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.
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 WildSnow.com!
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!