Aspen’s Gaston, Taam again reset record book in another Power of Four skimo win

John Gaston’s dominance in the Power of Four ski mountaineering race almost ended because of a couple of broken ski poles. Then, after about 20 minutes of pole-less skinning up Aspen Highlands, a kind stranger intervened to save the day.

“I owe her a debt of gratitude,” Gaston said. “I want to buy that person a beer. I’d actually find her and return her poles, because she saved my day big time. The race would have been over. Without her I don’t think we would have been able to get to the top of the bowl.”

With this mystery person’s ski poles in hand, Gaston and teammate Max Taam got back on track and did what they do best, which is win the Power of Four in record fashion. Aspen’s dynamic duo were the first across the finish line in Saturday’s race with a time of 4 hours, 28 minutes, 37.87 seconds, breaking their own course record by about nine minutes. The old record, which they set in their 2018 race win, was 4:37:36.

However, in the race two years ago they won by more than 30 minutes over Paul Hamilton and Cam Smith. They really had to earn their win Saturday with Crested Butte’s Smith and Utah’s Tom Goth hot on their heels the entire time.

“We were pretty much going to need a new record in order to beat those guys. It was pretty fast right from the gun,” Taam said. “We know skiing is our strength. Those guys are super fit on all the climbs, so we sort of went for it on the Highlands descent to try and get a gap and slowly grew it from there.”

The Audi Power of Four skimo race, which celebrated its 10th event on Saturday, began that morning in Snowmass and required athletes to skin up and ski down all four of the local ski hills, including Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands and finally Aspen Mountain, tallying about 25 miles and 10,000 vertical feet of climbing. Organized by Aspen Skiing Co., it’s sanctioned by the United States Ski Mountaineering Association and has become one of the larger skimo races in the country.

Over the past decade, Gaston has won eight times, seven with Taam. He won his first race in 2012 with his brother, Pete Gaston, who he co-founded Strafe Outerwear with. Billy Laird and Brian Smith won in 2017, when Gaston and Taam didn’t compete because of the world championships. That’s about the only way to beat the pair in the Power of Four.

That is, hope they don’t show up, which came close to happening this year. Gaston, who like Taam has long represented the U.S. on the international stage in skimo, has been actively competing in World Cup events this winter. Taam hasn’t, and was hesitant to race Saturday knowing Goth and Smith, who also are two of the country’s skimo all-stars, where again teaming up.

“We’ve been talking about it for a month or two now. Then two weeks ago — John is obviously super fit, racing all over the world — he convinced me to step it up for a real big training weekend,” Taam said, noting they only officially committed to racing a week ago. “I was very pleasantly surprised to win and set a course record. We had such a good streak I didn’t want to come back and not hold up my end of the bargain.”

Gaston and Taam were in a dead heat with Smith and Goth, reaching the top of the Highland Bowl at the same time. That descent gave Gaston and Taam the narrowest of margins to the Congo trailhead and they were able to hold on for the win from there. Smith and Goth finished in 4:38:16.67, less than a minute off the 2018 course record. Jon Brown and Rory Kelly finished third with a time of 5:13:16.87.

Gaston and Taam also beat Smith and Goth in the 2019 race, held on a much slower and snowier course.

“We knew Tom and Cam were racing together and that kind of inherently meant that whoever won this year was going to have to break the record, because Cam and Tom are really fast. They don’t have any weak points,” Gaston said. “We still have a little bit of a home-court advantage on some of the descents, but they are the next two fastest descenders in the whole race, so it’s not a big advantage. It was pretty stressful for the first three hours of that race.”

The Summit County duo of Kate Zander and Jill Seager won the women’s race in 6:03:24.37, holding off Jessie Young, who is married to Taam, and Nikki LaRochelle, who finished in 6:10:06.87. In third were Lindsay Plant and Grace Staberg in 6:14:33.58. Young and LaRochelle paired up to win the 2019 race.

For the second straight year, the main Power of Four races were the official USSMA national championships for the team event.

“This was by far the hardest Power of Four we’ve had, frankly. And I knew it would be,” Gaston said in regards to Smith and Goth. “They are two of the guys who put in more effort in their training and commitment to this sport than anyone else in this country. There was going to be nowhere to hide. There was going to be no faking it. So we had to be on it the whole day.”

Timothy Faia and Dirk Friel paired up to win the men’s masters (45-plus) championship division in 6:20:49.37. In the non-championship Power of Four races, Jason Killgore and Logan Greydanus won the men’s race (5:12:06.87) while sisters Caroline and Sarah Tory won the women’s race (6:25:03.08). The Power of Four co-ed crown went to Alvaro Arnal and Kristin Layne (5:56:57.37).

In the Power of Two, Chris Beck and Nathan Nelson paired up to win the men’s division, while Julie Case and Rachel Beck won on the women’s side. Chris Lane and Kim Master won the co-ed race.

For complete results, click here.