Dashing through the snow at Sunlight | AspenTimes.com

Dashing through the snow at Sunlight

Joelle Milholm
Glenwood Springs correspondent

Bryan Wickerhauser celebrates while reaching the finish line of the Colorado Ski Mountaineering Cup race Saturday morning at Sunlight Mountain Resort. Wickerhauser finished in second place behind race winner Ethan Passant with a time of 1 hour, 55 minutes, 29 seconds. (Kara K. Pearson/Post Independent)

Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Snow came down steady and heavy on Saturday, christening the inaugural Colorado Ski Mountaineering Cup race at Sunlight Mountain Resort.

It didn’t deter many, however, as 57 people turned out for the event where participants skinned up, skied down and even boot packed over a large portion of the mountain.

The snow didn’t make it easy on the competitors, as it made it more difficult to get up and down the mountain. Skiers in both the race and recreational divisions struggled.

But for some of the most experienced ski mountaineers in the U.S., the snow couldn’t slow them down. Crested Butte’s Ethan Passant made it through the race the quickest, in a time of one hour, 55 minutes and five seconds. With the snow in need of packing for most sections of the course, it was hard work for Passant to get through first.

“On the last skin there was like four of us, and whoever was in front was at a disadvantage, just pulling the skins and going the last time ” it was tough,” said Passant, who has competed in ski mountaineering races for six years in the United States and France.

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Bryan Wickerhauser, who raced on telemark skis, took second overall, coming in 24 seconds behind Passant, and Mike Kloser finished third four seconds later.

The abundance of snow, which is great for alpine riding but hard for racing, caused some skins to be defective and some participants to drop out. Despite skinning problems, some found ways to get through it.

Michael Schneiter, a Glenwood local who won the Day of Infamy snowshoe race, had trouble with his skins and had to boot pack up the mountain when they didn’t work anymore.

“I didn’t know what else to do, I thought I was going to quit,” he said about having to boot pack for long periods. “I was like, ‘This sucks.'”

But when Schneiter and others crossed the Gatorade-dyed snow finish line, their hard work was rewarded with a sublime sense of achievement that could be seen on their smiling faces. Even those with icy, frosted-white beards were gleaming with joy.

As they should after completing a course with such difficulty.

The course went up Sun King, down and then up again through the Zephyr and Upper Glades, then descended down Defiance, up Perry’s Plunge to the summit, down Heathen and Lower Defiance and then back up Midland back to the base area. An out-of-bounds section above Perry’s gave Sunlight regulars a never-before-seen bonus.

“You’re not just skinning up the run, it’s hooking in the trees and the east side of the mountain goes out-of-bounds and goes in trees and that is stuff you never get to see,” said Schneiter, who borrowed ski mountaineering gear to compete in his first race of the kind and finished in a little over two hours and seven minutes. “I’ve skied this mountain so many times and I actually got to see some stuff I have never seen before.”

COSMIC will be back in action next weekend, when the second race in the five-part series will be held at Snowmass ” where around 50 percent of the course will be out-of-bounds backcountry. The other three races will take place at Loveland, Silverton and Arapahoe Basin.

Event organizers were pleased with the outcome for the first race, as were the participants who raced.

“This stuff is really big in Europe so it is nice to see it kind of catching on here,” Schneiter said.

As for ski mountaineering buffs like Passant, he’ll be back for the next race and can’t ever seem to get enough snow. Even after muscling through Saturday’s race.

“It was beautiful, fun. I can’t wait to go skiing now,” Passant said. “It’s a powder day.”

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