Podiums in all divisions
The Gunnison Valley was in full force at the Power of Four ski mountaineering (skimo) race in Aspen on Saturday, February 28 with three local skiers hitting the podium in the overall team standings and two local teams taking the top two spots in the veteran category.
Stevie Kremer continued her domination of the North American skimo race world teaming up with Lindsay Plant from Carbondale to win the women’s’ Power of Four title while Team Griggs Orthopedics (Team gO) athletes Billy Laird and Jon Brown dueled it out with a local Aspen team before ending up in second place in the men’s race.
Team Alpineer athletes Pat O’Neill and Bob Woerne also brought a title back to the Gunnison Valley from Glitter Gulch, winning the men’s veteran category as Team gO skiers Allen Hadley and Rhett Griggs joined O’Neill and Woerne on the veterans’ race podium in second place.
The Power of Four skimo course puts the wood to athletes as teams of two encounter 11,600 feet of total elevation gain spread out over 25.3 miles linking all four Aspen ski areas via on and off-piste routes and peaking at over 12,000 feet above sea level at the top of Aspen Highlands. As a result, course and weather conditions can run the gamut mixing in soft slush, firm groomers, cold powder and breaker crust as racers can face warm temperatures in valley floors and lose their face in brutal freezing winds on ridge tops.
This year though, conditions were about as good as racers could ask for with comfortable temperatures, little wind and soft snow from start to finish.
“It was the best conditions ever,” says Kremer. “Snow was incredible, appeared to be a foot of new snow and it was clear and not very windy.”
This was the first time Kremer had teamed up with Plant for a skimo race. The two have raced against each other at individual skimo races and they decided to bring their talents together for the Power of Four.
“We both knew we were going to do the race and both needed a partner so it just worked out,” explains Kremer.
Kremer and Plant took the lead in the women’s race from the first climb up Snowmass and held it for the entirety of the race finishing in a time of 6:05:05, fast enough to place seventh overall.
“We had no issues the whole time, everything went smoothly,” says Kremer.
Still, the race is not without its’ punishment and Kremer cites to particular sections as always tough.
Physically, the worst part is the climb to the top of Highlands Bowl because it’s never ending,” says Kremer. “Even when you get to the top, you still have so much of the race left to go. Mentally, the toughest part is the climb up Midnight Mine. It’s a seven-mile slog that’s a mellow climb that just does not end. It’s a lot like the Richmond Ridge part of the Grand Traverse.”
On the men’s side of things, some carnage forced Team gO partners Bryan Wickenhauser and Brian Smith out of the race.
During the first descent, Smith broke his ski under the toe piece, yet since it was still hanging together, they kept chugging along in second place with Brown and Laird on their heels in third. Then, when the climb up Highlands turned off piste, Smith stepped into some punchy snow and the ski broke in half.
“It failed catastrophically,” says Wickenhauser.
Brown and Laird were left to carry the local colors for the rest of the race and while they never managed to reel in the local leaders, they ran a clean race to remain in second place crossing the finish in a time of 5:36:20.
Some of the skimo racers may be heading to Utah this weekend for the Wasatch Powder Keg before the North American skimo race world turns its attention to Crested Butte for the USSMA Ski Mountaineering National Championships on Crested Butte Mountain Resort March 13-15.