nordic skate gear on the course, but the icy downhill punished them severely. At least one solo racer changed to randonee racing gear after a couple of laps on his nordics, and the winners were all on randonnee. Some folks used light touring gear with metal edges, but on a steep course such equipment offers no advantage over randonee race gear as it’s nearly the same weight, doesn’t ski downhill as easily and still requires a mode change.

In the recreational classes just about anything worked. While the equipment rules will probably need to be tightened up, for a first time event it was good to see some experimentation. Some folks booted up and skied or snowboarded down. Others snowshoed both directions. Others ran downhill or slid on their rears. Some telemarkers had fairly light gear that looked efficient, others were shuffling along with gigantic skis and bindings with nearly no heel lift.

The event website does state that “The First Annual WestStar Bank 24 Hours of Sunlight is an endurance race challenging teams of all ages and abilities to hike or skin up Sunlight Mountain Resort and ski or board down for an entire 24 hour period.” My hope is that glisse stays the central focus of the race, and that they have separate classes for other forms of descent (shoes, butt sliding, etc.). While skiing and booting are both valid methods of locomotion, skiing is a unique skill that takes commitment to learn and do well. More, skiers in these races have the added burden of technical issues such as mode changes, skins, and what have you. What’s faster (foot travel or skis) is not that issue, just the fact that having different methods compete muddies up the action and doesn’t honor the participants.

Separate classes for skis or no skis is what I’d suggest, my guess is we’ll certainly see that next year in the elite divisions. In the recreation classes, I’d like to see all ski and all boot/snowshoe classes, as well as an “anything goes” class. More, if the snow was any softer it would have been a real problem having boots and skis climbing the same course, as the track would have become a minefield. To prevent a disaster (a race with no skin track), the booters and skinners will have to be separated on all the uphill other than the low angled and flat sections.

Another issue is how much vertical was skied, and how was it measured? I spoke with race organizer and producer Mike Marolt about this. He said the course was measured multiple times with GPS at 1,555 feet. If you glance at the event website you’ll notice that it lists vertical skied by the winners as 32 laps, 49,760 feet — just under the reported world record of 50,000 vertical. Greg Hill and Jimmy Faust did indeed ski 50,000 vertical in 24 hours — to make up the difference they did an extra short lap after their last full one by heading part way back up the course to a 240 vertical foot point measured by the ski patrol with GPS. This was done within the 24 hours time frame, but doesn’t show on the event website because if they’d scanned their lap cards, doing so would have added the full 1,555 vertical to the tally and giving an even more inaccurate result. Hopefully someone will annotate the event website so this is clear. Meanwhile, you heard it first here at!

Lastly, let me say again that this was one of the most positive and enjoyable events I’ve ever been involved with. I encourage anyone to take a few days off from backcountry skiing next winter and try getting your personal best daily vertical, contribute to a good cause, and socialize with a fine group of people. Now — BACK TO THE BACKCOUNTRY!


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8 Responses to “One More Post – 24 Hours of Sunlight”

  1. Lynn February 14th, 2006 11:13 pm

    As a participant, I would agree that it was a superb event. Well organized, friendly competition, great encouragement, etc.

    I look forward to next year, definitely more training on my part. Thanks Lou for the great coverage.

  2. Bryan Wickenhauser February 15th, 2006 12:38 am

    Lou – I was one of the few on lightwesight Nordic touring (full metal edge) gear. It was nearly the same weight as the winner’s gear. You’ll see me on Dynafit gear next years race. The Dynafit advantages are too great. Maybe soon you’ll see the winning team of the Elk Mtn. Grand Traverse on this set up in the future! When will we see you at the start line? Father son Team?

  3. Lou February 15th, 2006 1:18 am

    Thanks for the comments guys. Bryan, we were watching you on the computer standings while you were up there at the front, then you had a longer time on your last lap and then no more laps. Did your gear mess you up in one event or just was it just gradual? Nice race, whatever the case.

  4. steve romeo February 15th, 2006 2:27 am

    This was really fun everybody…and I hope you got some beer Bryan (even though you didn’t beat me, sorry). I felt like the people sliding downhill on their butts was kinda lame. Not very graceful.

  5. Andrew McLean February 15th, 2006 9:23 am

    Thanks for the photo memories Lou! The pain of the event is fading fast, but the buzz is still going strong. It was one of those events where everyone who participated was a winner and I’d hate to even call it a “race” as I don’t think finish order was a big priority for most people.

    I was surprised that I was able to get in 35,000+ feet, and in retrospect, had I known that 40 was possible, I might have strategized a bit harder. My main issue was keeping food down, and if I was to do it again, I’d put most of my effort into finding edible solids or soups. Lisa made a mean potato gruel with butter that hit the spot, but it was very easy to OD on the sweet stuff, like Stingers, bars, etc..

    I don’t think I could handle more than one of these a year, but would highly recommend it to anyone who is thinking of trying it. If anything, it helps with that nagging question what your biggest day of vert ever was!

  6. Bryan Wickenhauser February 15th, 2006 9:43 pm

    Romeo _ I’m trying to get up to JH yet this yr. to ski and would love a beer! I’ll find ya if I’m up there!. Great Job.

    Lou- The gear didn’t ruin me, it was the stomach 12 hrs in. I’ll echo Andrew’s comment… biggest problem for me was ultimately keeping food down. My mantra was eat early and eat often. Maybe over did it on the eating and just couldn’t process the amount of calories, and brought it back up. Body just shut down.

    I’ll be back next year on Dynafit gear! The NNN BC gear certainly couldn’t mach down the slope, but up hill performance was similar. For the minimal weight difference (only several ounces vs the winners gear) Rando race gear is the winner here. Whose got a size 12 F1/ TLT Race boot for sale!?

  7. Edgar Webster February 16th, 2006 12:09 am

    Hey Lou,

    Can you please do an interview with Jimmy Faust? Gear, training, experiences during the 24hrs, comparison of the Elk Mtn Traverse vs 24hrs of Sunlight, etc.

    Thanks, Edgar

  8. Mike Maxson February 16th, 2006 12:43 am

    Lou – Love the blog. Thanks for the daily read.

    The gear section of this post raises a question. What are the defining differences between set-ups; nordic, light-touring, touring, alpine-touring (AT), and randonee?

    Any insight is much appreciated.

    Congrats to all Sunlight competitors and organizers!!

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