Thursday, May 28, 2020

Local rando skiers battle in Heathen Challenge at Sunlight Ski Resort

Next stop Crested Butte January 30

All the chips were on the table, as those skiers still looking to clinch a spot on the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Team made the effort for the first stop on the COSMIC Series. The first three racers—who hadn’t already qualified from a previous qualifier at Jackson Hole last Spring or Grand Targhee the prior week—would be awarded spots on this year’s team.
The race venue was at Sunlight Ski Resort outside of Glenwood, Colo. The resort has hosted a stop on the COMIC Series the prior three winters, so the course is not an unknown to most athletes. Unfortunately, this winter started out with some decent early snow and then the tap got turned off for the last five or six weeks, making for some sugary, unconsolidated snow on the climbs when in the trees, and firm and fast on the descents, over all some technical conditions.
Under clear skies, racers took off flying up the first 1,740-foot climb, with skins ripping and snapping at the first transition. The first descent was down a bumped-out, steep and bony run that the racers would get to know well—The Heathen.
The second climb was a repeat of the first climb, followed by another descent down The Heathen and then continuing on down another 250 vertical feet to the last uphill transition. At this point athletes were starting to spread out and solidify positions for the home stretch.
The last uphill consisted of a complete off-piste trail, switching backing through unconsolidated snow for about 600 vertical feet to the boot pack section. Here racers had to strap skis to packs for an additional 400 vertical feet or so—at least the steps weren’t too sugary for this section! After putting the skis back on after the boot pack, racers still had to negotiate another approximately 700 feet to the top for the last skin rip and descent down The Heathen to the finish line at the base area.
At the finish line after nearly 5,223 feet of climbing, it was Chris Kroger taking first by one second over Max Tam in just around one hour, 55 minutes, followed closely by Pete Swenson. Bryan Wickenhauser came in fourth and Ben Parsons rounded out the top five. In the women’s category it was Monique Merrill in first, followed by Jari Kirkland and Sue King in third, rounding out the top three. Travis Scheefer, Jari Kirkland and Bryan Wickenhausen made the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Team.

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