Smith, Laird take Power of Four crown | AspenTimes.com

Smith, Laird take Power of Four crown

Billy Laird is smart enough to avoid premature celebrations. Now, once that finish line has been crossed, it's game on.

"I didn't really decide to enjoy it until we could see the finish line because I didn't know exactly what was going on behind us," Laird said. "Anything can happen on the downhill with gear malfunctions and stuff. So I'd say we didn't really fully go for the enjoyment until we hit the finish."

No malfunctions got in the way of the celebration Saturday, when Laird and race partner Brian Smith were the first to reach the base of Aspen Mountain and claim the overall Audi Power of Four Ski Mountaineering crown.

The annual event is a grueling 25.3-mile trek up and over all four area ski mountains, beginning at the base of Snowmass before heading to Buttermilk, Highlands and, ultimately, Ajax.

Smith, who like his partner comes from the Gunnison Valley, won the first Power of Four race in 2011 with Bryan Wickenhauser. Six years later, he finds himself back on top.

"It was pretty amazing. It's been a long time," Smith said while trying to defrost his hands in front of the fire pit outside The Little Nell. "It was kind of interesting, the dynamics of racing with a new partner and not knowing each other quite as well. It was a lot of fun. We really enjoyed each other out there and respected each other. I think it was a good match."

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Smith, 41, and Laird, 39, have long been friends and training partners, but Saturday's race in Aspen was the first time the two had joined forces in competition. Laird also has long competed in the Power of Four, his best previous finish coming in 2015 when he took second.

Partnering with Smith to finally win the overall title had been a long time in coming.

"Brian is one of the toughest guys in the Gunnison Valley, and he was a really great partner the whole day," Laird said. "He's one of the ultimate good guy heroes of the Gunnison Valley and one of the greatest guys I know."

The duo completed the four-mountain journey in 5 hours, 30 minutes, 2 seconds. The race began at 6 a.m. in Snowmass and temperatures only slightly rose throughout the morning. Fresh snowfall from the night before helped create ideal racing conditions, however.

"The weather, starting at negative 1 with a wind chill, we were very happy to finish. We have all our fingers, all our toes," said Aspen's Lyndsay Meyer, who alongside fellow Aspenite Sari Anderson won the women's portion of the four-mountain race. "We haven't been able to race together in a while, so that was really special. We haven't raced a lot this year, so this really meant a lot to us."

Anderson and Meyer finished the race in 6:35:24.

"The conditions were great for skiing. The bowl was really good," Anderson said. "I don't have anything negative to say other than I'm glad I finished. I was tired. I like when all the fast girls go away and let us race our race without dying."

There were some notable names missing from the Power of Four on Saturday. John Gaston and Max Taam, last year's race winners, are both in Italy this week for the Ski Mountaineering World Championships, as are Aspen residents Jessie Young and Annie Gonzalez.

Anderson raced alongside Young last year, but was forced to end her race early because of an injury.

The men's race Saturday was relatively close, with the top three teams all getting to the Highland Bowl around the same time. The second-place team of Mike Kloser and Eric Sullivan finished the race in 5:36:50, a little over six minutes behind Laird and Smith. David Glennon and Matthias Messner were third in 5:40:30.

"We felt like we were all battling it out, duking it out until the bottom of Highlands. We thought we had a little gap," Laird said. "We looked back a couple times briefly on the Midnight Mine Road, but Brian thought we were pretty in there. Never a relief until the finish line for me."

For full results, visit aspensnowmass.com.

acolbert@aspentimes.com