John Gaston, Max Taam dominate Power of Four to break own course record |

John Gaston, Max Taam dominate Power of Four to break own course record

John Gaston, front, and his partner Max Taam, finish the last leg of the Power of Four ski mountaineering race up Midnight Mine on the backside of Aspen Mountain on Saturday before finishing first with a time of 4:37:36.31, a new course record.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |
2018 Power of Four results

Men’s Sport Division

1st — Max Taam and John Gaston, 4:37:36

2nd — Paul Hamilton and Cam Smith, 5:11:52

3rd — Rory Kelly and Jon Brown, 5:13:54

Women’s Sport Division

1st — Lindsay Plant and Nikki LaRochelle, 6:09:59

2nd — Sarah Tory and Caroline Tory, 6:44:11

3rd — Michela Adrian and Najeeby Quinn, 6:48:47

Coed Sport Division 1st — Mindy Mulliken and Alex Pond, 7:11:48 2nd — Katie Elliott and Josh Emdur, 7:26:05 3rd — Megan Bentzin and Chase Frantz, 7:35:24 2018 Power of Two results Men's Recreation Division 1st — Caden Klein and George Beck, 4:25:49 2nd — Bradley Davis and Cameron Millard, 5:29:32 3rd — Panos Karpidas and Nathan Rowland, 5:41:30 Women's Recreation Division 1st — Kim Master and Julie Case, 5:55:02 2nd — Hattie Johnson and Mallory Yacullo, 6:18:18 3rd — Kara Larsen and Tracee Metcalfe, 6:26:02 Coed Recreation Division 1st — Elsa Lapeze and Namdar Kazemi, 5:22:19 2nd — Charles Lozner and Tess Winebaum, 5:32:21 3rd — Nick Pinto and Katy Fitzpatrick, 5:41:37

Before ascending Aspen Mountain, the final leg of Saturday’s Audi Power of Four ski mountaineering race, John Gaston decided to glance at his watch. The course record was within striking distance, as it usually is for the Aspen local, but breaking it never became much of a priority.

“I looked at the time once crossing Castle Creek and I knew we were a couple minutes behind (the record), maybe two,” Gaston said. “And we didn’t look from there to the finish line. We were going to put our heads down and go for it and give it a whirl, but I didn’t want to stress it too much.”

And, not surprisingly, with the casualness that only Gaston and teammate Max Taam can pull off, the record fell yet again. The Strafe Outerwear duo finished Saturday’s 25.3-mile, four-mountain race in 4 hours, 37 minutes and 36 seconds, about four minutes ahead of their record time from 2016.

The eighth annual race, which includes more than 11,000-plus feet of climbing, got underway around 6 a.m. Saturday in Snowmass. Power of Four athletes had to make their way up and over Elk Camp and over to Buttermilk before climbing Aspen Highlands and the famed Highland Peak. From there they made their way to the Congo trail and up the backside of Aspen Mountain before finishing at the base of the Silver Queen Gondola.

Unlike last year’s race where athletes were physical ice cubes crossing the finish line, Saturday’s event was held under blue skies and unusually warm weather.

“I didn’t really know how the course would ski, and it skied well,” Taam, an Aspen Mountain ski patroller, said. “Snowmass to Buttermilk there were some rocky sections, but we had a heads up there. Highland Bowl skied really well, I would say.”

A couple of things stood out about their course record. Most notably was how far ahead of the rest of the field they were. Finishing second on Saturday was the Hagan Skis pair of Paul Hamilton and Cam Smith in 5:11:52, more than 30 minutes behind Gaston and Taam. In third were Rory Kelly and Jon Brown, finishing only a few minutes later.

Like Gaston and Taam, the other four athletes all are on the United States Ski Mountaineering Association’s national team and often compete against the world’s best. The Power of Four was an officially sanctioned race by the USSMA this year.

And knowing who was behind them, even Gaston was perplexed by the dominance of team Strafe.

“It’s a little surprising just because there were some fast teams,” Gaston said. “Specifically there were two teams made up of other guys on the U.S. national team as well as some other fast locals. If everything went well, we were hoping to come away with the win, but not by half an hour.”

Also of note, with a lack of snow in parts, Gaston and Taam thought the course should have been a little slower. They had to run — as much as you can in ski boots, anyway — down parts of Castle Creek Road where in past years they could have skied. In one particular spot that lacked snow near the Congo trailhead, Taam nearly collided with Gaston as he did not see him stop. This came after a windy climb up to Highland Peak, where a strong gust of wind blew both of their glasses off their faces, not to be found.

“We are going to find them,” Gaston said with a laugh after the race. “We are going to send my brother into the bowl today to go look for them.”

None of the six men’s podium finishers competed in the Power of Four a year ago as they were all in Italy competing in the world championships. Their absence snapped a string of four straight Power of Four wins for Gaston and Taam. Gaston’s streak was actually five as he also won the 2012 event alongside his brother Pete Gaston, who he co-founded Strafe Outerwear with.

The 2017 Power of Four winners were Billy Laird and Brian Smith, both of the Gunnison Valley. Smith did not compete this year, while Laird finished sixth alongside Aspen local Eric Sullivan.

Carbondale’s Lindsay Plant and Breckenridge’s Nikki LaRochelle won the women’s Power of Four in as equally dominating fashion as the Strafe duo. They finished the course in around 6 hours, 10 minutes, more than 30 minutes ahead of second-placed Sarah Tory and Caroline Tory. Both Plant and LaRochelle also are on the U.S. national team. Plant also won the 2016 Power of Four alongside Crested Butte’s Stevie Kremer, who has long dominated the popular Golden Leaf Half Marathon during the fall.

Many of these national team athletes, including Gaston, will head back to Europe as soon as next week to finish out the competition season. Whether any more records are broken remains to be seen.

“You can have a much more pleasant time and still win if you don’t go for course records,” Gaston said. “But at the same time, if you are a racer there is definitely a part of you that always wants to see if you can go a little faster every year. It’s in the back of our minds, but it’s not the priority of the day.”

In the Power of Two race, which only includes Highlands and Aspen Mountain, local 15-year-olds Caden Klein and George Beck took the win in 4 hours, 25 minutes. Julie Case and Kim Master won the women’s Power of Two in 5:55:02.

Mindy Mulliken and Alex Pond won the Power of Four coed division, while Elsa Lapeze and Namdar Kazemi won the Power of Two coed division. In the veteran category (the athletes’ combined age must be at least 100 years), Mike Hogan and Scott Richards won the Power of Four race while Martin Le Roux and Thomas Zoehrer won the Power of Two race.

The Audi Power of Four trail run and mountain bike races are scheduled for July 28-29. Athletes can go for the Triple Crown by competing in all three events, including Saturday’s skimo race.

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