Lady MacDonald

Lady MacDonald

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Skimo Season

In need of a way of staying fit without beating up my body too much this winter, I thought I would give the sport of Ski Mountaneering or Skimo racing a go. It closely mimics the biomechanics of running with no impact, and lets me get out and have fun in the mountains while training. Plus, who doesn't love skiing...
If you don't know what Skimo is, for a great interview from a couple days ago that Alberta Primetime did click here

I ended up racing 6 times (2 were canceled due to the stupidly cold winter we had) here are some brief details from each:

Castle Mountain (8th)
Waking up to a dump of heavy wet snow on race day prompted a delayed start and multiple course changes. In the end, the course was a up and back on a groomed run and a cat track, with some tricky whiteout conditions and gale force winds. Needless to say, I was less than dialed, having only skied race skis a handful of times at COP before this. I generally consider myself quite a good downhill skier, but crashed 9 times, and lost both my skis in a couple of them. Despite the tough conditions, I had an absolute blast and was hooked on skimo!
Good: Fun!
Bad: Didn't warm up, so the fast start was a little bit of a shock. Wasn't used to my equipment
Nutrition: 1 gel at the halfway point (apparently gels get thick when it's cold, so this didn't work too well)

Whitefish Whiteout (8th)
Much like the race at Castle, there was almost zero visibility in Whitefish. I had a much better race this time around, with way better downhill skiing, and slightly less fumbling on the transitions. I sat comfortably in 4th place on the first climb, and topped out just over a minute back from the leaders. I managed to get myself lost in the fog on the first descent, and lost 5 minutes thrashing around in the trees before I found the transition area. The rest of the race I played catch up, and managed to pull some time back on the leaders to finish in 8th place. I was on a new set of skis and boots at this race, and had not tried them out before race day after getting a rush mount the afternoon before I left Calgary. They were a huge step up from what I was on at Castle, and I skied faster and faster on each descent as I got more comfortable on them.
At the awards ceremony, I won a pair of skis as a draw prize! Awesome!
Good: Transitions, and skiing went well!
Bad: Had some trouble on the more technical kick turns and steep icy skin tracks
Nutrition: Tried out Honey Stinger Chews instead of gels. Worked ok
Sitting in 4th on the first big climb

ROAM Randonee Rally (3rd)
The race started off with a climb up a groomer, and I kept good contact with the leaders in the non technical terrain. As soon as we headed up into the trees, I lost some ground on the kick turns. For the middle portion of the race, I kept a strong pace, and hit the halfway point with the leaders still in sight. On the 4th descent I lost the flags for a while, and ended up teaming up with eventual women's winner Melanie Bernier to get back on course. With some dumb luck we found a spot where red and green flagging were side by side, and started our transition. Right as we finished, the course marshals showed up, having been lost themselves (It turns out almost the whole field ended up getting lost). The last climb was way longer than expected, and I definitely should have fueled better on it. I zoned out for much of it and was definitely slowing down, when I hit the top, suddenly I was in the transition zone with Stano and Andrew. Both of them flew by me, and I knew I needed to buckle down if I wanted to catch them on the descent. I flew out of the trees, and ended up straight lining the whole last groomer topping out at 106km/h - pretty scary on little baby skis! There was a sharp corner and slight uphill finish, where I managed to outkick Stano, but not Andrew. That was good enough for 3rd place!
Good: Transitions are coming along, downhill skiing is way better!
Bad: Kick turns need a lot of work! Still need to be more careful when following flags, and study course map better
Nutrition: Water froze halfway through, only got in 1 gel, and I bonked pretty hard on the last climb thinking I was closer to the finish than I was

Dogtooth Dash Vertical (7th)
The vertical race was an interesting course, the first half was a steep drag race up a blue groomer, and the second half a much flatter grade on a green. It was interesting to see how each played to different racers strengths, with some powering up the steeps and struggling on the flats and vice versa. I think I did a pretty good job on both, but definitely lost some ground to guys with a nordic background who killed the lower angle stuff. At the halfway point Adam Campbell surged and passed me, and in hindsight, I should have closed that gap and stayed with him because I still had some left in the tank at the finish.
Good: Strong pace, and didn't fade at the end.
Bad: Finished with something left
Nutrition: none

Drag race up a steep groomer

Dogtooth Dash Individual (5th - 3rd Canadian)
I came into the weekend really looking forward to the individual race, because the course combined all of my favorite lines at Kickinghorse into one racecourse, and boy did it deliver. All the descents skied well, the course was well marked and conditions were perfect.
I ended up borrowing a race suit from Peter (thanks!) for the weekend, and it worked great. Being able to conveniently stuff skins and nutrition in all the dedicated pockets sped up transitions, and the thin material made it easy to control my temperature. Tight is right!
The race started with a run around the Eagles Eye Restaurant carrying your skis, after the run, I fumbled around trying to step into my bindings, and ended up starting the first descent in 3rd place behind Reiner and Eric. The first descent and climb (both on groomers) were uneventful, and I worked on maintaining my place, and getting into a rhythm. I dropped into Whitewall fairly conservatively but halfway through gained some confidence and opened up the throttle, straight lining the until the next transition zone. By that point, the finishing order was basically determined. For most of the race I could see Eric and Ben ahead of me, but couldn't seem to gain any ground on them. I ended up going back and forth with Pascal, a strong sky runner and last minute entrant from Switzerland. We hammered all the bootpacks, and struggled through kick turns together, and with a late surge I managed to pull out a sizable gap on the last climb to finish in 5th place.

Good: much better transitions, downhill skiing with more confidence - but still need lots of work
Bad: Still need more practice with kick turns. I looked back at my GPS file and we had to do 106 of them, so even a small improvement would cut off a significant chunk of time
Nutrition: perfect
Soft flash filled with 1/2 Roctane (4) and 1/2 water
500ml water in soft flask
Winning the most important part of the day: The lap around the lodge
Dropping into descent number 2 - Embrace the spandex

Vert 180 (1st)
The original Vert 180 was supposed to happen at the beginning of the season but was canceled due to extreme cold. I was looking forward to that race because there was a clinic before where you could learn the basics of Skimo. With that canceled, I had to fend for myself throughout the season, and pick up things as I went. This time around, I decided to go to the clinic anyways to see if I could pick up any other stuff. Big thanks to Mel, Steve and Kylee for putting this on, and I definitely learned some good pointers in the couple hours I was there. Hopefully I don't forget everything before next year!
The racecourse was more interesting that I was expecting, and went to the top of the new chair, before descending the steepest, iciest section of the hill into the ski jump bowl. After a quick transition, we bootpacked out of the bowl, then skied back down to the base to do it all over again.
The race started with a small pack of us (Mel, Peter, Steve, Adam and Michelle) breaking away from everyone else and hitting the top of the first climb together. Mel and I gained some ground on the first descent, and transitioned together. At that point, I picked up the pace and began to distance myself from everyone else. I settled in to a fast pace and tried to keep myself just below my anaerobic threshold and felt great. Just before the halfway point while skiing down, I managed to snap one of the cords that holds my boot together. It took me the rest of the bootpack and final downhill to realize what had happened and figure out what to do. When I hit the bottom transition, I tried to find a Voile strap, but nobody had one. I ended up sprinting to the car and grabbing one from my bag. With this fix, I could lock down the heel of my boot, but couldn't tighten the cuff, so it really didn't make much of a difference. By the time I got back on course, Peter had caught up with me, and I had lost the gap I worked hard to establish. Knowing that he would be getting a huge mental boost by closing the gap, I knew I had to buckle down (no pun intended) and do some work if I wanted to hold on to the lead. I read lined my heart rate and ticked off my fastest lap of the race in an attempt to shake him off. It worked and I began building my lead again to hold on for the win!
The race had a great atmosphere, including a DJ with all the racers having fun, and lots of awesome volunteers!

Stats: 14 laps - 2927m - 24.3km
Good: Transitions were dialed after some practice at the pre race clinic. Great pacing, lap times only varied by 1 minute, and got faster as the race went on
Bad: a few botched transitions
Nutrition: Awesome again
1000ml Water
Soft flask with 1/2 roctane (5) and 1/2 water
1 red bull

Getting worried as I'm leaving the transition after running inside to fix my boot
The Ultra Runner sandwich

I was impressed with my improvements over the course of the season and had an absolute blast jumping into a new sport. Everyone in the Skimo community is so welcoming, and it's great to have a bunch of new ski partners! I'm looking forward to next year, and coming back even fitter to see what I can do.
For anyone needing an awesome way to stay in shape in the winter, there is nothing better than Skimo! When you can go ski powder for the day and call it "training" you know you've hit the jackpot

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