Brian Smith wins Ultimate Mountain Challenge
The inaugural Teva Winter Games in Vail last weekend turned out to be a showcase of the Gunnison Valley’s supremacy in the realm of winter endurance sports.
The Teva Winter Games was a mix of winter sports including snow biking, telemark big air, mixed climbing, Nordic ski racing, ski mountaineering, an uphill challenge, etc. And, in all of the disciplines that required both leg and lung strength, the Gunnison Valley reigned supreme.
In fact, the Ultimate Mountain Challenge, which was a combination of a 10-kilometer Nordic race, an uphill climb and a ski mountaineering race spread over three days, was outright owned by the Gunnison Valley.
Brian Smith and Marshall Thomson finished one, two among the men, and four of the top five women all hail from the valley. Janelle Smiley led the local charge taking second place overall; Stevie Kremer third; Rebecca Dussault fourth; and Jari Kirkland in fifth place.
Smith opened his quest for the Ultimate Mountain Challenge title on Friday, February 10 with the 10-kilometer freestyle Nordic race. Due to the prize money up for grabs, the Teva Games attracted some of the top Nordic skiers in the nation.
“There were a lot of heavy hitters out there,” says Smith.
Smith got caught behind some slower skiers off the start but worked his way through the field to take the initial overall lead in the Ultimate Mountain Challenge standings.
The local of the day in the Nordic race was Dussault, who continues to hold court in the Nordic racing world. Dussault won the 10-kilometer race with a time of 25 minutes, 19 seconds, out-sprinting a 2010 Olympian down the home stretch.
Smiley knew she didn’t stand a chance against the likes of Dussault, setting her sights on keeping her toughest competitors over the next two days in check.
“I wanted to keep an eye on Sari [Anderson] and Stevie [Kremer],” says Smiley.
Nevertheless, surrounded by Nordic racers skiing at top speeds did put the pinch on Smiley.
“I ended up seeing spots and almost blacking out,” admits Smiley.
She finished just 30 seconds behind Anderson and ahead of Kremer, heading into the next day and the ski mountaineering race.
The elite class had 6,500 feet of climbing to do during the race and the course included a rocky down-climbing section and a boot pack thrown in right near the end.
“The skimo race was so interesting,” says Smith. “It reminded me of a mini Grand Traverse. It had a very backcountry feel to it.”
It was a Gunnison Valley sweep in the men’s race, with Thomson taking the race win two seconds ahead of Bryan Wickenhauser. Smith came in third place, just eight seconds behind Wickenhauser.
Smith had the lead right off the start but a small section of trail breaking, coupled with a slight fumble during the final transition, resulted in a third-place finish for Smith.
“That left a sour taste in my mouth,” says Smith.
The women of the Gunnison Valley held court as well, with Smiley taking second place behind Anderson; Kremer in third; Dussault in fourth; and Kirkland in sixth place.
Smiley was neck-and-neck with Anderson from the start as the two women gapped the rest of the field. What started out as a civil rivalry soon turned into a charge for the $1,000 purse.
Anderson picked up the pace and during some brief conversation explained that she was broke and wanted the money.
“I was like, all right, game on,” says Smiley.
Smiley stayed with her but ultimately dropped off of Anderson when Anderson pulled out some kick skins for a flat section to get better glide.
“I figured at that point I’m in second place and still in the money,” says Smiley.
The Ultimate Mountain Challenge wrapped up on Sunday with the hill climb, an all-out 2,200-foot lung-busting climb up the Vail ski area. Athletes had a choice to do it on skis or snowshoes, or running with whatever grip method they wanted on their shoes.
Smith opted for running flats with Yak Traks and admits the sour taste of third place in the skimo race was still lingering. Yet, with the Ultimate Mountain Challenge title his for the taking, he remained disciplined during the uphill race.
“I was running a little bit mad but also smart,” says Smith. “I just didn’t want to do anything stupid.”
After two days of competing and a 2,200-foot climb nearly straight up in front of him, Smith was feeling the pain but realized it was just a matter of pain threshold.
“I was running tired but you’re running straight up so it’s really who’s toughest and just drive straight up the climb,” says Smith. “I was totally maxed out but did enough to hold Marshall off.”
Smith posted a time fast enough to secure the overall Ultimate Mountain Challenge title and earn an additional $1,000. Thomson was just four minutes, 21 seconds behind him overall, to come in second place and earn a $500 paycheck.
Smiley was four minutes behind Anderson overall but had a comfortable lead over Kremer heading into the final event.
“I knew trying to make up a four-minute gap on Sari was nearly impossible,” says Smiley.
While other competitors mixed in running and/or snowshoes for the race, Smiley stayed with her skis and skins and finished in second place out of all styles, with Kremer taking the uphill title.
“I was really surprised when I finished that there was only one woman ahead of me,” says Smiley.
Smiley finished the weekend in second place overall.
“I had a great weekend of coming in second,” says Smiley. “I was just hoping to get podium or top six. I really did not anticipate I would do as well as I did.”
Kremer finished the weekend on the podium with Smiley in third place. All told, Gunnison Valley athletes won four of the six podium spots in the Ultimate Mountain Challenge.
“It was pretty awesome,” says Smith.