Cam Smith joins with John Gaston to break Power of Four skimo record in win

Crested Butte's Cam Smith relaxes after he and Aspen's John Gaston set a new course record in their Power of Four ski mountaineering race win on Saturday, March 6, 2021, at the base of Aspen Mountain. Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times.

Try as he might, Cam Smith just couldn’t beat John Gaston on his home snow. So, after three straight runner-up finishes, he decided to pair up with the Aspen dynamo to take down the Audi Power of Four ski mountaineering race’s course record together.

“Honestly, I’ve always had a dream of beating John on this course and I tried as hard as I could for three years and was second every time and he just demolished us all three of those times,” Smith said. “Both of us are obviously more focused on having success over in Europe, so not being able to go over we thought teaming up and going for some course records would be a good substitute.”

Smith, who lives in Crested Butte, and Gaston accomplished their goal by winning Saturday’s Power of Four skimo race in 4 hours, 15 minutes, 21.38 seconds, which is unofficially a new course record. The previous best mark, set only last year by Gaston and longtime Aspen teammate Max Taam, had been 4:28:37.87.

The race dates back to 2011 and requires athletes to ascend and descend all four of the Aspen Snowmass ski mountains, beginning in Snowmass and finishing at the base of Aspen Mountain after about 24 miles and 10,000 vertical feet of climbing. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s finish line was moved to the base of Shadow Mountain instead of next to the Silver Queen Gondola, but otherwise the course was as it’s been.

This was only the second time Smith and Gaston had competed together, the other having been at the 2019 world championships, where they recorded a top-10 finish. Both Smith and Gaston, as well as Taam, have long been national team members through the United States Ski Mountaineering Association and often compete internationally.

“Everything looked really good on paper, because we were both really fit and the weather looked good. It seemed like we should be able to, but that’s really hard to say when you have four mountains to climb and descend,” Smith said of breaking the course record on Saturday. “We were coming up to the Sundeck and I thought we still had 15 minutes of climbing left, and I asked John if that was the top, and he goes, ‘You bet it is.’ Then I knew we were in a good spot. Up until then I hadn’t looked at my watch at all. That was a fun surprise.”

The race will be among the highlights of the season for both Smith and Gaston, as the U.S. didn’t put together an official skimo team this winter because of the pandemic. Summit County teen Grace Staberg has been the only U.S. athlete to compete in a World Cup event in Europe — the season still carried on, in some capacity, despite the Americans staying home — including in the recent world championships.

Smith said he and Gaston toyed with the idea of competing in Europe this season, but ultimately decided against it. The two plan to team up for the Grand Traverse skimo race coming up later this month, which is a one-way race from Crested Butte to Aspen.

Teammates David Millstone and Steve Denny cross the finish line after completing the Audi Power of Four ski mountaineering race on Saturday, March 6, 2021, in Aspen. Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times.

“If it’s our home races instead of the big, glamorous world championships, then you just put the same amount of effort and focus into that and do your best with the races available to you,” Smith said. “I love the process of training, because it means I get to ski a ton. It’s still empowering to see how well you can do at a given sport, whether the benchmark you are measuring yourself against is the local races or world championships.”

Finishing second among the Power of Four men on Saturday were Matt Fox and Collin Chartier in 4:56:42.37, more than 40 minutes behind Smith and Gaston. Eric Poore and Ross Herr paired up to finish third in 5:13:58.29.

The Power of Four women’s crown went to Lindsay Plant and Stevie Kremer, longtime Aspen race frequenters, in 5:50:15.05. In second was the local sister duo of Caroline and Sarah Tory in 6:19:35.65, while Emma Vosburg and Jari Hiatt were third in 6:48:45.84.

Complete results can be found through the Aspen Snowmass website.

While this was Smith’s first Power of Four skimo win, this was Gaston’s ninth in only 11 years the race has been held, with Taam as his partner for the majority of them. The only two years not won by Gaston were years in which he did not compete (2011 and 2017).

“He’s the king of this race, no doubt, but it was fun to ride his coattails,” Smith said of Gaston. “This is a race I love and is an iconic event. It’s awesome to finally get my own win.”