Its been so long since I wrote a blog post, I’m not sure where or when to start….
Having a break from website stuff has actually been quite nice. I’ve been trying to think about changing Vertical Frontiers or to develop the website, and there’s no point in rushing into those things.
Also, when I’ve got free time I have been ether out training on the skis or spending time with the family, both preferable to sitting in front of my computer!
Anyway, enough of the excuses and time for a blog before the photos!
This winter I managed to flog a load of my used climbing gear that had been sat in various cupboards in Devon and France not being used. All the little sales added up to a sizable chunk of paypal cash, and so with a bit of research I headed down the valley and spent it all on some lightweight race gear.
Last year was pretty tight money wise, and there was no way I could justify buying race kit. I had done a fair bit of training on the heavy gear but this season I really wanted to try some racing.
Light boots (new), light skis (used) and some race bindings from Plum where the major expenses obviously. The gear really is incredible, so light compared with a standard touring setup. My skis and bindings are on the heavy side for race gear, but are still only 1.1kg each, boots around 950grm each. Light!
The result is a much improved uphill pace, and it’s easy to go out and log some serious vert each week. Skiing down isn’t as bad as you would think, in powder or hard snow they are pretty good. Crust on the other hand is a different matter…..
The snow out here at the start of the season was appalling, and I was still waiting for my season pass to be sorted out. So unless I was working I wasn’t using the lifts and getting out skinning.
Before long it was time to sign up for a proper ski mountaineering race. I picked the Torgon ski Alpin race over in Switzerland, which had around 1650m of ascent with two “boot packs” i.e. skis on rucksack. It also happened to be a Swiss cup race, meaning the competition was going to be pretty fierce.
There was of course an option to compete on a shorter route, but I was keen for a good test and was happy to come last if need be. Although if I came in the top 50% of the field my girl friend Emma said I could buy a race suit, so that was the carrot on the stick….
So on a freezing cold Saturday morning I warmed up with the other competitors as it got light, and then lined up on the start line. I was the only one not in Lycra and posh race kit and so felt like the underdog with nothing to prove. The tension (for me) was unbelievable, due to the cold everyone was stamping feet and bashing ski poles so the noise was impressive.
The start was signaled and suddenly everyone was sprinting, on skis, up the piste. I hung back a little, for about 3 seconds, before getting competitive and trying to keep up. We were soon off piste and into twin skinning tracks after which it was almost impossible to overtake due to the powder snow outside of the tracks.
This fresh snow was amazing to ski down, but it was hard work on tired legs, and people (including me) were having some big crashes. I struggled with my goggles which I had taped to my helmet, they came off one side of the goggles and continued to hang down one side of my head hitting me in the face, completing my total punter look and getting me lots of looks from marshals and other competitors, most of whom couldn’t believe this punter was keeping up (or overtaking….)
The powder snow was also getting on the skins, and my lack of race experience showed here. I should have swapped them around for a spare set but instead struggled on. I got overtaken on the final short climb whilst I faffed about by someone in a team GB ski suit which annoyed me so much I gave it full gas on the final short descent and snuck in front by thirty seconds…..
I ended up doing OK considering it was my first race. Chatting to Ben Bardsley and the other GB skiers it became apparent they might have a spare slot in the world championship event in ten days time…..
And so, for my second race I found myself lined up with the world elite in the team event at Verbier, (this time with a proper race suit!). With a limited number of competitors from each country it was actually a small field and a truly international one with teams from France, Italy, USA, Canada, Germany etc etc
The challenge was not to be dead last. Just being there and competing was fantastic. My team mate was the much more experienced Ivor (yes he is a Brit), so I let him set the pace, I tucked in behind him and tried to keep up. We were soon left behind by the front teams, but weren’t actually too far behind and ticking along at a pretty good pace. The descents were amazing, super steep off piste runs that had been well skied and were therefore pretty hard/icy. We skied these in a side slipping style, easy on the legs and actually very fast compared with lots of turns.
We were about 1500m of vertical in (out of 2200m) when Ivor began to slow. We did another 200m or so before stopping for a chat. Ivor was in quite a bit of pain, and after some soul searching (and much guide-like encouraging from me) we pulled out. Quite disappointing at the time, and poor Ivor was beating himself up over it. It would later turn out he’d pulled some sort of inter-costal rib muscle, so he’d done well to make it as far as he did really.
Just three days later it was time to head south for the annual British Ski Mountaineering Championship race, this year held in Devouly – Le Grand Trace. This obviously attracts a few Brits, some local and others travelling out from the UK for the weekend.
We headed down for a family weekend away, all a little rushed in the end as it looked like they might cancel the event due to the snow that was forecast.
This time I knew what to expect, and went off much quicker at the start, and had the transitions a little more practiced. The whole course flew by in more powder descents and some lung burning climbs. I ended up second Brit, and sixth overall on the individual category. A bottle of wine, a bag of goodies and a satisfying podium photo 🙂
An amazing couple of weeks of Ski Rando racing. Looking forward to some more, and maybe on some lighter kit…..