The debate likely will rage on for some time.
Since its inception nearly a decade ago, the Audi Power of Four mountain bike race was a grueling climb and descent of the four local ski mountains. But this summer, with the creation of the new Snowmass Bike Festival, the latest edition of the Aspen Skiing Co.-produced race stuck to the single track in Snowmass.
So, which course is better? Guess it depends on who you ask and how much they enjoy suffering.
“Some people just love to suffer. I like fun more,” joked Aspen’s Ryan Koster, a local radio show host on KSPN who competed in Saturday’s 25-mile race, taking eighth. “You’d have to come up with maybe a different name, but the name doesn’t matter. It was super fun, so hopefully we can build on it. It would be good for the community … it was just a good vibe.”
The new course was essentially a 25-mile loop (Skico officially went with 26.5 miles after the fact) of mostly single track in Snowmass. The main race required doing that loop twice, equaling roughly 53 miles and just under 9,000 vertical feet of climbing. On top of the one- and two-loop solo options, there was a two-loop team race for pairs.
The previous course included some long road slogs up Aspen Highlands and Aspen Mountain, while the new Snowmass course had less of that and more consistent up and down. Some, like Koster, were perfectly fine without the long climbs — he had never raced on the previous course for that reason — while some of the high-end 50-mile athletes seemed to miss that sort of suffering.
“I’m a purist in that it’s the Power of Four, and this is more of a loop around Snowmass, which I think has its place as a race,” said Aspen’s Jessie Young. “But I think there are some fun challenges on the regular Power of Four course.”
Young was the top female finisher in Saturday’s 50-mile race, coming in 15th overall with a time of 5 hours, 53 minutes, 49.4 seconds. Aspen’s Caroline Tory was second among women in 6:18:58.4 and Silverthorne’s Jill Seager was third in 6:42:30.6.
By comparison, last year’s female Power of Four race winner, Marlee Dixon of Fairplay, had a time of 4:39:53, so the new Snowmass course was hardly an easy affair.
“I really liked it. I don’t know if I liked last year’s or this year’s better. I think this year’s was harder,” said Lakewood’s Thomas Herman. “For me, I think the long, painful road climbs are better. This one had it broken up. This one was still a ton of fun, but if I had to pick, I think I would say go back to last year’s.”
Herman won Saturday’s Snowmass-only Power of Four 50-mile race in 4:52:41.4, the only racer to finish within five hours. The Groove Subaru-sponsored rider who works for Boa Technology — they make the unique closure systems readily found on snowboard and biking boots these days — also won the 2018 Power of Four, then with a time of 3:48:11.01.
Runner-up on Saturday was Gunnison’s Cam Smith, who had a time of 5:00:29, while Aspen’s Aaron Pool, who led most of the 50-mile race early on, was third in 5:01:12.5. Carbondale’s Levi Gavette was fourth (5:07:45.6) and Aspen’s Max Taam was fifth (5:10:26.3).
This was Smith’s first Power of Four mountain bike race, so he couldn’t compare the old course to the new, but he liked what he found on the Snowmass course.
“It was all new to me anyway. It seems this was a more fun-to-ride course,” Smith said. “This one is definitely more showing off the things Snowmass is good at.”
Longmont’s Cesar Grajales won Saturday’s 25-mile race in 2:53:05, with Eagle’s Scott McCorvey taking second (2:53:11.5) and Aspen’s Thomas Hayles taking third (2:58:38.8). Rachel Beck of Woody Creek was the top female finisher, taking seventh overall in 3:04:28.3. Second among women in the 25-mile race was Carbondale’s Anne Gonzales (3:13:51.6) and third was Lindsay Jones, also of Carbondale, in 3:37:55.3.
Only two pairs competed in the 50-mile team race, with the Aspen husband-wife duo of Greg and Tess Strokes winning in 5:52:21.9. Greg Strokes, 46, recently won his age division at the USA Cycling Mountain Bike Nationals in Winter Park.
Taking second was Boulder’s Rea Kolbl and Trever Townsend in 6:47:27.4. Kolbl is an elite Spartan athlete who also won the Power of Four 50-kilometer trail run back in July.
Complete race results can be found here.
AN EPIC WIN FOR HERMAN
Winning back-to-back Power of Four titles is impressive enough. But Herman made it even more ridiculous by having just finished the six-day Breck Epic stage race, which concluded Friday. He finished 22nd in the UCI Elite Men division.
While his body was “not great” after six straight days of racing, Herman said the routine of race and recovery actually helped him out in what essentially became Stage 7 on Saturday in Snowmass.
“This I had such a good time at last year and love the Aspen area. So I don’t know, I had the weekend off and figured why not drive here and try and repeat?” Herman said. “Getting into that routine, this is the seventh day of that routine and it’s been helpful for me. I was very careful not to crack myself out there.”
He made it clear he won’t be racing again on Sunday.
“Stage 8 is going to be a massage and a lot of sleep,” Herman said with a laugh.
TRIPLE CROWN WINNERS
Saturday’s race concluded the three-part Power of Four Triple Crown, which awards competitors who competed in all three races: the winter’s ski mountaineering race, the trail run and the mountain bike race. Smith won the men’s Triple Crown with a collective time of 15:42:11, while Taam finished second. Young won the women’s Triple Crown in 19:08:58, followed by Seager and Kolbl.
Smith said his next goal is to win the Grand Traverse Triple Crown, which he’ll have a shot at Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, when the popular race from Crested Butte to Aspen (and back again) takes place. Smith won the skimo race back in March.
“I like staying local with the races I do,” said Smith, who is a member of the U.S. ski mountaineering team. “We have so many cool things going on here in the Elk Mountains, whether it’s CB or Aspen, I don’t want to leave if I don’t have to. So I kind of sat down and figured I’d do the Power of Four Triple Crown and the GT Triple Crown, and call it the double-triple.”
SNOWMASS STAYING EXCLUSIVE?
Whether future renditions of the Power of Four mountain bike race remain exclusively in Snowmass isn’t known. Prior to the race, Deric Gunshor, Skico’s director of event development, said they wanted to see how things played out and get feedback before making any decisions on next year.
Also new this year was the fact that the trail run and mountain bike races weren’t held on back-to-back days. Gunshor said some of this was just logistics, with the trail run fitting into the Skyrunner Series schedule best in July and a later date for the mountain bike race fitting into the bike festival weekend at Snowmass, which includes the Big Mountain Enduro finals, which wrap up Sunday.
“We’ll just kind of take it year by year,” Gunshor said. “When we do something new like this, we like to see how it works, how it works in the community. We work pretty closely with Snowmass Tourism on programming that summer calendar. So we really just want to be able to see what works for everyone and get some feedback on it.”