I was out for a ski tour yesterday on southerly terrain, and the crust snapping under my feet reminded me that indeed it’s getting toward the end of February, when the increase of daily solar heating starts to really impact the snow. After what’s come to be known here in Colorado as the “two month storm,” some sunshine and sweat are welcome.
It’s funny though, through December and January I started dressing more like I was touring interior Alaska than the lower 48, so yesterday I couldn’t stay cool. Thus, for sunny days I’ll switch to regular softshell pants instead of those with a Gore membrane, and go back to using a thin acrylic sun shirt instead of anything with the words “base layer” in the product description. As for snow, it’s time to look for powder during and just after storms, beyond that we might even find some corn snow on southerly terrain. More, as overall avy danger decreases (we hope) due to the snowpack warming and settling, it might be time to go for some nice long tours through he alpine, instead of sneaking around looking for powder shots.
Speaking of sunlight, this weekend is the third annual 24 Hours of Sunlight endurance ski touring skimo race, at our nearby Sunlight Resort. Things have really ramped up this year. They’ve got upwards of 276 racers registered as of this morning, in 79 teams! That’s the real deal; will make for great spectating as well as participation. Bring your cow bell and cheer everyone up the hill.
Our team, which I’m coaching along with other dads, consists of our son along with Jason and Luke Caudill and Mike Eaton. Along with them we’re helping out three solo competitors: Polly McLean (record holder), Ashley Eaton and Mike Marolt (founder of the race).
The boys named their team “Future Ski Bums Of America.” We dads laughed, but then we also paused to consider, what does that really mean? Have these kids been reading too many Powder magazines lately? Better get those college applications finished quick…
I can’t divulge any of our highly researched secret strategies, but can share that our main goals are to stay organized, make sure everyone eats enough but not too much, and that the young men don’t get too crazy on the downhill. Speaking of which, with what’ll probably be around 300 people on the course, that means even the downhill section may get congested. I’d ask everyone reading this who’s participating to consider the fact that you might make up a few seconds by skiing out of control, but you’ll get much more benefit by concentrating on making your transitions faster. If you fall or collide with another racer, at best you’ll lose tons of time — at worst, well, let’s not go there.
Here is a list of tips from Andrew McLean, who participated in the first 24 Hours of Sunlight, with some editing and additions from myself:
– Have two complete ski/skin set-ups and have your pit crew prep them for you so that when you come in for a lap, you step out of one and right into the other. Fried skins are a big problem in the Colorado cold, so having someone prep them for you is essential as they will fail by the end of the race if you just swap them out touring-style.
– I’d do the same thing with a small Camel-back, have two set ups and swap them out. Have your pit crew fill them with warm (not hot) fluids that you can drink as you walk uphill.
– Clear goggles are important for the night-time! Any tint (yellow, smoke, etc) is too dark to ski with, and as you are going down a groomer, you can go pretty fast and need some sort of eye protection. You can get clear goggles from nearly any motorized sport shop, and sometimes find them at ski shops or of course online.
– A neoprene face mask is a good idea for the night time as well as it can get reallllllly cold on the descents.
– For food, Iâ€™d work on eating â€œnormalâ€? food over bars, gels, etc., as that stuff kind of catches up with you and punches out your stomach, or at least it does mine. Turkey, burgers, friesâ€¦ etc â€“ whatever you can choke down. Greg Hill set the world record on Pria (a yogurt type of drink â€“ warmed) and fruit mix, but that is Greg. Lou gets good results for long endurance using Cytomax and small amounts of solid food, but again, that’s individual preference.
– Don’t take a nap! Just keep going as any movement is better than none, and once you stop, it is a HUGE effort to get going again.
– Or, if you do get so tired you must nap towards the end of the race, have your support team roust you and push you into another couple of laps just before the end of the race. This can ramp you up against others who flame out but don’t rally.
– Set a total vertical goal going into the race and figure out how many laps that will take, and then in turn, what kind of time you need to hit per lap. Note: you can/will go much farther than you think! 30-40k is totally realistic. I just kind of winged it and right at the end missed out on hitting 40k by one lap. If I had realized this earlier, I would have adjusted my pace a bit.
– The pit area is less than ideal as it is kind of stretched out vertically instead of horizontally, so you or your pit crew has to kind up/down to the starting area. Once the area closes (4:00pm?) you can set up a tent near the start/finish area. Many teams also claim a spot in the base lodge, using one fold-up beach recliner to keep the resting team member off the scuzzy floor. Others park a motor home down in the parking lot, and use it for longer rests, drying gear, etc.
– 12 hours into the race is NOT halfway! The true crux is about 16 hours into it from midnight to sunrise. The last few hours arenâ€™t bad as the sun comes back up, skiers start cheering you on, the end is in sight and you warm up a bit.
– The laps are short, so you donâ€™t need much, if any extra stuff. The skiing is all groomers, so bring the lightest setup you have. If the ascent is in the same place, there is a little butt-kicker of a hill right near the top that can get slick, so youâ€™ll need good skins, especially at night.
– It’s important that your skins glide well, as the first section of the climb is super low angled. At the least, wax your climbing skins.
– The ascent can be done without a headlamp, and depending on the weather, the descent probably can as well. This year there will be a full moon, but some weather may obscure it. If you choose to ski down without using your headlamp, be sure you’re clear on where other skiers are below you, and remember you may come across someone who’s fallen, butt sliding, or moving downhill on foot or snowshoes. Also note that other racers need to easily see you on the descent, so have something reflective on the back of your clothing, or wear a small light device such as a Spotlit that can be seen from behind. The descent is fast, so it is easy to outrun almost any headlamp.
– If you have a pit crew, you can just carry your skins down in your hands and throw the whole mess at them. Or, have a jacket that you can securely stuff them in. You definitely don’t want to put them in a pack, that’s too slow.
– Pacing is everything! Watch out for the early start speed laps as you will pay for it later. The race aint over till it’s over and many of the early speedsters flame out. Steady as she goes wins out.
– Have fun?
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.