Marshall Thomson earns spot on U.S. team
Stellar conditions greeted the ski mountaineering (skimo) race contingent this past weekend as both Irwin and Crested Butte Mountain Resort hosted a weekend of high stakes skimo racing.
The skimo world championships are held every two years and this year happens to be one of those years. As a result, there are spots on the U.S. skimo team up for grabs. Four of those spots, two for men and two for women, were on the line at the two local events.
The weekend kicked off Saturday morning up at Irwin as 70 skimo racers lined up for the Irwin Guides/Griggs Orthopedics Ski Mountaineering race presented by Millet. Race organizers had two courses set out for the tightly clothed, lightweight-geared competitors. The race-class course offered 5,000 feet of climbing spread out over three climbs including a boot pack section. The rec class course had 3,500 feet of climbing, also including the boot pack section.
Speaking of tight clothes and light gear, the event was a showcase for the latest in skimo racing technology at Irwin. Back in the day, that is six years ago, I would guesstimate that the split between fully rigged race gear athletes and the “run what you brung” types (i.e., fat skis, fat skins, loose clothing) was 50/50. This year I’d say the split was 98/2. That is, maybe two people ran what they brang.
Thanks to the diligent work of the Irwin crew, Elk Mountain Events and Mother Nature, the course was in great shape Saturday morning.
“The course was awesome,” says race co-director Bryan Wickenhauser. “People came from all over for the race and they were pleasantly surprised. We gave them a little piece of the Eleven.”
The men’s race opened up with a duel up-front between local Marshall Thomson and Scott Simmons. The two came into the first transition neck-and-neck and remained that way up through the boot pack section. It was then that John Gaston made his move. As Simmons struggled up the boot pack and getting back onto his skis, Gaston made the pass. Simmons recovered to reel Thomson and Gaston in but the difference came on the downhills.
“He just out-skis everyone on the downhills,” says Wickenhauser.
By the time they turned for the finish line after 5,000 feet of climbing over 10 miles, Gaston crossed in first place in a blistering time of 1 hour, 53 minutes and 16 seconds. Simmons was a minute back in second with Thomson carrying the local colors onto the podium in third place.
Out-of-towners dominated the women’s field as Lindsay Plant from Carbondale won the race, followed by Jessie Young out of Aspen and Breckenridge athlete Nikki Larochelle in third.
After an evening of heavy celebration by the throngs of skimo racers, they all lined up Sunday morning for the vertical race on Crested Butte Mountain Resort. The course was all up, no down, taking skiers from the base of the ski area to the top of the Silver Queen lift for a total of 2,000 feet of climbing over 2.3 miles.
Gaston continued his domination, winning the vertical race in a lung-busting time of 33 minutes and 11 seconds. Thomson moved up a spot from Saturday to place second just 40 seconds back, and Team gO teammate Brian Smith came in third.
Plant also doubled down, winning the vertical race with Larochelle placing second and Mckenna Douglas taking third.
Once the dust settled from the weekend of racing, four athletes secured spots on the U.S. Ski Mountaineering team headed to the world championships in Switzerland in February. Gaston and Plant are in, Larochelle got a spot and Thomson is the first local athlete to punch his ticket so far this year. Smith and Jon Brown garnered key points toward making the team and look to secure their spots at the next qualifier event in Jackson Hole January 9-11.