We honestly do enjoy watching skimo races. The higher level the competition and the harder the course, the better. Don’t scoff until you try it. I mean watching, not skiing (though go for it if you dare, and we did do that on occasion over the years). But for your first time pick a race that asks much of the contestants. Powder Keg in Utah, any World Cup in Europe, and yes Power of Four out of Aspen. We were predicting a bit more of a battle for first place this year, what with world-class trail runners joining the fray and challenging consistent winners John Gaston and Max Taam to a duel. We are fans of Gaston and Taam, so seeing them break the course record in a diminutive 4:40 for about 25 miles and 11,600 vertical feet was nothing short of causing us to faint in admiration (just kidding John).
Scott Simmons and our super-local favorite (Cripple Creek employee) Paul Hamilton chased the leaders, finishing at 4:54:13. That was a surprising gap per our prediction of a battle, but perhaps to be expected as Gaston and Taam have deep experience with European racing as well as on their home course. More, they do practice more strategy than you would assume. Example being their using an extra set of “wide skins” for the steep icy climb up Aspen Highlands. Gaston told me that at one point they did have a battle with Simmons and Hamilton, and were gazing in astonishment at their data watches, showing an uphill pace on Highlands that was sure to blow someone up.
Perhaps most interesting, the ultra runners were indeed in there. Rob Krar and Mike Foote came in for 3rd place at 22 minutes behind the leaders. I was actually surprised the spread was that wide. Yet the gap will narrow as the “ultra” guys get their strategy down. Perhaps next year we’ll see more of a battle at the front? Time to begin planning your ‘specatation for next year!
I asked Gaston where we should be watching the race. He suggested stationing on the downhills instead of the transitions. So, for next year, consider hanging out on Highland Bowl if you’re fit for an early morning climb, or go to the base of Congo Trail and hike up a ways to watch the fun. Or on Aspen Mountain, take a stand in the trees on the sunny side of Walsh’s Gulch then head down to the finish after the top 10 ten teams flash by.
By the way, Aspen Skiing Company is embracing uphilling. Check out their web content regarding human powered skiing.
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.