Wickenhauser and Passant off to Switzerland
Local randonnee racers Ethan Passant and Bryan Wickenhauser are headed to Europe to test their wits and wills against the top randonnee racers in the world.
Passant and Wickenhauser are two of five valley residents who earned spots on the United States Ski Mountaineering racing team, headed to the Ski Mountaineering World Championships in Les Portes du Soleil, Switzerland Sunday through Friday, February 24-29.
The other three qualifiers were Brian Smith and Jon Brown for the men’s team and Jari Kirkland for the women’s team. They opted out for a variety of reasons, leaving it up to Passant and Wickenhauser to carry the Gunnison Valley torch up and down the slopes of the Swiss Alps.
Coach Pete Swenson leads the team of 12 racers, nine men and three women, to Switzerland and is the organizer of the Colorado Ski Mountaineering Cup (COSMIC) race series. The COSMIC races are a series of randonnee races—a.k.a. ski mountaineering—in North America that served as qualifier events for the team.
Swenson is no stranger to the European ski mountaineering racing world, having competed in the 2006 Ski Mountaineering World Championships as part of the U.S. team. The team finished in 10th place out of 33 national teams.
Swenson believes that while the level of athlete racing in Europe is somewhat similar to North American racers, there are subtle differences that set the two apart.
“They’re not that different—they have a little better equipment and more experience,” says Swenson. “We just need to find more races.”
In addition, the attitude is a bit different in Europe.
“They race harder, it’s feistier,” explains Swenson. “Over there there’s a Slovakian, two Germans and a Pole trying to kill you for 42nd place. Everything is just more competitive.”
While Passant has dominated the North American racing scene the past two years with Wickenhauser close behind, the two will have their hands full in Europe.
“We’re up against experienced randonnee racers,” says Wickenhauser. “There’s a lot of history, a lot of history in spandex.”
“They’ve been into this kind of racing for so long and every weekend there’s a race somewhere,” adds Passant. “I imagine the depth of the field is a lot more than I’m used to.”
Still, Passant has some experience with the European race attitude after competing in a four-day ski mountaineering stage race called the Pierra Menta in 2004.
“I’m not afraid of those guys, that’s for sure,” says Passant. “I know how aggressive they are over there.”
The one advantage the U.S. team may have, specifically Passant and Wickenhauser, is altitude, as the World Championships are held at a lower elevation than several of the COSMIC races and Crested Butte.
“It’s a huge advantage,” says Passant. “I sleep high and I train higher.”
Passant also has the backing of his fellow ski patrollers who helped sponsor his trip to the World Championships.
“The only sponsor I have this year is my fellow patrollers. It’s awesome,” says Passant. “Hopefully, when I’m racing I’ll be thinking about them.”
Passant will represent the U.S. team in the two solo races and the team race and Wickenhauser will take part in the relay race and the team race.