A Tale of a Cannon & a Sniper…
Guest blog by race participant Brian Wickenhauser
The US Ski Mountaineering National Championships is the culmination of randonee races taking place all across the US, including both coasts but with a concentration of racing in Colorado and Rocky Mountains.
To appreciate the Championship course you have to understand the terrain at Jackson Hole and the weather leading up to race day. The preceding two days prior to the race saw very balmy, sunny days with cool, clear nights. The terrain…well it’s legendary, from the Crags to Corbet’s Couloir, all a test of any great skiers ability.
Race day saw a coming together of probably the deepest field ever assembled in the nine years of the National Championships at Jackson Hole. Nearly all the big guns from Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana and even a couple Canadians to top it off! (it certainly would be great to see a few folks from the East & West Coast on the line….).
With the prior day’s high temperatures in the 50F’s and cold night leaving a variable “death cookie”, refrozen crust for athletes to deal with, it was certainly going to be a technical race. To top it off, the course has two boot packs and over 5600 vertical feet of total climbing.
At the 8AM race start it was Monique Merrill (Dynafit) leading the women’s field, with Pete Swenson (Ski Trab), Bryan Wickenhauser (Goode), Travis Scheefer (Goode), Brandon French (Ski Trab), & Ben Parsons establishing a lead men’s pack up (2170ft) the first climb to the top of the Après Vous Mountain. After a quick descent down a groomer to the second skin change, Pete Swenson led a charge like he was shot out of a cannon leaving the rest of the men’s field to battle for second. With Brandon, Travis & Bryan skinning up the Crags it was a technical battle of skill to see who could nail their “skin purchase” across each side hill on the refrozen surface, billy goating on up Sheridan Bowl (~1800 ft) to transition three.
The first technical descent down refrozen death cookies on a run in the Crags called C1, and into the first boot pack didn’t see any changes in position for the men. The boot pack (~1600 ft) up Casper Bowl brought the athletes up to the top of the Headwall skiing past (Doug) Coombs run, where we traversed over and down into Ten Sleep Bowl and to the base of the famous Corbet’s Coulior.
Prior to getting to Corbets, there was one last skin change to bring us up into the throat of Corbet’s (~900ft). At the boot transition, the battle for 2nd – 4th was tight with about 10-20 seconds between each of the positions, with Pete Swenson already 200ft up Corbet’s he was clearly untouchable today. Near the top of this legendary run, athletes saw the now famous ladder for the last 30 vertical feet, prior to topping out. At the base of the ladder… Brandon was topping out, with Bryan next out, having passed Travis on the boot climb for 3rd.
Legs are throbbing at this point but in front of you and the finish line is the largest descent (nearly 4139 ft) in all of North American racing. Pete Swenson is out front on Rendezvous Bowl enjoying his cushion, while the battle for second unfolds behind him.
When descending its always beneficial to have someone in front to key off of, just like mountain biking or road cycling. The person up front might as well have a target on their back! Rallying down at speeds approaching 45-50 MPH and then shutting it down to negotiate technical mogul, death cookie sections, it’s a constant battle to feather the throttle and the brake while your legs are screaming at you to stay on the brakes! …but that’s not what wins races!
On the final 2000 vertical feet down Lower Sublette Ridge, Travis and Bryan made contact with Brandon and passed him, with the young sniper Travis Scheefer showing everybody how to lay it down across refrozen mank, making large high speed GS turns, nearly skipping across the terrain! Bryan and Brandon were in hot pursuit, but no chance of closing the gap, Travis was fearless. At the bottom of the run it was everything you could do to carry some speed on to a cat walk below Union Pass Quad. It’s a long gradual hill which required 400ft of painfully slow, V1 skating technique, just to make sure you were fully tapped out at the line.
The gaps were established on the last descent, and even though you could see your opponent up in front of you, no one had the energy to close a gap down. At the finish line it was Pete Swenson resting comfortably in 1st, Travis Scheefer, the sniper in 2nd, Bryan Wickenhauser in 3rd and Brandon French 4th after holding 2nd position for more than 90% of the race. Rounding out the top five was Ben Parsons out dueling Carey Smith by two seconds at the line!
In the women’s race, it was Monique across the line first for your National Champion with Amy Fulwyler in 2nd and Kris Walker in third.
In Men’s Heavy Metal it was Davey Mitchell taking 1st over Tobin Stegman, and hot on Tobin tails was Jonathan King only 17 seconds back!
Women’s Heavy Metal saw Jessica Cochrane, beating Katie French to the line.
Men’s Recreation saw Kirk Turner take the title over Jacob Urban and Ryan Lynch.
Women’s Recreation had Amy McCarthy taking the title over Elizabeth Parsons, and Mary Neal.
With 5656ft of descent and 5633ft of ascent, its one race not to miss…just don’t forget to bring your “guns” to this wild West show!