Randonee race series kicks off at Sunlight | AspenTimes.com

Randonee race series kicks off at Sunlight

Joelle Milholm
Glenwood Springs correspondent

Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Sunlight Mountain Resort is stepping it up a notch in arena of hard-core competitions.

Last year, the ski area outside Glenwood Springs held the first-of-its-kind, 24-hour ski event ” the 24 hours of Sunlight.

The result was a success, with more than 100 participants, the setting of four world records and the foundation for an annual competition.

Now, Sunlight is taking a risk on another new race, hosting the first leg of the inaugural Colorado Ski Mountaineering Cup on Saturday.

The event, one of five that will be held in 2007, is aimed at experienced skiers who thrive on steep slopes and get their thrills from conquering virgin backcountry powder.

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“You need to be a really good skier because it is ungroomed, double-black diamond terrain,” said Pete Swenson, COSMIC series director and an avid skiing mountaineer. “It’s not like 24 Hours of Sunlight, where it’s skinning up and skiing down groomed trails. Anyone who enjoys steeper runs and glade skiing should really like this event.”

Swenson, who won the inaugural Ski Mountaineering America’s Cup series in 2006, describes ski mountaineering as “going over mountains.” Ski mountaineering races are often put in the same category as randonee races, competitions coined from the French word meaning “ski tour,” but ski mountaineering sometimes requires removing skis to climb or boot pack. Randonee is a phrase used more commonly in Europe, and ski mountaineering is used more often in the United States.

But it was in Europe where Swenson got the idea for the event.

“I have been involved in ski mountaineering for the last couple of years and I was at the world championships in Italy last year, and was thinking that there is better weather in Colorado, better mountains and lots of backcountry enthusiasts, but not a lot of ski mountaineering events,” Swenson said. “We started organizing it and everything fell in place and everyone cooperated and it just seemed like it was the right place at the right time.”

In Europe or North America, ski mountaineering is rapidly gaining popularity. Swenson put a slide show presentation together in front of 100 people in Boulder last week with fellow ski mountaineer Andrew McLean, who competed in the 24 Hours of Sunlight in 2006. Swenson said he expected 20 to 40 people at the showing and was surprised by the large turnout. It might be similar for the COSMIC race at Sunlight.

“We are expecting between 20 and 50 people, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was 100,” Swenson said. “There is not much knowledge about ski mountaineering and very few races, but people are suddenly saying ‘that sounds like fun.'”

The event, starting at 8 a.m. on Saturday, will feature race and recreational divisions. The course, for very experienced ski mountaineers, will cover 4,000 vertical feet. Racers will begin by ascending Sun King to the summit, ski down and then climb up Zephyr and the Zephyr glades. Next, participants will descend Defiance to the creek, ascend Lower Defiance, go left on Midland, skin or hike up Perry’s, and skin up through aspens outside of the ski area to the summit. Racers will then ski down Heathen and Lower Defiance before ascending back to Midland and finishing at the base area.

Swenson expects winner to finish with a time around two hours.

“I think people that have skied Sunlight before should be pleasantly surprised and see some new stuff,” he said. “It’s kinda the best of Sunlight. It will be very beautiful.”

The recreational race will cover 2,000 vertical feet and racers will go left on the first descent of Defiance at the Midland trail to finish at the base area.

The race series continues at Snowmass Village on Jan. 20, Loveland on March 3, Silverton Mountain on April 21 and concludes at Arapahoe Basin on April 28. Swenson said it made sense to have the first race at Sunlight.

“Sunlight had a lot of success with 24 hours of Sunlight and they have a good atmosphere with backcountry skiing, so it was a good fit,” he said. “I would say Silverton and Sunlight will be the two steepest races.”

A pre-race meeting will be held at Summit Canyon Coffeehouse on Friday at 6:30 p.m. On race day, competitors are required to have skis or a splitboard, skins, a helmet, an avalanche beacon, a shovel (snow claws are OK) and a probe.

The entry fee for all five races in the COSMIC series is $200. There will be $5,000 handed out in cash prizes, as well as merchandise prizes and a raffle. Go to http://www.cosmicski.com for information on how to register.

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