Power of Four: Three consecutive victories | AspenTimes.com

Power of Four: Three consecutive victories

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times

Question: Can anyone beat Aspen's John Gaston and Max Taam in the Power of Four Ski Mountaineering Race?

Answer: No.

At least, not yet.

The mountaineering power pair of Taam and Gaston won the annual Audi Power of Four Ski Mountaineering Race on Saturday for the third consecutive year — an unbeatable combination all three times they have skied the course together.

The two led from the start in Snowmass, eventually learning that their primary challengers — Brian Smith and Bryan Wickenhauser of Crested Butte — were forced to pull out of the event after Smith experienced a broken ski and broken boot midway through the 25-mile backcountry race that included some 12,000 vertical feet of climbing over Aspen's four ski mountains.

Gaston and Taam won Saturday's Power of Four by 23 minutes over the runner-up team of John Brown and Will Laird, both from the Crested Butte/Gunnison area.

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Taam and Gaston finished in 5 hours, 13 minutes.

Third place went to Peter Swenson and Rory Kelly, two more Crested Butte-area mountaineers.

The course started at Base Village in Snowmass and climbed to Elk Camp before going across Burnt Mountain and on across to West Buttermilk.

After climbing to the top of Tiehack, the ski mountaineers descended Tiehack and then made the crossing of the valley for the climb up Highlands, all the way to the top of Highland Bowl.

Then, they skied down the bowl, down Highlands and across the valley for the final ascent up Midnight Mine Road on the back side of Aspen Mountain.

After cresting Richmond Ridge and working their way to the upper gondala station, the competitors then had to ski down Walsh's, down Jackpot and on down Little Nell to the finish at the base of the gondola.

The women's 2015 Power of Four featured a closer finish for the first and second teams.

The pairing of Crested Butte ulta-athlete Stevie Kremer with Carbondale's Lindsay Plant produced the winning team in the women's race Saturday in 6 hours, 5 minutes and change.

They finished just a few minutes ahead of Jessie Young and Anne Gonzales, two accomplished Aspen skiers and ski mountaineers.

Young just two weeks ago finished sixth in the ski mountaineering world championships in Verbier, Switzerland. She was partnered with Plant for the international championships in Switzerland.

On Saturday, she teamed with the irrepressible Kremer, who won the Aspen Backcountry Marathon last summer.

"What can I say, I love Aspen," Kremer said after winning her second consecutive Power of Four ski race in Aspen. Last year, she teamed with Sari Anderson for the victory in the backcountry trek from Snowmass to Aspen.

"Lindsay and I are a great fit. In all the individual races, we're always 1-2, 2-1," Kremer said. "We stayed together. We talked. We ate. We motivated each other … and the conditions were amazing."

She said the snow conditions and race conditions were perfect on a brisk Saturday morning.

"The temperature was perfect. There was hardly any wind," she said, recalling the Himalayan-like conditions a year ago when a whiteout engulfed Highland Bowl.

"They couldn't have had a better day," she said as she accepted congratulations in the finish area adjacent to the base of the gondola at Aspen Mountain.

Men's winners Gaston and Taam agreed on the conditions for Saturday's race.

"The snow was great. Trail-breaking was not as big of an issue as we were expecting," Gaston said after racing under partly cloudy to sunny skies. "The skiing was really good. The bowl (Highland Bowl) was great. It's always challenging on skinny skis when you are tired. It's not always pretty, but it works."

The on-course news that Smith and Wickenhauser were out of the race was unfortunate, Gaston said.

"That was a bummer because they are always our biggest competition at this race," said Gaston, 28. "And they are fun to race with. Both of those guys can ski, and they have huge engines, so it's always a battle."

Gaston said he tired on the last climb up Midnight Mine.

"I had some really bad leg cramps on the last descent," Gaston said. "You know it's going to be over in a couple of minutes. You just say don't crash, don't break anything."

Mission accomplished for Gaston, who won the last three titles with Taam. Four year ago, Gaston won the race with his brother.

"It was good crud skiing pretty much everywhere," said Taam, a longtime Aspen Mountain ski patroller. "There were a couple of inches (of new snow) on top of crud in the (Highland) bowl."

He said the 2015 course, particularly up Midnight Mine, included more off-piste skinning and less trudging up the road.

"It's like mountain biking on a singletrack instead of a jeep road," Taam said, quick to credit his teammate for their mutual success.

"It's awesome having a good, consistent teammate," said Taam, 32. "John and I have done every team race together now for the last three seasons."

He said they take advantage of each other's strengths.

"The goal is to be faster as a team than we are individually. We know how to make the team faster," Taam said. "It's great having the best teammate."

Full results will be posted on aspensnowmass.com.

dstrode@aspentimes.com