Special to WildSnow.com from Brian Wickenhauser
The two prior years randonnee racing at Loveland ski resort were challenging, due in part to the weather…you ARE competing on the Continental Divide! This past weekend: Same date on the calendar but mild weather, no wind what so ever and a slightly different course design.
Wind and and storm were not the only noticeably absent item at the start, apparently there were some “other races” going on in the Western U.S. to pull a large Crested Butte contingent (and top two series points leaders) away from this week’s start line (Xterra Winter Worlds…running and biking on snow?? Really? …and The Super Tour in Crested Butte, a 22Km back country ski race….a warm up for the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse).
On to the action. Starting at 10,800ft., competitors ran with ski and poles in hand through a 150ft tunnel below I-70. As day light reappeared at the end of the tunnel we finally clipped into their bindings and skinned up to the top of chair 8. Out in the lead was Michael Hagen, followed by Bryan Wickenhauser, Jake Jones & Jason McGowain. After the first transition it was a blistering fast descent down a groomed slope to the base of Chair 8 for another repeat climb. Fairly benign “ski area” descents/climbs in the first 40 minutes of racing.
Now on to the fun terrain…At the top of the second climb it was Bryan out in the lead followed by Michael and Jake Jones. The descent was down Sundown Chutes/Splashdown, where the 2nd re-skin took place and on up to the top of Chair 9 AKA Patrol Bowl. Some wind buffed sun crust and steep pitches began to give the race a backcountry feel, plus you’re finally standing on top of the Divide now at about 12,700 on up to the high point of the race at 13,010.
The race course from here took us on a ridge top tour (departing from years past were competitors were asked to do one descent/climb along the ridge) across the likes of Primer Bowl, Castle Rock, Jelly Roll, Super Bowl, and Wild Child (skiing N to S on the resort). It was still open to debate as to what would be faster…leave your skins on or rip skins and V1 up (or boot pack up) all the short climbs? In the end, it was all a wash. Bryan maintained his several minute lead across the ridge tops and dropped into the off piste shot below Wild Child.
This is wear DH skiing proficiency can help in the race as 160cm skis, and F1’s can only get you so far….who’s got the guts to ski down wind hammered variable crust! Gaps are created on the ups for sure, but folks can get chewed up quickly if they display any fear on the descents! Unfortunately for Jake Jones, this is where he hoped to close the gap on 2nd place Michael Hagen, but as Jake closed his F1 buckle the wire broke and shut down any aspirations of chasing down Michael on the descent.
Descending back down above Chair 6 and onto a run called Keno and into a meadow where competitors had to apply there skins for one last skin up towards the North facing fabled terrain above Loveland Pass (Hwy 6). With a commanding lead over 2nd , Bryan topped out of the woods above Chair 1 where competitors ripped their skins and skied down 100 vertical feet to the base of a boot pack up, Over the Rainbow terrain. With unsupportable sugar snow, mixed in with a dash of dust on crust it was an interesting 200 vertical foot boot pack….some real ski mountaineering if only for a bit, and at the end of the race as your legs are pumped …it had a “good burn”!
After getting into the Dynafits on a wind blown ridge, legs pumped, tank on empty and eyes bugged…its tough to get into the toe pieces, but ya get it done. Then its only last descent down lower Over the Rainbow through the refrozen, wind hammered, bumped out terrain as fast as humanly possible (no one’s judging the turns ….this isn’t a freestyle competition!) and finish just above the base area maintenance building for a cold one!
In just over 2 hours it was Bryan Wickenhauser 1st, Michael Hagen 2nd and Jake Jones 3rd, Jason McGowain 4th and John Crowley 5th. In the women’s race division, unfortunately Monique Merrill was the only competitor with the other ladies getting pulled into these “other” events across the Western US. Men’s Heavy Metal winner went to Patrick Mullen, who now must be looking to upgrade gear and play with “the big boys.”
Stats for the race were 4,659ft up and 4,656ft down going counter clockwise around the whole Loveland Resort.
….and then came the wind and snow!
The COSMIC Series takes a break with series organizer Pete Swenson, taking a U.S. crew over to France for the Pierra Menta 3/12-3/15
For those sticking around the Rockies, head to Alta this Saturday for the Powder Keg or Crested Butte’s Town Series this Thursday!