Four skiers with local ties headed to Europe
by Than Acuff
The two-year cycle has come around again and it looks like four ski mountaineering racers—or skimo racers—with local ties are headed to Switzerland for the Ski Mountaineering World Championships.
The Gunnison valley has been a mainstay on the greater skimo racing scene, with several local athletes qualifying for the U.S. skimo team over the past several years. This year Cam Smith, Jack Linehan, Jon Brown and Jacob Dewey are all headed to the big show March 9-16 in Villars sur Ollons, Switzerland as part of the U.S. team.
All four athletes have strong local ties with the valley: Both Smith and Brown live here permanently, Linehan grew up in Crested Butte before heading off to Boston College and then settling over in the Aspen area, and Dewey is a student at Western Colorado University.
For Brown, the trip is a little old hat. This will be his third time to the world championships, having first made the team in 2015. He qualified this year as part of the team race, two racers per team similar to the Grand Traverse, when he finished seventh in the qualifier race earlier this season. While he may be one of the older members of the team at age 47, he keeps going back for more.
“I haven’t really thought about why I’m still doing it. I’m getting older and a little slower for sure,” says Brown. “I just do it, I love it. I love competing and love the community of athletes. I also like seeing what’s going on with the sport and the younger guys coming up.”
Smith is in the midst of a stellar season. He started off with a heavy early winter race schedule culminating with the U.S. team qualifiers. After a short break to reap the rewards of the stellar backcountry conditions, he returned to the racing scene in February, winning the Gothic Mountain Tour and finishing second with partner Tom Goth at the Power of Four in Aspen last weekend.
Immediately following the race in Aspen, Smith boarded a plane bound for Europe to prepare for a heavy schedule at the world championships as he qualified for the team in all five events: solo, team, vertical, sprint and the relay race.
“I’m super stoked to be on the team,” says Smith. “Worlds only comes once every two years, so you have to make the most of the opportunity when it comes up.”
Linehan was on a quest to make the team this year. He missed a spot on the team two years ago by a narrow margin, took the next year off from training and racing but jumped back into the skimo fray with both feet this year, focused on one goal in particular.
“I thought making the team should be my primary goal in the sport,” says Linehan. “I’ve been racing hard and really focused. I’m just humbled to be on the team next to these men and women who are incredible athletes.”
Linehan ended up making the team in the sprint event, a franticly paced race complete with gradual climbs, steeper pitches with a succession of kick turns, a boot pack section straight up, before finishing with a Giant Slalom–style downhill, with two jumps thrown in for good measure.
“It’s a full on lung-buster and you gotta be on it,” says Linehan. “I think it’s awesome.”
Dewey will be competing in the junior category, ages 18-23, in the individual and vertical race.
As for the hopes of the local racers and the U.S. team in general, expectations are high but muted. Two years ago a junior racer on the U.S. team made the podium and this years team does have some heavy hitters, including Smith. Still, the U.S. athletes still have some ground to make up on the European skimo racers. Smith, for example, has a Grand Traverse title to his name and has made a name for himself on the national race circuit but admits he would be psyched finishing in the 20s in his events.
“This is my third year racing internationally and results-wise the past two years I’ve been in the 30s, 40s, and even 50s overall,” says Smith. “This year I’m feeling stronger than ever and am hoping to get into the top 25 at Worlds. It sounds a lot less impressive than something like winning the GT, but it is a whole different ballgame over there.”
Linehan understands what he is up against as well and while a strong result is always a goal, he is there to soak it all in.
“It’ll be amazing, even if I get my doors blown off,” says Linehan. “I just want to enjoy it and be fully present.”
“The U.S. is getting better for sure but because it’s been established so much longer over there, the depth is amazing,” adds Brown. “It’s not so much the engines, or technical ability on descents—it’s the culture. Definitely a different level.”