It’s the eve of the Grand Traverse, a classic backcountry skiing race from the bottom of Crested Butte Mountain Resort to the bottom of Aspen Mountain.
The course travels the Elk Mountains Range with around 8,000 feet of climbing over 40 miles.
As a sponsor of the Grand Traverse and fanatic of the sport, we asked UD ski mountaineering ambassadors for advice on how to race, how it differs from running and the one piece of advice they wished they had known before getting into racing.
Our team has had a great 2017-18 season:
- Max Taam (a former Grand Traverse winner) recently set a course record at the brutal Power of Four.
- U.S. Ski Mountaineering Team member Eric Carter has not only raced super strongly this season, he launched and directed a brand new skimo race in Canada called “Sea to Sky.”
- Jessie Young has taken a break this season due to pregnancy (the baby is due any day now!).
- Brand new UD Ambassador and Hardrock 100 legend, Adam Campbell, has continued honing his ski mountaineering and alpine climbing skills this winter in Canada.
If you have additional ski mountaineering advice for our readers, leave a comment.
HOW DO YOU PACE YOURSELF IN A SKI MOUNTAINEERING RACE? IS IT SIMILAR TO RUNNING?
Max Taam: I am pretty evenly paced throughout the race. I don’t usually “red-line” the start unless there is a choke early in the race (like if there is technical skinning or a boot pack early on). It’s different in Europe because the fields are bigger and the starts are incredibly fast.
Eric Carter: I think it is much more common to see athletes red-line at the start and then fade from the front where the best athletes will gradually pick up places throughout the entire race. Very rarely is it critical to be at the front of the pack right at the start. Races are long enough and generally you have the ability to pass throughout. Start at a manageable pace and increase throughout.
Jessie Young: I typically break the course down by climb and try to stay at the same intensity for each climb regardless of the terrain. The one place where I think it pays to push the pace is at the start and before a skin-track section to make sure you are not being held back by skiers around you.
Adam: You have to measure out your effort. I am amazed at how fast people start only to fade later. If the race starts with a narrow section where you will have a hard time passing people, then you need to press a bit earlier, but ideally it is best to be focused on finishing strong. I always look at a race course map, or, better yet, try to ski the course prior to the event to get a sense of which sections may present the biggest challenge.
FOR SOMEONE’S FIRST SEASON OF SKI MOUNTAINEERING, WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE?
Max: Train on your race gear! Don’t train on the heavy stuff. By training on race gear you will quickly get better at skiing on it. If you are training on a ski area, make sure you get off the groomers and challenge yourself on the difficult terrain and snow.
Eric: Wind briefs are a life-saver. And ride the lifts! Practicing skiing downhill is critical.
Jessie: I think the biggest jump from racing “to finish” to racing “to win” was starting the race as strong as possible to get a good position.
Adam: If you plan on racing get out on your race skis as much as possible. If you’re training in the backcountry or off-resort take the time to do avalanche awareness courses. The more informed you are about proper terrain selection the better and safer your backcountry experience will be!
WHAT IS YOUR NUTRITION PLAN FOR SKI MOUNTAINEERING?
Max: Make sure you pick foods that don’t get too hard when cold and make sure your hydration source (bottles, reservoir) doesn’t freeze.
Eric: It’s similar to running but presents different challenges (cold temps make eating/drinking difficult, poles and equipment make handling food difficult, etc…). I like gels mixed with hot water into a soft-flask.
Jessie: A lot of typical energy food including chews and gels freeze – so it’s good to keep them close to your body rather than in a pack pocket to make sure they are edible and won’t break your teeth!
Adam: Your bottles might freeze in cold conditions so keep the “nipple” of the bottle covered. What you can digest and what you crave in the cold can be very different than in warm temperatures. In skimo training, especially on long days, I tend to bring higher calorie foods like trail mix. I also often bring warm tea since it can be nice to have a warm drink and warm up my hands.