Saturday, May 11, 2013

My First SkiMo Race

With backcountry skiing gaining in popularity, ski resorts are beginning to sponsor uphill/downhill, or ski mountaineering, races (aka "skimo" races).  I'd read about these sort of contests in other states, but was unaware of any happening in Oregon.  That is, until this past April.

Katie and I are ready for action!

Mt. Hood Meadows and The Mountain Shop (my favorite outdoor store in Portland) decided to co-sponsor Oregon's first skimo race.  The course traversed a steep ski run called "Rams Head," so the race was nicknamed the Rams Head Randonee.  For those of you unfamiliar with skiing - randonee is another name for alpine touring, or AT, bindings.  Unlike telemark, randonee bindings allow the heels to move freely during uphill travel, but will lock down (like an alpine binding) for skiing downhill.

(It's a joke amongst us telemark skiers that randonee is French for "can't tele.")

Participants gather at the starting line

Although not the speediest uphill skier, I was intrigued enough to consider trying this race.  Not wanting to do it alone, I convinced my tele-buddy Katie to join me.  Having absolutely no clue what we were signing up for, Katie and I both joked about who would come in last place.

This guy dressed for spring skiing

The day of the race Katie was apprehensive.  The sciatic nerve was acting up in one of her legs.  I was also having second thoughts.  The prior week, Meadows published a map of the race course on their website.  I mistakenly thought we'd only have to ski uphill once, remove our climbing skins, and ski back down.  But the map showed three uphill/downhill loops on the course.  Racers would have to remove and reattach climbing skins multiple times.  Still a relatively new backcountry skier, I'm definitely not quick in climbing skin attachment or removal.  In addition, it looked like one of the loops went through a thick grove of trees and another climbed up the steepest portion of the Rams Head.  What had we gotten ourselves into?

The racecourse

Arriving at Meadows on race day, Katie and I checked in, and received two extra-gigantic jerseys with our numbers.  We took a couple of warm-up runs to gauge our bodies readiness.  When the  time neared, we found ourselves at the starting line, nervously eying all the other uber-fit competitors.

After some brief instructions (basically "get yourself up the hill any way you can") there was a countdown, the horn sounded, and the forty-plus racers rushed out onto the snow. 

Katie prior to the race start

The first uphill section wasn't too bad.  It was short and not very steep.  Although both Katie and I were definitely back of the pack, I was pleased to discover we weren't in last place (yet).  We summitted the first hill, and quickly began the transition.  It consisted of - take off the skis, remove the skins, cram the skins in the front of your coat, put the skis back on, and hustle down the hill.  A young boy, who I learned was only 6 years old, was competing in the race, chaperoned by his mother.  The little guy was so cute (and was doing so well) I couldn't help but give him some encouragement.

After photo - we survived!

The first downhill, through the forest, turned out to be a cakewalk.  Meadows had groomed a wide track through the trees, so blasting through here was a cinch.  At the bottom was another transition.  Slapping my skins back on, I readied myself for the long, steep climb ahead.

And it was a doozy!  Rams Head is a black diamond run, bordered by steep, rocky cliffs.  I could see competitors taking off their skis and walking up the steepest part.  When I reached this pitch, I found out why.  It was a warm day, and the snow was slippery and super soft.  The steep slope angle, combined with the slick snow, was causing everyone's skins to slide backwards.  I ended up doing the same thing as the racers before me.  The skis came off and were precariously perched on my shoulder.

The man who finished after me (I wasn't last place)

Ugh!  Trudging up a steep slope carrying skis totally sucked.  Sweat poured from my body, my heart hammered in my chest, and my legs fatigued.  My skis kept coming apart and sliding off my shoulder, necessitating stops to reposition.  I thought to myself "Why the h&;%$ am I doing this?"  By far the worst part of the race.  Katie, who seemed to be having way less trouble than I, powered up that hill in no time, gaining a sizable lead.

Finally reaching the second summit, I stripped off my skins for another downhill trip.  The ski down went by so quickly - lasting all of two minutes.  No time for a rest break, the skins were quickly stuck back on for the final climb.  By the time I got started, Katie was already halfway up the slope, still moving fast (she is an ironwoman!).

Katie's victory photo

The final climb thankfully wasn't as long nor as steep as the previous one.  Although totally pooped out by now, I tried to ascend as quickly as my tired legs would allow.  Katie had her skins off and was preparing to ski down by the time I reached the top.  She indicated she'd wait for me, but I told her to go ahead (it was a race after all).  Stripping off my skins, I launched myself down the final hill.

Sliding into the finish area, Katie was waiting for me.  By now, the crowd had thinned out (the majority of the competitors had finished 15-30 minutes ago).  But I was so happy to be done, I didn't care.  I had finished!  I'd survived my first skimo race!  A few minutes later, another man came sliding across the finish line.  Oh happy day!  I wasn't last place. 

My victory photo

The Rams Head Randonee was the toughest race I've ever done (much harder than the half marathon I'd run the prior week).  Skiing quickly up a steep hill is the ultimate cardio workout.  But I was extremely proud of myself for finishing the entire course (even if it did take a long time).  Katie and I both agreed we'd earned bragging rights. 

Before my car had even left the parking lot, Katie and I were already scheming our strategy for next year.  Yes, I'll be back.  I need to avenge my nearly-last place finish.  And I've got a score to settle with that Rams Head slope. 

(Linda's note:  Checking race results the following day, I learned four other people had finished after me.  So I wasn't even next-to-last!  Woo-hoo!)


  1. Dani, another blogger I follow has competed in one or two of these. She found the 1st one daunting too. Seems to me you have done brilliantly and what a beautiful day to be up and down the slopes!

  2. Wow, you go, girl! I've never heard of such a thing - I've learned so much about skiing from reading your blog. But huge kudos for your tenacity and willingness to tackle new challenges!

  3. Oh you lucky thing, I wish I could still do those things, used to ski when I was a kid and loved it, ice skated as well. Glad u had a great time.

  4. Good for you! There is one of those races here where I live. It looks hard!

  5. Wow that sounds like an awesome race. Well done you for completing it and not coming in the bottom three.

  6. Way to go. You certainly got a lot of skiing in his year. Happy Mothers Day Linda!

  7. Beautiful pictures and lovely narration. I have tried skiing just once and it was a fabulous experience.

  8. Sounds like an interesting thing to do, although I prefer downhill skiing. But the scenery is certainly spectacular!

  9. I'm amazed at the amount of activity you display. Wish I had your talent.

  10. Awesome! Congrats on finishing your first race! Loved seeing the photos. Those jerseys really were huge! Haha.

  11. Linda, that looks like a blast! ...and tough. Congrats on the finish and for tryingsoething new!


Don't be shy! Please leave a comment.