Sunday, February 27, 2011

Wasatch PowderKeg 2011

there is but one ski mountaineering race in the mighty wasatch mountains ~ the wasatch powder keg.  it was started ages ago by butch adams and fellow pro team member andrew mcclean.  it's now directed by the wonderful chad and emily brackelsberg.

i had the pleasure of helping scout this years new course. they've added a climb to make the race division 5,500 feet. my repeated requests for a 15,000 - 20,000 foot ultra-stupid category have unfortunately fallen on deaf ears... they think i'm kidding apparently.

Where:  Brighton Utah
When:  Saturday, March 12
Race Division Stats: 5,500 feet of up, 9.5 miles, 6 climbs
Rec Division Stats:  3,500 feet of up, 6.6 miles, 4 climbs
Entry Fee:  $65
Sign up at

Monday, February 21, 2011

100,000 feet of Vert in a Week Photo Dump

all but this last photo by andy paradis.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Return to Rando Racing

24 hours of sunlight

i've got no business rando racing. i just don't have that high end. i've got asthma and 80% the lung capacity of a normal dood. so i've figured out i'm pretty good at going long, real long. but short and hard is not my forte.

i backcountry ski almost every day. so one would think that i'd be a good rando racer. although on paper they seem like the same thing, in fact they are totally different sports. daily backcountry ski tours are long slow distance vs. a ski mountaineering race which is a full on sprint for 2.5hrs. yeah that's right, the fast guys cover a course with 8,000ft of uphill vert in 2.5hrs. again, i can go all day. a 10,000ft day does not really phase me at this point. but i am not fast.

but i can't deny the draw to it euro-dominated sport (and it's got nothing to do with the skin suits, of which i'll avoid at all costs). but keeping track of my vertical gain on this tahoe website has been such a treat. it reminds me of a caddyshack line from chevy chase...

Judge Smails: Ty, what did you shoot today?
Ty Webb: Oh, Judge, I don't keep score.
Judge Smails: Then how do you measure yourself with other golfers?
Ty Webb: By height.

eons ago i did a few of these "ski mountaineering" races. it was hard and fun and frankly it's the type of training i need to do. high end anaerobic. after thinking about this for a while i've started to "get the band back together". i've got an old nasty pair of 170 ski trabs. a bit too long, and waay too skinny to be any fun to ski. i've even got two pairs of skins from racing in the first ever 24hr ski mountaineering race in 2006.

what put me over the edge was the procurement of the rare bird. one almost more rare than a used cheap pair of dynafits... a free pair of the scarpa f1's from a friend who "hates" them. and they sorta fit me!  it's not the f1 race, but it will do for my purposes (lou dawson's take on 'em).  i've ordered a pair of the dynafit tlt speeds from  i've got one more step.  to retrofit my BCA backpack with a dynafit"style" strap for the quick transition to bootpack where your skis go one your backpack and hike in just your boots.

so i'm racing this weekend!  chad, evan and i are heading to logan, utah for the crowbar race.  we leave tomorrow.  it snowed 11" last night and i couldn't get out of bed.  so i'm obviously still recovering from my 100,000 feet in a week adventure.  energy levels are pretty low and lots of daily sleep is required for any sort of normal daily functioning.  i'm not injured and my torn mcl has seemingly healed.  we'll see how i fare on a 12 mile course with just 4,500 feet of elevation gain.

Monday, February 14, 2011

100,000 feet of Vert - Day 7

Evan on the ridge this morning

Day 7 - 12,358 feet of vertical gain
Backcountry Vert 12,358 feet
InBounds Vert 0 feet
Total Vert Climbed in seven days:  100,234 feet

i woke up today at 4:30am. i was worried i'd overslept. after 6 days i had just 12,134 vertical feet left to climb to accomplish my goal of 100,000 feet in one week. the thought of screwing that up by oversleeping gave me some anxiety.

my backcountry ski buddies sort of rallied behind me for this project. today i had the pleassure of evan's company.  he skied a solid 12,000 foot day as well, his biggest ever.  he and chad had talked about the route and the conditions so i didn't have to worry about them. you guys are awesome.... thank you chad, andy and evan.  you made this a whole lot more fun. we skied various 1,500 foot shots to the ridge in mineral fork. the skiing was fantastic too, which makes the vert a bit easier on the mind and body.

as with each and every day of this adventure, today was no gimme.  it was hard.  every day was hard. i am human but i do have one super power and i used it this week. will power.  here is how the days broke down:

Day 1:  16,334 feet
Day 2:  17,135 feet
Day 3:  11,637 feet
Day 4:  14,169 feet
Day 5:  14,393 feet
Day 6:  14,208 feet
Day 7:  12,358 feet

needless to say i'm happy to be finished.  thank you all for the virtual cheering on twitter, facebook and txt messages.  that really helped.

i used the iphone to video a couple seconds of the last bit of vert. it's terrible and i look pretty damn haggard. but it's real... enjoy.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

100,000 feet of Vert - Day 6

Day 6 - 14,208 feet of vertical gain
Backcountry Vert 10,088 feet
InBounds Vert 4,120 feet
Total Vert Climbed in six days:  87,866 feet

today i headed out with andy once again. he's been an awesome ski partner for this project and i really appreciate his help and company... and photos.

skiing with friends always brings some variety, which is good.  today we chose the brighton backcountry. the conditions weren't good and i wined all day. i honestly hope i wasn't too bad... but i was tired and every piece of equipment i have malfunctioned in some way.  it was however sunny and beautiful. we started with the shoulder chute off of mount tuscarora (pictured below).  then hot lapped wolverine peak skiing various chutes out the bottom past millicent to the dam.

me skiing the chundered shoulder chute of mount tuscarora

i had planned on getting closer to 6,000 feet of vert at brighton.  apparently my event planner didn't call ahead and let them know i'd need them to stay open on a sunday night.  without their lights my motivation dwindled to a paltry 4,120 feet.

i've got 12,134 verticael feet left to ski tomorrow.  as we used to say on my adventure race team "i can do anything for xx (insert time, distance or elevation gain).  i can do anything for 12,134 feet.  i'll crawl if i have to.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

100,000 feet of Vert - Day 5

Day 5 - 14,393 feet of vertical gain
Backcountry Vert 10,164 feet
InBounds Vert 4,219 feet
Total Vert Climbed in five days:  73,658 feet

there is magic in these mountains.  i'm sure of it.  i'm inspired by it. today i was empowered by it.

i started at 7:30am in the solitude parking lot.  we chose to ski silver fork, and that meant skinning in and out that damn flat road.  when you are on a vert mission, any flat sections feel like a waste of time.  but i figured it was worth it to ski and see something new.

i got a lap in before chad arrived and then we went to work.  this was his first time skiing 10,000 + feet in one day... and the skiing was really good.  with that wind chill behind us and a high pressure system arriving today the temps were on the rise.  on the 1st lap i was already skinning in a t-shirt and nuun visor, sans hat and gloves.  the sun is a nice departure from the negative temps that have left me with cracked and frequently bleeding fingers.

it's very cool to have someone join you for a mass vert day.  but it also adds a bit of stress.  i probably seem impatient.  this is because no matter what you have going on, i can't afford to wait for you.  i just don't have the time.  i know from experience that i can't bother to stop to eat a sandwich.  if your skin breaks, i can't offer a hand because i'm already skinning uphill.  i make sure everyone understands how our day is going to happen.  "i won't be skinning any faster than normal (and my normal isn't that fast).  i simply won't be stopping for anything".  i skin up, transition as fast as possible and ski down.  at the bottom i put my skins on and start climbing the mountain again.  i eat and drink while i'm moving, no wasted time.  it unfortunately has to be this way to get 100,000 feet of vert in one week.

my general condition after 5 days is pretty good.  i finished today feeling great energy wise.  i've developed an upper respiratory wheeze and cough.  it felt very constrictive this morning but got better as the day went on.  on day three i woke up with pretty sore leg muscles.  this hasn't subsided in the last couple of days either.  the foam roller is waaay too painful, so i don't even bother.  the modifications to my ski boots and the ibuprofen has decreased my ankle pain enough to finish this up, but today the blisters have arrived.  i figured this would happen.  just one more thing to manage.  but i'm just two more days from 100,000 feet!  i've got 26,332 vertical feet to climb in two days.  this.  is.  happening.

Friday, February 11, 2011

100,000 feet of Vert - Day 4

Day 4 - 14,169 feet of vertical gain
Backcountry Vert 10,055 feet
InBounds Vert 4,114 feet
Total Vert Climbed in four days:  59,275 feet

"Cocaine is a helluva drug." ~ Rick James.

that's what kept going through my mind today while i was skinning without the intense ankle pain of yore. except for cocaine, i was thinking "ibuprofen is a helluva drug." which would then bring me back around to that quote from the rick james on the dave chappelle show.  i did a number of things to try and address my ankle pain.  first, i HTFU.

then, i altered my foot bed, stacked some callus cushions and simply took 3 ibuprofens this morning... bingo!  ibuprofen is a helluva drug.  the pain was present, but kind of came and went all day depending on the slope angle and the way i was climbing.  it wasn't so painful i couldn't get the work done.

after quiting early yesterday i was left with 54,894 feet of vert left to achieve 100,000 feet in 7 days.  which leaves me having to average 13,724 feet each day.  after my first two days, anything in the 13s just seems easy.  my perspective on skiing big backcountry days has certainly skewed.  i skied one 10,000 foot day last year on my birthday.  it hurt.

i got a good reminder last night from my buddy chad brackelsberg that "you need to have fun too".  with that in mind today i headed out in search of good turns and figured that if i just kept moving i could always make up some time later in the day.  the gut of reynolds peak was fun enough for 5 laps.  after skiing a few different spots i finished up with some hot laps to get my 10,000 feet of backcountry vert.  i think it ticked off around 6hr 30min.  not focusing on fast vert cost me about an hour overall.  well worth it.  i then topped it off by skinning 4,114 feet up the brighton ski resort.  i even finished while it was still light out!

saw this quote today.  it seemed quite fitting.
"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees." --John Muir.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

100,000 feet of Vert - Day 3

Day 3 - 11,637 feet of vertical gain
Backcountry Vert 11,637 feet
InBounds Vert 0 feet
Total Vert Climbed in three days:  45,106 feet

Some days I feel like shit
Some days I wanna quit
and just be normal for a bit
-Fort Minor

a bit melodramatic? yeah, but today was one of those days. after climbing and skiing 17,135 feet yesterday my legs were worked. i felt the muscle soreness immediately after getting done. last night i was really wheezy and had trouble breathing. skiing that much vert just made my night hectic. so i didn't get to bed early enough, which caused the 3x 10min snoozes this a.m. i had that dreadful, "i don't want to get up right now" feeling. my legs were only about a 6 on the soreness scale, but my attitude was a 3.

being a bit late i decided to repeat yesterday's ski tour and hit up the argenta slide path again off of kessler peak. it's very time efficient as it's basically upper deck right from the road, with just a couple of satyr sections.

i'll be honest. after yesterday i was thinking i could bang out 100,000 feet in 6 days. my goal had sort of changed in my mind.  but just like an ultra the small issues that aren't addressed early become BIG issues.  the flex of my ski boots rub the front inside of my ankle.  it hurt yesterday but everything else was going well so i ignored it.  hell, when you ski 9-11hrs of each day it would be more surprising if something didn't hurt.

so back to this morning. what was a beautiful steep skin track yesterday was a slippery mess today. for every 3 steps i moved forward i fell back at least once.  the wind chill was -3. on my first descent i had to stop and rub my hands every few minutes (yes i had hand warmers). my toes were gone.  right out the gate my ankle was throbbing.  i tried callus cushions, i tried rolling my sock down to create a little space, i tried skiing with the tongue flapping in the wind... none of it worked. i contemplated a lot of options. in the end a combination of all of these things and some ibuprofen off set the pain enough to continue. however i didn't reach any of my vert goals for the day. i was a total shit show.

it's not all bad however. i'll consider this a rest day. it's left me with enough time to get gas, hit the grocery store, cook some food, clean up, pack and rest a bit for tomorrow. i am icing my ankle now and have to figure out how to fix this issue. i might just have to take a knife to my ski boots.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

100,000 feet of Vert - Day 2

on our second lap. we had a beautiful day! photo by andy

Day 2 - 17,135 feet of vertical gain

Backcountry Vert 12,408 feet
InBounds Vert 4,727 feet
Total Vert Climbed in two days:  33,469 feet

part of me keeps thinking this will become easier as i go.  it's not.  it hasn't.  it won't. 16, 17, or 18,000 feet of uphill in the mountains at altitude just isn't easy.  today however was close to perfect.  i managed my nutrition much better, didn't dive quite so deeply into dehydration as i normally do (one bottle for 7 hours!) and just took my time a bit more.  it really helped having a friend there for the first 6,000 or so feet.  it was just like any other backcountry ski day.  i might have been a few minutes slower, but the time and vert just flew by.

i also finally got up on time!  i felt surprisingly fresh this morning after yesterday's 16,334 feet.  i didn't have that dreadful feeling of having to wake up, and zero soreness.  i must be doing something right with my recovery.  i did sleep in my skins recovery tights (thanks stamstad!).

we started skinning at 7:15am just as planned, 15mins before sunrise.  i'd heard the argenta slide path off of kessler peak was the place to get lots o' vert fast.  it literally shoots 3,000 feet up from the big cottonwood road... and it did not disappoint.

best part of the day:  andy and i ripping argenta's lovely light powder - see video

worst part of my day:  my ankle is killing me from the rub of my ski boots.  both pairs hurt.  bought callus cushions on the way home. i also very much dislike having to ski any vert at brighton. i don't know how the rando racers do it day after day. the whole scene is not for me (well at least not after this project). even with the avy danger in the backcountry, skinning up and down brighton is far and away the most dangerous part of my day. with that said... i'm thankful they turn on the lights and let me skin up and ski down.

i'm thinking, "what have i gotten myself into?" photo by andy

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

100,000 feet of Vert - Day 1

i'm making another attempt at skiing 100,000ft of vertical in a week, seven days.  i can think of no better way to celebrate the fact that i somehow got into both the wasatch 100 and the hardrock 100 mile ultramarathons. these are arguable two of the hardest 100 mile courses on earth.  this was my 4th time applying to hardrock, so i'm pretty excited.

so, what does 100,000ft look like?  it looks like an average of 14,286 feet of uphill per day for seven days.  i'm actually going to shooting for 15,000 ft so the last day can be just a 10,000 foot day (or if i'm feeling saucey i can push as much vert out as possible until midnight).  i'm using my suunto t6c to record the vertical gain.  i'll also post to suunto's website moves and try to wear my hr monitor.  could be interesting data.

the weather says wind chill values for tuesday will be -8.  wednesday -15... gotta start at some point right?

Day 1 : 16,334 feet of vertical gain

Backcountry Vert 11,761 ft, InBounds Vert 4,573 ft = Days Vert Total 16,334 feet
the movescount for the backcountry vert, movescount for brighton vert

i had intended to start at 7am, but wasn't skinning until 7:50am.  big cottonwood received 10-12 inches of 8% snow.  it. was. amazing.  i skied the first 10,000ft in 5hours 9minutes, not bad.  i felt great up through 10,000 feet.  in my excitement however i must not have eaten enough because once 11,000 feet ticked off i all of a sudden felt like crap.  i wanted to be done, and started wondering what i was getting myself into.

the rule is at least the first 10,000 feet have to be in the backcountry.  so i've started this project off strong with day 1.  i managed to get 11,761 feet in the backcountry before hitting the car for my meal drive to brighton.

* of note i uploaded my suunto logs to suunto's website so you can see a bit more detail.  this software also fixes any data issues in the log.  this causes it to report either slightly higher or slightly lower vert totals than what i see on the watch.  the movescount corrected data for my first session says i climbed 11,761 ft while my watch said 11,742 ft.  for my brighton vert it calculated lower, at 4,573ft when the watch says 4,587ft... anyway - for my grand totals i'll be using what movescount decides is correct.

after eating a ton on my drive to brighton i just didn't feel good. kind of gross actually.  but i just played some tunes and got 'er done.  as the sun went down the temps quickly went negative and i had to cover my face to avoid frostbite.  i've had it before.  never again.

once i got home i made a venison stir fry.  i purchased a deer with two buddies lastd week.  it's probably the best meat i've ever had.  cleaning up, showering, getting ready for tomorrow and eating always sucks up any downtime.  by the time i'm done it's bed time so i can get up at 5:30am and start all over again.  well after i watch an episode of season 4 dexter, which just arrived from netflix.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Training for Ski Mountaineering Races by Luke Nelson

I've employed my buddy (and amazing LaSportiva mountain runner) Luke Nelson to blog about the training for Ski Mountaineering races, formerly known as Randonee Racing. He was nice enough to oblige. It should also be pointed out that Luke just made the US Ski Mountaineering Team by taking 3rd overall and being the 2nd American at the National Championship in Jackson Hole.

Training for Ski Mountaineering Races by Luke Nelson

Many of you may be wondering a couple things as you begin to read this article. First, what the heck is ski mountaineering racing? Ski Mountaineering Racing (skimo) is a very demanding sport that requires its competitors to start at the base of some mountain with skis on their feet, who then race up the mountain (with the help of climbing skins attached to the ski) to some designated point. Competitors then remove the skins, lock down their bindings and ski down, just to repeat the whole process over and over again. Additionally, to spice it up there is always a mandatory boot pack mixed in, where the competitors have to remove their skis, attach them to a backpack and boot up, and once again, ski back down. Fun, right? Another question you may be asking is how does this relate to running (since it is being published on an primarily ultrarunning related blog)? Well, I think that it is a perfect compliment to trail racing. Skimo generally occurs when the trails we all love to run on are buried under snow, also the movements of skimo are very similar to running, at least the uphill portion is. As a matter of fact in Europe it is commonly referred to as ski running. Finally skimo is an incredible way to get in hard workouts in the winter, it adds variation to the day in day out training for running, and gives the body relative rest from running. The final question that you may be asking after reading what skimo is, is how would I train to be a skimo race which in turn would make me a faster runner? Well that's what I plan on explaining in the rest of this article.

I think there are several steps to training for Skimo. First and foremost is to have a solid base fitness, this may come from any multitude of sports including, but clearly not limited to: running, trail running, road biking, mountain biking, nordic skiing, BC skiing, swimming, kayaking, rock climbing or whatever else gets you moving. You may not have any base fitness to start with, and training for skimo may be were you start (though it will take longer to be competitive).

Equally as important as base fitness is being proficient at skiing downhill in all types of conditions. You do not have to be the best skier out there, but you need to have confidence to drop into just about anything the mountain can dish up. The majority of the time spent during skimo races is spent on the uphill, but almost any advantage gained on the up can be squandered with poor descending abilities. To build your ability to ski better the best training is to ski. One thing to consider when skiing for training is the terrain you tend to ski. If you are like me, you tend to ski the conditions and areas of the mountain that favor you current abilities. So for training ski the parts of the mountains that push your abilities, that make you uncomfortable. Also to mimic skimo racing, ski top to bottom without stopping. You want to maintain constant forward (downward) motion during a race no matter how wrecked you legs feel, and non-stop top to bottom will quickly build your endurance.

Now to the meat and potatoes of training for skimo, the uphill. Technique plays an important role in getting ready to race uphill during a skimo race. Before you can move quickly while skinning uphill you need to learn how to move efficiently on skins. One of the biggest pitfalls of people fall into is relying very heavily on some type of televates while skinning. The problem with televates is that they shorten your stride when hiking uphill, they also lead to putting too much pressure on your toes as you tend to lean forward more. To get very good purchase with your skins there needs to be pressure on the heel piece of your binding. Standing upright will increase the power transferred to the skin from your boot. To improve this technique do as they old adage says, practice makes perfect! Once you are moving uphill efficiently it is time to work on moving faster. There are surely lots of theories on how to train to move faster, ranging from sport to sport. Given that I am a runner I chose some of the workouts that I feel most useful while training for mountain running. Intervals, tempo and long skimo training sessions. I do one of each of those workouts a week. Intervals vary from week to week depending on what races I have coming up sooner, but some of my favorites on 30 seconds max effort, 30 seconds recovery at times doing up to 40 sets. Other intervals that I dread to do but I think are very effective are 3:00-4:00 max efforts with a full recovery in between. They key to intervals is a good and complete recovery in between sets. The tempo workout also varies in time and intensity depending on upcoming events but typically done at 80-90% of max HR for 1-2 hour efforts. During the long sessions I try to be out for double the vertical of the next race at 70-75% of race pace, which is comfortable but not quite conversational pace. My typical training week will have a day of recovery workouts between the intervals, tempo, and long workouts. I also take a day completely off once a week to let the system "reset". The recovery workout days have to be EASY, they workout is kind of an anti-workout, it helps your body adjust to working under fatigue but without taking yourself too deep into an overtrained hole. One word of caution to the program I outline above, is that I have worked through this for quite some time and have found that it is what works for me, it may not be ideal for you, but it may be a place to start.

The next piece of the puzzle for skimo racing is putting the above together with quick transitions in between. There are lots of videos on the internet that show racing transitions, the best of which found on the USSMA site under technique ( ). Again practice is the key to a quick and smooth transition, which may be the make or break point during a race. I use a mantra to assure the same transition every time "boots, bindings, skins". I transition in that order every time to make sure that I don't miss or skip a step. It works for both the up and down transitions. Lock/unlock your boots, lock/unlock bindings, remove/place skins. I always start with the same foot as well to assure consistency.

After you have tried a few races I am fairly certain that you will get the bug. It is incredibly invigorating to know that after some specific training you can become very efficient and fast while moving through the mountains. That speed and efficiency then starts to translate to BC skiing and interestingly as I have found also to mountain running. One additional aspect of skimo racing that can really help speed things up, after technique, is equipment. Very light skimo racing skis and boots can make a tremendous difference, even over relatively "light" BC ski equipment. I am lucky enough to be able to race in the La Sportiva Stratos boot ( ), which is truly a work of art. It is feather light and skis like a DH race boot. For a several years I was quite skeptical of the truely light race gear, but after now spending the better part of a season skiing and racing on it I can say that it makes a much larger difference than I could have anticipated. Of course that type of gear comes at a cost, but I use new gear as a payment for time spent training. If you are going to put a substantial amount of work into preparing your body for an event, you might as well outfit it properly for the endeavor.

The author leading the 2011 National Championships.
Climbing Corbets Couloir, Jackson Hole, WY (how freakin' cool is that!?)

At this point if you are intereseted in learning more about skimo racing, to find a race near you, or to support the US Ski Mountaineering Team as we prepare to represent the USA at the World Championships in a few weeks, please visit