Power of Four ski mountaineering race full steam ahead despite weather | AspenTimes.com

Power of Four ski mountaineering race full steam ahead despite weather

Given this winter's slow start and the recent avalanche danger in the area, there were concerns about pulling off the complete Audi Power of Four ski mountaineering race this weekend in Aspen and Snowmass.

However, Mother Nature did just enough in February to give Aspen Skiing Co. the green light for what will be the eighth edition of the popular winter event.

"Things are looking great," race director Daragh Kneeshaw said. "Given the obvious reasons with the snow conditions leading to this point having been less than optimal for a while, I think a lot of people are excited we were finally able to pull this off."

The race — named for the four Aspen ski mountains athletes are required to ascend and descend — gets underway at 6 a.m. Saturday in Snowmass. Power of Four racers then head up and over Elk Camp and make their way to Buttermilk and Tiehack before the long ascent that is Aspen Highlands.

After summiting Highland Peak, athletes then will make their way up the backside of Aspen Mountain before finishing the race at the bottom of the Silver Queen Gondola.

Kneeshaw said the course was able to remain as it's been in previous years.

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"There is a lot of excitement because there have been some races elsewhere that haven't been able to pull off the same course and have had to make changes," he said. "We've had to do a lot more checks, make calls a lot closer to the race on course route. It really wasn't until about Monday morning where we really full-steamed ahead on pulling off the normal course."

Kneeshaw and Skico work closely with area ski patrol and guides to make sure the course is safe for competition. The race-day weather forecast also looks optimal with warm weather and sunny skies. A winter storm is expected to hit the Aspen area on Sunday.

Along with the four-mountain option, there will be a Power of Two competition that begins at 8 a.m. at the base of Aspen Highlands and finishes in Aspen. Between the two races, roughly 220 athletes (each competing as a team of two) are expected to take part.

There is a $1,500 prize for the men's and women's sport division winners in the Power of Four, with $700 going to second and $300 to third.

"It's going to be a great race and the weather is looking great, so I think it's going to be a good one," Kneeshaw said. "You are out in those elements for six, seven, eight, 10-plus hours, so you want to stay warm. It's not easy staying warm out there, especially in the gear these guys are in. Sunshine is definitely optimal conditions."

The 2017 Power of Four race was won by Gunnison Valley residents and Aspen frequenters Billy Laird and Brian Smith in 5 hours, 30 minutes, 2 seconds. With a different partner, Smith also won the inaugural Power of Four race in 2011.

Aspen's Lyndsay Meyer and Sari Anderson won the 2017 women's Power of Four race in 6:35:24.

With the 6 a.m. start on Saturday, the first Power of Four finishers are expected to reach the bottom of Aspen Mountain around 11:30 a.m. An awards presentation will be held later in the afternoon after most of the athletes have finished.

The winter Power of Four is the first leg of the triple crown that includes the summer's trail run and mountain bike race.