Monday, January 18, 2010

The Heathen Challenge at Sunlight Mountain Resort, 1/16/2010

The 2010 randonee skiing season began with a bang--well, actually, more of a snap--this weekend. The snap was the sound made when a crucial piece on my boot broke apart just moments minutes before the start, resulting in a significant rush of adrenaline and drastic shift in race strategy.

Randonee skiing, or ski mountaineering, involves "skinning" up the ski hill using climbing skins for traction, pulling the skins off at the summit, and then skiing down, alpine-style. Races usually involve a few laps of this nonsense, which each climb covering 1500' to 2500' vertical. The descents, I am figuring out, usually cover the steepest, most technical terrain offered at the resort. For more information on this fun and growing sport, see

Back to this weekend's race... When ascending, randonee boots are open, allowing for flexibility and movement. For the descent, latches on the boot are locked down, resulting in a stiff boot that can be used for downhill skiing. When the rear cable on my boot snapped, I could ski uphill as usual but was left to navigate the downhills--a double diamond appropriately known as "The Heathen," in this case--in a left boot with stability akin to that of a penny loafer.

After inquiring over a mega-phone at the starting line as to whether anyone happened to have an extra boot cable on their person (yeah, sure!), I lined up unsure about my sanity in starting the race with gear in such a condition. Although I lost a few seconds in some of the technical skinning (think trees, switchbacks, powder, and some super-steep pitches), I summitted just shy of the leaders. At the summit, I asked my friend, Joe, who was not racing, if I might be able to use his boots, but decided throwing my size 9 foot into his 13's would only make matters worse.

My downhill skills are mediocre at best, and I struggled down The Heathen last year in slow-motion, death-avoidance form. Doing it again this year with a boot that could easily generate serious injury seemed like a bad idea, so I decided to remove myself from the Race Division, enter the Macy Division, and proceed. Heading down a smooth but icy groomer, my judgement was confirmed as my ski shook from side to side with instability.

Luckily, I was able to complete the course. Sort of. I did not ski downhill on course, but I skinned up each ascent via the marked route. I climbed hard, as if I was in the race, and got in a great workout. With three laps, 5800' vertical, and no injuries under my belt, it was good money in the bank for upcoming events.

Pete Swenson puts on an excellent ski race, and I highly recommend randonee skiing to anyone looking for a great aerobic workout with a healthy dose of fun!

Up next for me is the Tennessee Pass Winter Triathlon in two weeks.

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