I’ve been feeling slow lately. Because of working day shift, every day of the weekend is super valuable, the only days I can actually get into the mountains. Then because of the high value, I feel I need to try to go and get something big done. Then in mediocre weather, I drive and sled a bunch, maybe skin part of the way and have to turn back at the bootpack, putting a whole days work into a few hundred meters of easy skinning and slowly draining fitness.
This past weekend looked like another weekend of meh weather, could try for something but would probably get turned back. So instead of continuing the cycle, I thought I’d go smash some vert and try to get in shape for the Ken Jones Classic, a rando race at Lake Louise. I did the Dogtooth Dash, another rando race at Kicking Horse two years back and loved it, but last year I got caught up by work and couldn’t attend (I got the days for Beaver for doing that though, so it worked out). Then this year they decided to kill the Dash. Very disappointing. So the Ken Jones is now really the only race within a few hours of Golden which is actually on terrain that’s worth a damn, the rest you might as well use cross-country skis, if they were actually allowed.
So on Monday I decided to head up to somewhere near Golden, with nice high elevation trees (higher than most stuff in Rogers) which would’ve been high enough even at the base to avoid the rain. Up at 5, out the door at 6, sweet, nice and early, should be on skins at 6:45 latest… Still stuck on the sled at 8:30 when I decided to give up and skin the last km, and leave the sled in its damn hole. I put a lot of time and thought into putting in a very nice skintrack, winding through the trees to a ridgetop with five very nice treeline avalanche paths running from the top on a variety of aspects. First run, very cautious, lots of ski cuts, and a lot of great pow 500m to the bottom of the skintrack. Back up, down another path, bit of trailbreaking to re-gain the skintrack, rinse, repeat. At the end of the day I had six runs of awesome pow, a wicked beat-in and pruned skintrack and 3500m of skiing and skinning under the belt.
Then on Tuesday I went for the same thing, but with an objective: 4000m. Should be easy on a nice skintrack, compared to the 3000m-of-trailbreaking-in-steep-alpine-terrain-day at O’hara last year, so I was confident I could get it. I did a few things to make it a little more similar to how the race would be, so little rando pack, with a comparable amount (ie not much) in it, drawing rations and water from a cache on the sled when I passed it every now and then. Lots of skinning, lots of transitions, lots more great pow. I kept an eye on the watch, and watched as 15m/min of gain went from a comfortable pace to unattainable, but I was able to keep it above 10 average on the last runs with just a little more grimace. So now I’m convinced I’m not slowing down; when I did Clamshell in June years ago the 600m/h (10m/min) figure I got was surprisingly fast to me at the time. I ended up getting over the 4000m mark after 9h of skinning (and descending, eating, and everything else). Not too shabby. The thought of pushing to 5000m crossed my mind. I had the light for it, but I am a slave to progression, and doing so would demand I do 6000m in a day next season.
Fast forward to Saturday, the Ken Jones Classic at Lake Louise. By both hook and crook I got the day off work, and was greeted at Louise with perfect weather. Registration, pre-race meeting and then up the chair to the start. Off the gate everybody, myself included sprinted. For all of fifty meters, then it slowed right down to a human speed while I wheezed. That hurt. I aimed to keep the watch somewhere between 15 and 20m/min for the whole race, it would keep me from pushing too hard and running out of juice later, or convincing myself I was going hard while actually dogging it. We went from the base of Top of the World chair to the summit of Whitehorn. I used the time-honoured tactic of constantly fidding with gear to keep my mind off the misery. Helmet off, gloves off… no wait, gloves back on. I had my pack dialed so I could do that without disturbing my speed. It had the added benefit of concerning anybody behind me who was anticipating a massive sluff of gear bowling down the slope sooner or later. The second tactic was to look around, man what a view. Skied that, and that, wanna ski that, almost got that and am still choked.. Gorgeous weather.
Once at the top, a quick transition then over the backside and into F Gulley. I didn’t realize I buckled down my stripped-out TLT6’s one notch looser than normal, and without tongue and power strap, that one notch on the ladder made the run super loose. I had to ski fast though, as one of the few with real skis on the elite course I had to prove how much more fun they were than kiddie skis. Then a bit of switchback-happy skinning up Boundary Bowl to a bootpack into North Cornice. Almost took out a few racers trying to get the skis on the pack during the bootpack transition, sorry about that. Rando packs are really built with one kind of ski in mind. Then after the bootpack, more loose skiing down to the bottom of the bowl. Up another pure bootpack to ER5, I still hadn’t recovered the jelly legs from the previous bootpack and run, and I blew out a few steps in my haste. Down a chute, and down the long flat groomers, I was sure I had missed the ascent to Larch. As we were skiing down I got so busy talking to an Aussie instructor on where to go, that I almost missed the deek into the woods to the transition point.
Then up again. The start was on the flattest terrain known to man, and I had to huff and puff on my full length skins to keep my position, while summoning only 5m/min. The other racers glided along like nothing, but didn’t pass on the wide groomer because it was obvious I was givin’er and they pitied me. Then a short time later, winding through the moguly rock garden, I was able to set a better uptrack solely because of the full length skins. Once at the top, I ripped skins and headed down, the guys at the top assuring me that although I was the first infidel with big skis, I still looked Euro. Phew. Elevator Shaft had great powder on the side left over from the skinny skis crowd who abhorred it and descended the skied out guts before I got there. Then some moguls, fast groomers (damn, these skis rail!) and then 10 minutes of tucking and skating along the ski out back to the finish on the front side. I finished much like the Dash two years ago, mid field with a big smile.