Aspen Power of Four Ski Mountaineer Race
Always in search of an adventure and a cool race, the Aspen Power of Four made the cut this time around for me and Eric. Besides, he kinda bribed me by giving me his old lightweight skimo skis/boots/bindings. The families were going to come along but getting a puppy changed those plans for us, and it was easier for Eric’s family to stay home to take care of their dog too. Eric and I met in Golden at 12:30pm Friday and off we went, it’s always a victory when we’re heading to the same place together. The drive along I70 went easy and we were in Aspen by 5:30pm for racer check-in and pre-race meeting. Eric scored us a deal at the Westin in Snowmass, so we checked in, got some dinner, packed up, and went to sleep. It was the usual night-before-race light sleep for both of us and the 4:30am alarm came quickly. We checked out, dumped our stuff in the truck, and skied downhill to the start…. Definitely a benefit of having a hotel right at the start! Gear/beacon check went smoothly and we milled around with 160 other racers until filing outside in the 3 degree temps right before 6am.
The start was dark and cold, but the sun would rise soon and shuffling uphill warmed us up quickly. The first climb of the race is about 2,900ft and goes right up Snowmass ski resort. Of course I felt like my heart rate was red-lined most of the time while I coughed up last week’s cold remnants and tried to find my groove. The sunrise was beautiful as it lit up the Elk Mountains all around and we could see the lead teams putting distance between us mere mortals. After 1hr and 20mins we were at the top of the climb, sweet! We ripped the skins off of our skis, ate/drink quickly, and layered up with goggles, jackets, and gloves. The downhill was fast and fun through trees and powder. It wasn’t long until we were at the icy and exposed rock section that we were warned about. Side-stepping and semi-controlled sliding was the best method while trying not to lose control and go over the edge into the abyss. It was only about 20 minutes of downhill and powdery fun before we had to put our skins back on for a short climb. This got us back on a ridge with amazing views back towards the Maroon Bells. Before long we were at the top of Buttermilk Mountain and ripping our skins once again for bombing downhill through black and blue runs. Of course this was short-lived and the quads ached. Reminded me that the last time I was at Buttermilk Mountain was in 1999 to see Widespread Panic.
We traversed the base area, crossed a bridge, went a short distance up Maroon Creek Road, through a neighborhood, and to the base of Aspen Highlands. About 8.5miles and 2hrs 45mins in so far and we were both feeling good, especially since it had warmed up quite a bit. We fueled up at the aid station and Eric broke the news to me that we had a 4k ft climb ahead of us. Oh fun! Since Eric’s skins weren’t sticking to the snow real well, he decided to hike up while I skinned up. Nothing too exciting except up and up and up, then up some more. Eric was slowing down and was trying to prevent bonking, yet just couldn’t get enough fuel in himself. Our pace continued to slow the higher we went. Eric was whooped and just couldn’t catch his breath and I was getting frustrated with our pace. It didn’t help that his skins wouldn’t stick on anything too steep or at an angle. Eventually we hit the treed ridge near Highlands Bowl and had to climb down a 6’ rock-step. After a couple hours we got to the top of the Loge Peak lift and could see the boot-pack the rest of the way up 12,381ft Highlands Peak. The wind was howling here and racers were attaching their skis to packs while putting on every layer possible. One foot in front of the other, we went up the snowcat track then right up the ridge. Looking down into Highlands Bowl was AWESOME and it really felt like we were “out there”. Eric was feeling better and our pace was quickening, but that didn’t help getting stuck behind the occasional slow skiers and snowboarders. 6hrs and 15mins into the race, we topped out on Highlands Peak. WooHoo! Making the 7hr cutoff was looking slim. We readied for the descent and dropped into the right-side of the bowl instantly into shin to knee deep powder bliss. Despite burning quads this was some of the best skiing that either of us had ever done. The powder got deeper and steeper. We funneled back to the main bowl, through trees, and to the base of the Deep Temerity lift, losing 2,600ft of hard earned elevation in 15 minutes. While putting on skins for the next short climb Eric said we only had 20 minutes to make the 1pm cutoff at the Congo Trail around mile 15. Oh shit!!! A quick look at the map and it seemed doable. We took off quickly and kept a good pace. At each turn we hoped to see the aid station. I stopped for a minute and came around one more corner to see Eric at the aid station and he said that we made it just under the cutoff. WooHoo! We were the very last team to make it. We refilled bottles, ate some Gu, filled our pockets, and headed out with a big sigh of relief. Little did we know what fun was in store for us on the Congo Trail! It was a 2,000ft drop in tight trees on an icy single track mountain bike trail through tight trees. I pizza-pied most of the way down hoping to not blowout a knee or smash into a tree.
After 7.5hrs total, we were at the bottom of the Congo Trail facing one last climb up the Midnight Mine Road. Fortunately it was along a road, unfortunately it was almost 3,000ft of gain! Eric was not happy to hear the 3,000ft part, but we started chugging along through the trees and switchbacking up the backside of Aspen. Progress was slow, but it was comforting knowing that we would finish and wouldn’t have to dwell on a DNF for an entire year. After a couple hours I announced to Eric that we had 600ft left, which wound up being 800ft. Around 11,200ft after another turn I thought I saw the roof of a building but didn’t want to get my hopes up too much. Indeed it was a roof and the top of Aspen on Richmond Hill Rd (the exact spot we were in 2012 for the Elk Mtns Grand Traverse), after 2.5hrs of climbing. A huge sigh of relief from both of us and we ripped skins and added layers knowing it was all downhill from here. It took us 15 very cold minutes to fly down Aspen to the finish. Total time was 10hrs and 13mins, and shortly after we finished the crew started taking down the finish line fences. HA! We grabbed a beer and our dry clothes then found a bathroom to change in. We had no reason to stick around (since there was only 3 teams that finished behind us) so we found the bus back to Snowmass, piled into Eric’s truck, and started the long drive back home.
This was an awesome race! Incredibly well run, good schwag, and an amazing course/scenery. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Eric’s persistence to gut it out while feeling terrible for most of the day was nothing short of inspiring.