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Irwin skimo race gets green light

“It’s a go, I’m feeling good about it”

by Than Acuff

After a one-year hiatus, the Griggs Orthopedics/Irwin Guides ski mountaineering race is back with plenty of snow on course and more predicted for the four days leading up to race day on Saturday, December 10.

The race is part of the Colorado Ski Mountaineering Cup race series (COSMIC) and is scheduled early in December every winter. Typically, skimo races on the COSMIC series are held at ski areas with a majority of the course on ski area terrain. The Irwin race is unique in that it is held on the Eleven cat skiing terrain, providing a true backcountry feel for participants, complete with variable conditions and, more often than not, powdery descents during the race.

Last year the race was cancelled due to a lack of snow. This year things are looking good with close to 30 inches total snowfall and additional storms this week providing more snow for the race on Saturday.

“It’s a go,” says Eleven’s snow safety director Billy Rankin. “I’m feeling good about it.”

Race co-director Bryan Wickenhauser and friends headed up to the race venue last Saturday to suss out the situation and discuss possible course options, and they were psyched with what they found.

“Even last Saturday if we had to pull off the race, we could have done it,” says Wickenhauser.

Better yet, the snow that is up there appears to be settling, providing optimal snow conditions for skimo racers, who typically charge up and down slopes on short, narrow skis.

“In general there’s not a ton of snow up there but it is supportive under skis,” says Rankin. “We all agree that we feel good about running the race, especially with the snow forecasted for the weekend. Hopefully we’ll have another eight to 12 inches by the weekend.”

One major thing left to do now is to set the course. While coverage is looking good, there are still plenty of natural hazards out there and crews will now work on additional control work on the course and determining the best route for each of the three loops, including the location of the boot pack section.

“The first two laps are pretty much known; the third downhill is what we will suss out this week,” says Rankin. “There are other options for the boot pack too, so we’ll explore those.”

“There are still some hazards out there on course,” adds Wickenhauser.

Wickenhauser says registration for the race is “robust” now that photos from the course are online and he believes the race should hit the cap of 75 racers.

Now it’s up to racers to figure out how to get up to the venue. Eleven will provide one cat leaving from 330 Belleview at 8 a.m. the day of the race. Then two more cats will leave from the Kebler Pass winter trailhead at 8:15, for a total of 45 spots. They do cost extra and must be reserved ahead of time. Otherwise, racers are on their own to get up there by skiing, snowmobiling or getting towed by snowmobile. No matter what the mode, racers are asked to make sure they park in the appropriate places at the winter trailhead.

The race starts at 10 a.m. Participants need to be at the venue by 9 a.m. and there will be a racer meeting Friday, December 9 at 7:30 p.m. at 330 Belleview.

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