Monday, February 16, 2015

Vertical Race video

Lots of suffering going on

2015 Ski Mountaineering World Championships: Races


Things kicked off with the sprint races. I raced the sprint event back in 2013 and I was surprised when I saw this course. I remembered the course in Pelvoux being shorter, and with its position at the base of a ski hill, the downhill skiing was down through gates on a groomed run. This descent consisted of a taped lane, more reminiscent of a bike race, and had some rocks poking out. Fortunately after more work on the course, the snow hardened up for race day.

The course with its flat start, kick turns, bootpack, and downhill through a taped off lane.
For the men and women, top 30 qualify to move on to the 6 person heats. I qualified in 50th place after fading a little towards the top of the course, missing qualifying by a distant 38 seconds. Unfortunately other Canadian men Nick Elson, Travis Brown and Junior Oliver Bibby also missed qualifying.

Mel, Kylee, and Michelle moved on to the heats, which was a great experience for them.
Melanie ended up moving into the finals with some exciting racing. She had to fight for her position against an aggressive Spaniard in her quarterfinals. In the semis, she paced herself well and moved up through the group at the top of the climb and in the top transition to move on to the finals. The finals happened soon after her semi and unfortunately with some mistakes in transition, she watched a potential 3rd or 4th place slip from her grip and she settled for 5th.

Post elimination spectating.

The vertical took place the day after the sprint. Starting below the Verbier village in an open field. I had a bit of last minute panic as my race gear was locked inside a car, when in retrospect, I should have stored it in the race hall at Espace St. Marc.

Skinning through the Verbier village, the wet, brown snow soaking our skins.
The course had some steep sections right off the bat before passing through Verbier on lower angled roads. Once onto the pistes, the course was steep on the switchbacks of the cattracks, but flatter on the traversing sections. Travis reported issues with wet skins from the Verbier section icing up and reducing glide on the traversing pistes. If felt good on the steep parts coming out of Verbier, but I had to really push myself to keep the speed going on the flats to stay ahead of racers behind me. I got to the final steep section with enough of a gap and plodded up to finish 70th, 12.5minutes behind the winner.
Good crowd at the top of the vertical to watch me suffer.


I spent the day off between the vertical and the individual race previewing the individual race descents, and I was stoked about the ski quality. My legs were still heavy from the vertical race and during the warmup I checked out the first part of the initial climb. It was up a steep groomer, something resembling the tales of American skimo races. This was followed by some steep mogul skinning, also reminiscent of American skimo races (or what I've heard about them!). Grippy skins were must for this first climb. After a short crusty descent, the skiing was more pleasant, aside from some stepped, blownout skintracks to take us up the ridge for our first summit of 6 Blanc. My descending was weak and I was not consistently nailing my binding step ins and I got caught by 2 racers. As we descended beside the next climb's uptrack, it was interesting to see the race ahead playing out with Nick Elson right there in the mix, and Travis racing stronger after suffering hard on the first climb. I was strong on the bootpacks relative to my companions and clawed back on the final 2 climbs. The final descent was down your classic liftline mogul run and while 2 skied away from me, I was able to snag another spot by carrying more speed into the finish line. 72nd and 37minutes behind the winner. 


The teams race course is longer and more technical than the individual race and skiers are required to partner up with someone of the same nationality and remain together for the entire race. I was partnered up with Oliver Bibby, a junior who had competed in his individual race just the day before. I had a "rest" day between the races, which I used to pre-ski the course!

I enjoyed the more relaxed pace at the start, which was good because I wouldn't have wanted to be too deep in the pain cave while trying to thrash my way up the icy skintrack of the first climb!

Teams race during the 4th climb. I got a break from towing as there were more kickturns which were hard to coordinate during towing.
The third descent was sketchy! Down an icy couloir and icy bed surface and through debris at the bottom. I was glad to have survived that and get out of the bowling alley of ice balls sent down the couloir by skiers above me. OThe liver started to fade on the 4th climb and I put him on the tow rope as 2 teams passed us and skied away. He was really struggling on the 5th climb and I could hear him dry heaving. The tow rope was stretched pretty tight at this point. When I topped out the climb, I looked over and saw Ben Ohler cheering for us, while crouched over a stretcher, some Dynafit One boots sticking out. Oh no, is that Brent?

For once, I was the faster on the descents as Oliver's tired legs were not up for the demands of the top part of the 5th descent. He caught back up at the bottom before the long skating section. This was slow going with the warm snow and we were glad to not be in a close battle with other teams. Near the end of the skate, Oliver was feeling better and started charging towards the final part of the descent. I lost sight of him ahead, and then I kind of shut it down on a piste section right before the finish. I coasted across the line and the only two Canada suits I could see were of Michelle and Kylee, who had finished just before us. Then I looked down and saw Oliver on the ground and people rushing to get blankets on him and setting up an oxygen mask. I found Dave Dornian and got him to call Ben to ask about Brent. Brent had collapsed at the top of Mt. Gele at 3000m after stepping off the tram. He was airlifted out quickly.

I was assured that he would be okay, but to be honest I was pissed that he had just left me in his dust, pretty much breaking the main rule of teams racing. 


The relay was exciting. The course added another climb to the sprint course, so I knew pacing would be important. Word was that Brent was okay, but he would have to remain in hospital so we would not be able to hear his encouragement during the relay.

There is always a bit of a rivalry (some people take it more seriously than others) between Canada and US, although the US never sends their top guns (except this year, when their selection was not solely based on 3 individual races, but a sprint and a vertical as well?). I say that out of respect as the fields in the US are incredibly deep and that I would be in a tough battle for the top 20 if I ever showed up to Jackson.

Anyways, the US women had just beaten the Canadian women, and Nick Elson handed off to me with a bit of a gap over the American starter, Andy Dorais. As I chilled out on the first part of the first climb, American Colin Cares closed in on me, but I eeked out some gaps with some solid transitions and had something left in the tank for the top of the 2nd climb. I held a gap as I handed off to Oliver, who going against doctor's orders, raced. Oliver botched some transitions and was caught by Teague, who paced smartly for the 2nd climb. However, instead of heading into the lap lane to give the American anchor Billy a head start over our anchor Travis, Teague skied through to the finish chute and once he realized his mistake, he had to ski back around to the lap lane. Billy and Travis left for the final lap at the same time.

Travis raced with some smart pacing and clean transitions and we finished in 9th place, almost 50 seconds up on the Americans. That battle was the subject of many drunken ramblings at that night's closing ceremonies.

It was frustrating that I was not able to build on my successes in Pelvoux/Puy St. Vincent in 2013, and I'm sure friends and family members will come up with some excuses to help comfort me.  I had a lot of fun training for Pelvoux and I never really felt like I was pushing myself too hard. To get back to that level while training in Edmonton and working full time is going to require greater discipline (specifically the ability to push myself harder on flat terrain and to find an analog for a climb longer than 2minutes), time management, and diet (can I afford to be lugging more weight up the hill than I need to?). I think it will take a lifestyle change before I am ready to attend another World Championships.

2015 Ski Mountaineering World Championships

Pretty uneventful travel, except a baggage handler strike at the Geneva  Airport. They were demanding 2 more Toblerone sections per shift.

Vertical Race Recon. The lift accessed ski terrain here is incredible, though it is uncontrolled.

We will summit Mt. 6 Blanc 2 times during the individual race.

Alpenhorns at the opening ceremonies

Chenegouga Marching band having way too much fun.

Verbier is an uber expensive ski resort in an uber expensive country and attracts the likes of people willing to pay $4000 for a Bogner ski suit!

St. Bernards
Team Canada
Team China
Grand Combin
View from the hotel down the valley in Martigny
Verbier Extreme comp face. Yes, people ski down that!
Looking towards Mt. Blanc from the summit of the teams race course, Mt. Gele.
Mt. Blanc
Taking the tram up to the 3300m summit of Mt. Fort provides a view towards Zermatt with the Matterhorn and Dent Blanche visible.

Local flag of 2 naked women in a hot tub. Although we did not see any hot tubs there, these flags were the subject of closing ceremony shenanigans.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Dogtooth Dash

I skipped the Whitefish Whiteout to get over an annoying sickness that I'd been dragging along. Sounds like I missed another Philipp beatdown, but in the much deeper local field that Whitefish usually attracts. Great skimo community in Montana.

Fresh snow the night before a race created white-knuckle driving, and some highway closures if you were unlucky. A decision was made to modify the course to instead have 2 laps of the shorter Enduro course. I actually enjoyed this format as the skintracks improved greatly for the 2nd lap.

Nick Elson had a great race as he was able to stick with Philipp until the final climb when he blew a skin. I finished 6th. Some photos by Malcolm Taylor:

The bootpack was steep and on the 2nd lap, it was right before the finish!

The descent was soft on the first lap, more rocks showed up for lap 2.

Castle Mountain Skimo

The race season kicked off January 11 with the 3rd edition of the Castle Mountain Skimo Race. I enjoyed the relaxed Sunday start as it meant that I didn't have to take time off work to show up to the race with reasonably fresh/rested legs.
Some poor one-handed pole action through the technical terrian

I helped out with a clinic on the Saturday before the race where we showed attendees the wonders of of kick turns and transitions.

The hill was pretty hurting for snow so the first climb was a heinous battle through the alders. There were also a couple of short descents to dance around fallen logs and alders. I think everyone was pleased once the skintrack rose into more open terrain.

The low snow year also meant that the bootpack, that started with a downhill section was extra spicy with more exposed rocks. The lone star descent was predictable wind pressed snow with an exposed traverse above the bare "midriff" of the run adding some technical nature. Don't fall (or you might break a femur". The 2nd and final climb was familiar from last year's modified course with steep climbs to make sure that you had something left in the tank. The final descent down the cat skiing area would have skied nicely, but our short and skinny race skis could not float very well in the baseless snow.

German Philipp Schรคdler showed up and sped off from the start with a pace that only Travis Brown could match. Through the alders I found myself in no-man's land just ahead of Oliver Bibby and Steve Sellers but losing ground on Travis. Young Olie caught me on the bootpack  and passed on the descent before crashing. With Steve joining us at the transition for the final climb, I had my work cut out for me, put my head down and set a pace that nobody could match. 3rd place, but a whopping 20 minutes behind Philipp and 10 behind Travis!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Skimo Bread and Butter

Well it’s the final week before I head over to Verbier, Switzerland for 2015 Ski Mountaineering World Championships. After last weekend’s Dogtooth Dash, I was feeling better about my result.  The base is feeling good and a couple of productive high intensity 30-30 interval sessions really tuned up my high end.

Following the Dogtooth Dash was an informative Q&A session with Alexandre Pellicier, 2008 Skimo World Champion.  Some of the tips that I took home were:

-Ski as much as possible on race skis, and practice quick transitions during training. Higher cadences are easier to maintain on lighter gear. A skier who spends lots of time skiing on race skis will get comfortable on race skis.

-His warmup involved 30mins of aerobic followed by some short openers (high cadence or higher intensity). For example, he would ski a 600m vertical course to warmup, race the 600m course, then cool down on the 600m course!

-Who to watch for inspiration: William Bon Mardion, Seppi Rottmoser for skiing. Sprint racers for transitions. Ignore what Kilian does with his arms because apparently it is wrong!

-Skinning technique: Try to skin without poles and on an actual skintrack (not a groomer) to work on balance, a key to efficiency. Holding the poles by the grip with the hands in the straps, even on bootpacks, allows you to use them to climb, demonstrating that they are not just there for balance (holding them midshaft). High cadence!

-Pierra Menta is all about recovery!
-I asked Alexandre about what he would consider his bread and butter intervals, something was lost in translation and instead we got an answer about periodization, with higher intensity starting in November/December.

I have forwarded a question to Stano about training, while based in the city.

Now back to 2013. I was living in Canmore, working part time usually 3 days a week, so I usually got out skiing 3-4 days a week. I had a midweek pass at Norquay and a pass at the Canmore Nordic Centre. I like to think that I had a really good season that year while keeping things pretty fun!

-When I went ski touring with my friends, I rarely skied on race gear and I rarely did intervals while touring, except for a couple of times where I did a hot lap. I did ski with some fit friends though! I think skinning technique is very important so the time I spent skiing in the backcountry was helpful. I was able to get out in the backcountry lots in October and November.

-I did a lot of Nordic skiing, skate and classic, and I searched out the rolling trails and longer, steeper climbs at the Nordic Centre. I loved going hard up the hills when I got to them. I found both techniques productive both for fitness and skimo technique.

-The highest intensity stuff that I did would be about 4-5 reps of leg blasters (20 squats, 20 lunges, 20 jump lunges, 15 jump squats) with some rest in between or 5-6 times up the powerplant hill in Canmore: Starting with the stairs, then up the steep gully (which for later sets was very hard), then focussing on speed as the angle eased off. These were about 3minutes of pretty hard running per set. I did 5 of these workouts over the season.

-Avalanche conditions were pretty good that season, so I did lots of bootpacking when I went out. I think bootpacking is awesome training as I was going so hard that I had to stop and rest!

-I went to Norquay about 9-10 times, mostly on race gear, mostly doing Lone Pine/Gun Run laps. I found these laps were not long enough to really make my legs scream though.

I have forwarded a question to Stano ask Alexandre about training, while based in the city. This year my training has consisted of:

-Skiing on the weekends. Although I didn’t get out until mid-November, and not again until December, but since then, I’ve gotten into a fairly good rhythm. I haven’t done more than a 2200m day, though I’ve done a number of them, and with some fast partners. Not much bootpacking in there.

-Fatbiking! I find I can push myself fairly hard on the bike and some extra traction on the climbs helps with that as well. Some of the top stairclimbers in the world are cyclists, so I think the motion crosses over well to bootpacking or steeper climbs.

-I’ve skied at the ski hill when the lift ticket has been included in race registration. Although the legs are already tired from racing, I’ve found that I’ve been able to beat them up. Obviously I could use more skiing. A neat thing about Kicking Horse or any mountain with hike-to terrain is that I can get some safe bootpacking in as well!

Of course all of this comes after a summer of mountain biking, racing, and group rides.

An obvious tool that I haven’t utilized much of are the many hills and stairs in the river valley. These are shorter in duration than my 3 minute powerplant route but would be good for working on bootpack speed and transition technique (although the snow in the city has been terrible).

I don’t find classic skiing to be as effective as the trails are flat and I can’t get enough grip to ski the short hills with the intensity they deserve. I’d have to drive across the city to go skate skiing so that is out of the question!

Unlike cramming for an exam, which actually works (trust me, I mastered thermal stresses 1hr before the CivE 270 midterm, then I was one of 2 people in a 200 person class to get 100% on the exam), you can’t (and shouldn’t) cram for a race aside from mastering techniques. But these are some tricks to keep in mind for the rest of the season.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Vert 180 and a couple of hut trips

A bit of a slow start to the season for me, but I Travis and I got 'er going with an overnighter over a long weekend.

Jumbo Wild

Great snow with a packrat and some sledders to keep us company.

Vert 180
Even with the lack of skiing, I felt pretty good at the Vert180 and finished 2nd behind Travis. No hip flexor pain, so things are looking good for this season!

Asulkan Camp
With tired legs from racing hard for 3hrs and tired bodies from frantic late night packing, meeting at 9am at the Asulkan parking lot was out of question. We ended up leaving Canmore at 9. The ACC had taken a page out of Alison Redford's playbook and generously block-booked the hut for us so we would have lots of elbow room to eat and sleep as just Michelle, Martha, Steve, Travis and I were attending. 

After a 3hour ski up to the hut, through tracked out snow and watching numerous groups ski down, the sleeping bags and hut booties seemed more inviting than a couple of short laps above the hut in wind affected snow. 

Monday brought a lazy start but with some ambitious goals. None of the weekend groups had skied above the hut and the weather and avalanche conditions were looking good, so we set our sights up to the top of Youngs Peak. Travis punched the track up the steep headwall and we quickly topped out. I was expecting to pound out a couple of laps on the steps of paradise, but soon we were skiing down the other side towards the forever young couloir. which was untouched since the last snowfall. Meanwhile, some German ski mountaineering racers had topped out the couloir from the road so I had some company at the top while I waited my turn. We all made it down safely with varying levels of slough management techniques depending on what order we dropped in.

Typically these camps are a chance to ski lots of vertical, but with tired legs from racing this adventure was an interesting diversion. After a couple of afternoon laps of the triangle moraine, the legs were getting tired, the light was fading and it was time for a classic staple of these SMCC Asulkan ski camps: The bonk-slog up the tree triangle back to the hut at the end of the day.

Shortly after the last stragglers arrived back at the hut, the wind got much stronger and battered the hut all night. The wind sustained through the morning and brought warm temperatures along with it. Freezing levels rose above the hut, motivation levels did the opposite. Trees were uncovered by the wind and their snow was blown into the outhouse thanks to some broken locks. And it was raining. It was time to bail.

The ski down from the hut was interesting as the snow got slower and less supportive as we worked our way down the tree triangle. The snow could be described as elephant snot or fluffy powder depending on whether the person you were talking to was from Fernie. On the way down we encountered what is likely another full house at the Asulkan. Nobody was pumped to hear that it was raining at the hut.

Well at least I got back to Edmonton at a decent hour!