High winds, deep snow can’t stop racers
March 4, 2014
The effort of two defeated the Power of Four.
In conditions described from "brutal" to "insane" during the fourth annual Power of Four Ski Mountaineering Race on Saturday, it was the men's team of John Gaston and Max Taam, of Aspen, taking the Sport Division title for the second year in a row, while Sari Anderson, of Carbondale, and teammate Stevie Kremer, of Crested Butte, won on the women's side.
Gaston and Taam, both members of the U.S. National Ski Mountaineering Team, finished in just more than 5 hours, 20 minutes, while Anderson and Kremer's winning time was 6:29:23.
Each winning team took home $1,500 for its effort.
"Highland Bowl was pretty incredible today," Taam said. "We were having a good time. It was just face shots all the way down. The worst part was my face got pretty cold the last five minutes of the bowl climb, and it was a whiteout on the catwalk. Other than that and taking a couple of diggers, it was some pretty good skiing today."
Coming in second place in the Sport Division for the men was the team of Scott Simmons, of Durango, and Marshall Thomson, of Crested Butte, in 5:33:08. Taking third were Bryan Wickenhauser and Brian Smith, both of Gunnison, at 5:38:14.
Taking second place in the Sport Division for the women were Lyndsay Meyer, of Aspen, and Janelle Smiley, of Jackson, Wyo., with a time of 6:12:30. While Meyer and Smiley finished before Anderson and Kremer, the two immediately told people not to assume they had won the women's side, as they did not have to climb the bowl.
Highland Bowl became an optional route at one point in the morning and was eventually closed to the racers.
"We had no options," Meyer said. "They turned us back at the boot pack."
In third for the women was the team of Sara Kadlec and Lindsay Plant, of Boulder, with a time of 6:22:58.
The teams in the Sport Division were scheduled to start at 6 a.m. and had to climb each of the four mountains operated by Aspen Skiing Co. — Snowmass, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands and Aspen Mountain. The course requires the competitors to climb nearly 12,000 vertical feet and cover 25 miles of terrain.
There was also a recreational course where teams started at 8 a.m. and followed the same course on Aspen Highlands and Aspen Mountain.
Teams of two had to start at Snowmass Village, skin up to the top of Elk Camp and then traverse from Elk Camp to West Buttermilk. From there, the teams had to ski down to the bottom of Tiehack, cross the bridge by the Aspen Recreation Center to Aspen Highlands Village, skin up to the summit of Highland Bowl and ski down to Castle Creek Road via the Congo Trail.
Teams then crossed Castle Creek and skinned up Midnight Mine Road until they reached the Sundeck on top of Aspen Mountain. The final decent took the teams down Walsh's, Jackpot and Bingo Glades, ending at the Gondola Plaza.
Heavy snow blanketed the course Saturday morning, and high wind gusts made for some difficult conditions, especially at the higher elevations.
Maria Hidalgo, the event manager for the race, said full-course participants had a half-hour delay to begin the competition and the rec-course participants had a 15-minute delay.
"The delays were weather-related," Hidalgo said. "We were also making sure the course was safe for everyone to get out there."
For Anderson and Kremer, it was their first time competing as a team. The two decided to team up after facing each other so many times individually and finishing so close to each other countless times.
Both women felt they worked well together, with Kremer towing Anderson on some of the uphill sections and Anderson leading the charge in the downhill portions of the race.
"Stevie is an excellent teammate," Anderson said. "There was a lot of teamwork going on and a lot of support for each other. It made it easier to stay happy and trying to have as much fun as we could while we were suffering so much."
When Anderson and Kremer made it to the hike up Highland Bowl, they were greeted by the strongest wind gusts of the day. Anderson said both skiers had to stop on the ascent and literally not move as they held their ground against the estimated 50- to 60-mph gusts.
"After we heard some of the girls didn't have to do the bowl, we were wishing we didn't have to," Anderson said. "But at the same time, we were really proud and psyched we made it up. It was brutal, a really hard day. Frigid cold. … I couldn't even see my boots climbing up the bowl."
Anderson said the wind at the bowl was unlike any she's experienced in a competition.
"I was asking myself, 'Why in the world would people climb Mount Everest?'" She said. "'What are they thinking?'"
"It was insane at the bowl," Kremer said. "There was literally zero visibility at times as we made our way up."
When Anderson and Kremer made it to Midnight Mine, they were told not to be surprised as there were a few people in front of them, but they soon realized they were the only women's team that initially made the hike up the bowl.
"We're super stoked to say we made it up the bowl in these conditions," Kremer said. "And survived it. I've never been so happy to finish something like I am right now. There were times I was literally petrified coming down the bowl."
Gaston said racing with Taam for a second year now is getting better and better as the two are really getting to know each other's style. He said not only are the two doing the little things to improve their times, like taking things out of each other's backpack so they don't have to remove them and waste time, they're both enjoying each other's company and lifting each other when one gets tired.
"It really helps having a teammate that stays close to you," Gaston said. "We remind each other to eat and drink and help each other with equipment management. We work together really well."
Both Taam and Gaston agreed that Saturday evening would be a time to celebrate.
"I know I should say we're getting sleep tonight and recovering," Gaston said. "But tonight I'm going to have a few beers and eat pizza and crepes. I also want to add what a great job Skico has done putting on this race. It's the biggest of its kind in the country, has the top prize money, and it's growing every year."
Up next weekend for the winning men's team will be the Wasatch Powder Keg Sprint/North American Championship Race at Brighton Ski Resort in Utah.
For the women, Anderson said she's looking forward to skiing with Kremer for two more team races this season.
"The best part today was my partner, Stevie Kremer," Anderson said. "She was awesome. We usually compete and battle in races, so today it was so fun to team up with her."