Toughest Rando Race in North America?

Post by blogger | April 3, 2011      

I love it. Up into the last decade Colorado ski resorts were fretting over how to keep their boundaries closed against backcountry skiing and worrying about how big a kicker they could build before mortality ensued — now resorts appear to be competing to sponsor rad rando races that rival the grimly enjoyable stuff you can do in Europe. I’m thinking the 4-Skin on the Aspens has stolen the crown for toughest race (12,000+ vert with added value such as double diamond bump runs), but this one at Breck appears to compete. Not sure how to spectate this race, perhaps we’ll find out. I’ll leave it at that and reprint their press release.

The Five Peaks Ski Mountaineering Race, April 9th Breckenridge, Colorado

The Five Peaks – North America’s highest and most challenging ski mountaineering race is April 9th at Breckenridge Ski Resort. The Five Peaks course takes competitors over 8,500 ft. of climbing and four summits. Beginning at 6 am in front of the Maggie (Peak 9 base), teams of two will skin and bootpack the peaks and saddles of Peaks 9, 8 and 7, finishing at the base of Peak 7. Highlights include climbs of Peak 9 from both the southeast and north ridge, a boot pack up Wacky’s in the Lake Chutes and a final climb of Peak 7 from the Ore Bucket backcountry access gate.

The Five Peaks is open to ski mountaineering teams of two looking for a high-alpine challenge. The $160 per-team entry fee includes post-race happy hour, beer, dinner and a big raffle at Kenosha Steakhouse. For complete information, course map and required gear list go to: Walk-up registration is available in Breckenridge at Mountain Outftters and Amazing Grace, on-line registration is at

The Five Peaks is the seventh race in the nine-race COSMIC (Colorado Ski Mountaineering Cup) Series: info at The Five Peaks is supported locally by Breckenridge Ski Resort, B.O.E.C, Mountain Outfitters, Amazing Grace and Kenosha Steakhouse.


19 Responses to “Toughest Rando Race in North America?”

  1. BK April 3rd, 2011 8:07 pm

    Don’t forget about the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse: 9 of the top 10 teams this year were on skimo/rando race gear, probably safe to say it’s gone from being a nordic-dominated tour to a legit rando race! (albeit much flatter than four-skin and five-peaks)

  2. Brian April 3rd, 2011 8:28 pm

    Considering that the Elk Mountain race was completed in similar finish times on nordic gear in the past puts it in a completely different category than modern skimo races. “Legit” rando race? Probably not. Nobody is going to compete in combi boots at the Power of Four. You don’t really even have to know how to ski that well to do the Traverse. It’s a fun event but it’s not really a rando race, IMO.

  3. Jonathan Shefftz April 3rd, 2011 8:29 pm

    I think the dominance of rando race gear in the EMGT the last few years doesn’t mean that the EMGT is a true rando race, but rather just shows how old school all the nordic backcountry gear has become compared to rando race gear. (For example, my rando race gear is way lighter than my nordic backcountry setup — if I were to ever go on a long nordic backcountry tour, I’d just put some kick wax on my rando race skis.)

  4. BK April 3rd, 2011 9:02 pm

    agreed all-around, “legit” is a bit too strong, although to classify it purely as a nordic race doesn’t quite do it justice either.
    In any case, Five Peaks can claim the highest altitude but it doesn’t stack up to the 12.5k/27mile Power of Four, no comparable Congo section either 😉

  5. Halsted April 3rd, 2011 11:47 pm

    Once again, please tell me why they have “Ski Mountaineering” races at ski areas? 🙄 😕 😕 😕

  6. Brian April 4th, 2011 6:49 am

    Really? Agency permits, liability, insurance, avi control issues, even parking for large numbers of racers are simply easier to wrangle at ski areas. Welcome to America.

    Trying to promote any kind of athletic event in the U.S. is daunting enough but throw in the variables involved in back country travel and it’s nearly impossible.

    If it’s still not clear, buy Pete Swensen or Andrew McLean a beer sometime and pose the same question. They have some insight.

  7. Lou April 4th, 2011 7:00 am

    Halsted is of course playing the joker…. but I’ll add that they have kayaking in white water parks, and they can have ski mountaineering races within skier resorts. Of course, neither are the same as the uncontrolled environment with no man-made features, but close enough to be fun to watch and fun to do, as well as being close enough to their namesakes to keep their own monikers.

  8. Jonathan Shefftz April 4th, 2011 7:19 am

    Like Brian said, although also note that both GAH and CS Irwin hosted 100% backcountry races this year. Jon Crowley had planned to organize a 100% bc race in Mammoth this season, but ended up need more prep, so stayed tuned for next season. The EMGT is of course nearly 100% bc, but it therefore ends up being way too easy for the descents, along with frequent trailbreaking that inevitably encourages gamesmanship, along with navigational difficulties that are more adventure racing than rando racing.
    Many Euro races are of course 100%, but something like the PDG is so complex that it’s held only every other year, and requires the assistance of the Swiss army. (Unfortunately our nation’s armed forces are too otherwise occupied to help out with ski races…)
    Back east, of the three races I organize, one has all the ascents (although not descents) in the backcountry, and I flag it extensively, put in the skintrack again within a day or two of the race, and then hope somebody else in the interim doesn’t unintentionally put in a sucker track. Of the other three races in the east, one has two backcountry ascents, and while in the lead this year on a new rerouting towards the very end I came to unmarked and unstaffed intersection and had to guess (fortunately correctly!). So that’s just a taste of the (many) difficulties in backcountry races.
    But still, the Jackson race this year had video footage that sure looked like ski mountaineering to me, even though it was inbounds.
    I’ll admit though that “ski mountaineering” is misleading for many of these venues. Rando rally has a nice ring to it, although can come off as exclusionary toward telemarkers and snowboarders, but then again their gear is far more of a deterrent than any nomenclature. “Uphill/downhill race” would also work, but at least out here that description has become too associated with telefest events that consist up something like skinning up alongside a NASTAR course.

  9. Lou April 4th, 2011 7:26 am

    In Italy a few years ago, I went to a World Cup race that was held 100% in the backcountry, albeit with some of the race accessible by farm road via snomobile. The course was, to put it in one word, gnar. I almost got killed skiing down after the race. Spectating involved climbing more than 3,000 vert. Was cool, but it was pretty obvious that holding such races at a resort could be just as gnar, but much easier to spectate, deal with injuries, etc.

    As for the Elk Mountains traverse, while I respect the athleticism involved, another one-word review: yawn. It is not a ski mountaineering race in my view, but yes, sort of like an adventure race…

  10. Lou April 4th, 2011 7:29 am

    Regarding the Congo section of 4-Skin, I’d hope at least some tree limbing gets done up there this summer. Would be nice to see that trail get some well deserved upkeep, it is a really exceptional amenity.

  11. Peter K April 4th, 2011 9:50 am

    unfortunately the spring GAH race got cancelled due to lack of interest. Bummer, I was really looking forward to it! The race at Whitewater during the Coldsmoke Festival is mostly beyond the boundaries of the resort, and about half of the new Lake Louise race takes place in the slackcountry surrounding the resort.

  12. Matt Kinney April 4th, 2011 10:08 am

    Halstead…. yup,,,they even have backcountry skiing…..with helicopters. 😆

    Sounds like a neat event.

  13. Wick April 4th, 2011 11:07 am

    They are all hard…if you are going fast enough! With the terrain some Western US resorts have….no need to hold a race outside the boundries…plus all the insurance companies & lawyers will “sign off” on it.

    This year’s Breck course will be slightly less vertical Vs last yr. …add a dose of nasty weather and it ramps up the “hardness factor” X 10. The San Juan race on 4/23 is also 100% off piste. Go sign up for a race and you’ll be a better skier up AND down!

  14. Jack April 6th, 2011 5:15 am

    Lou – Thanks again for facilitating a great conversation. It reminds me of do you like blonds or brunettes? The beauty of all these races are: They are all different.

    The Grand Traverse has most of the pieces of a legit rando race but does lack the concentrated vert and technical parts of the others. It does have some pieces that I think Pete and other race promoters could learn from which are some of the great traditions like a unique midnight start or a sassy race leader. I enjoy as much the scene of check-in, the nervousness of the racers, and the comradery, as I do the joy of finishing an exceptionally demanding race. The others do not have unique qualities like injury evac or the 3-5 temp zones, the attention needed on gear and wax. My first set of gloves were sweat soaked and began to freeze up in Brush Creek but we really did not need gloves at the finish. No one on Richmond Ridge to give you a cheer or a morale lift like the in-bound races. This race favors those who are exceptionally fit, gear and wax fanatics, and don’t need people on course for encouragement.

    Five Peaks is a different kind of marathon that rewards those good at transitions (nine last year) and kick turns up Peak 7. 10,000′ of vert (last year) is big in most folks book with less horizontal and requires a different kind of conditioning. But, if you get hurt ski patrol would be there to assist. I did enjoy having a much lighter pack and there were lots of people cheering you on.

    The Grand Traverse, Five Peaks and the Power of 4 are uniquely different contests each with its own challenges. Me? I married a brunette and I am more proud of finishing the Grand Traverse.

  15. Bill Graf April 17th, 2011 12:29 pm

    Wick- agree with you assessment of 5 peaks (and any other weather variable effected event). At transition at the top of boot pack heading for peak 8 nearly had my skis blow down into the bowel! I guess this is yet another down side to really light weight gear. Great job by Pete and crew putting on a great event despite the wind. I look forward to more longer race course- inbound or BC. Kudos to all the race directors- thanks for providing us a venue to enjoy the sport.

  16. Brian April 17th, 2011 6:42 pm

    Funny how many people have this love affair with the Grand Traverse and continue to try and “justify” it as a rando race. Forget it. It’s a long, flat adventure race, run in the middle of the night, on skis. Certainly unique on this side of the Atlantic and something every bc skier should do once. But a race like the Power of Four gains nearly twice the vert in half the distance, roughly. The average short rando race gains the same vert of the EMGT in 2-3 hours. Really different beasts. I appreciate that people have unique experiences there but that is irrelevant to this topic.

  17. Wick April 17th, 2011 7:37 pm

    Even more ironic that the Four Skin has zero technical skinning….and it’s the toughest?…I hope the organizers add this skill as anyone can climb a groomed ski slope! 😀

  18. Brian April 17th, 2011 9:01 pm

    Good point, Wick. I think something had to give when the goal was to get folks over the course before dark. The distance did the damage without throwing in a bunch of kick turns. There’s time for that in the shorter events. Frankly, I got all the “technical” I wanted barreling down Congo. Ten minutes of fear!

    In terms of something “anyone can do”, well, that’s probably not a bad idea as the sport attempts to grow. Beat ’em down too bad and they’ll never come back.

  19. Lou April 18th, 2011 7:06 am

    Wick, you’re such an elitist (grin).

    But yeah, I’d agree that one improvement to the Four Skin would be at least one crazy skinning section. But perhaps only for the full race. The half race, that most non-racers would enter, should be set up to be fun and not have some sort of skin climb nightmare where people are falling down on top of each other and stuff.

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