Four locals earn spots on U.S. randonnee ski team
Crested Butte resident and randonnee racing terminator Ethan Passant opened the 2008 randonnee-racing season with back-to-back wins.
Randonnee racing involves skiing up and down on a predetermined course that typically follows terrain located primarily within ski area boundaries, sometimes stepping off-piste.
The racecourses have over 5,000 vertical feet of climbing broken up into three or four sections. The downhill portions can involve pitches ranging anywhere from 35 to 50 degrees in steepness.
Last year Passant won the Colorado Ski Mountaineering Cup (COSMIC) race series with a plethora of first-place finishes. Passant’s effort earned him a spot on the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association Team headed to the 2008 World Championships in Switzerland February 23-29.
This year Passant picked up right where he left off, winning the first race of this year’s COSMIC series at Snowmass on Saturday, January 19, and following that up by winning the series’ second race at Sunlight Ski Area on Sunday, January 20.
Both races were qualifier events for the remaining spots on the U.S. team headed to Switzerland. As a result, all of the big guns from throughout the West showed up for the two races.
“It was a pretty heavy field for sure,” says Passant.
Even though Passant already has a spot on the U.S. team, he continues to put the hammer down.
“Of course I’m going to try to win them,” says Passant.
Passant admits though, it’s getting harder with every race to maintain his domination, as the rest of the field continues to gain strength.
“They’re creeping up, but it’s always been close,” says Passant. “It’s definitely getting harder.”
The Snowmass race had a total of 5,133 vertical feet of climbing. Passant got his first test on the opening ascent when he found Gunnison resident and mountain biking monster Brian Smith neck-and-neck with him.
“I like to attack from the get-go and get in the front,” says Passant. “There was no way I was going to let anyone get ahead of me, so every time I saw his skis I would move ahead. It was pretty brutal.”
Passant got a break from Smith on the second climb when Smith experienced equipment issues, and managed to hold off the rest of the field, covering the course in two hours and two minutes.
Cary Smith from Jackson, Wyo., who also pre-qualified for the U.S. team, came in second place two minutes behind Passant.
Gunnison resident Bryan Wickenhauser hit his pre-race goal, coming in third place at the Snowmass race in two hours and five minutes.
The effort secured Wickenhauser a spot on the U.S. team as well.
“I think I punched a ticket to Switzerland,” says Wickenhauser.
Brian Smith finished the race in 10th place, Gunnison resident Jon Brown came in 11th and Crested Butte local Johnny Biggers took 13th place.
Jari Kirkland was the lone female representative from the Gunnison Valley and came in third place.
It came down to the final descent for Passant to eke out a win at the Sunlight race the following day.
After building a gap during the race, Passant had two racers, Cary and Brian Smith, pull into the final transition right next to him.
The three racers tore off their climbing skins and took off on the final descent to the finish line. Passant used his multiple days of skiing as a member of the Crested Butte Ski Patrol to his advantage, bombing the final descent to edge out Cary by 20 seconds for the win. Brian finished in third place 20 seconds behind Cary.
“It was a Chinese downhill,” says Passant. “It was intense.”
Wickenhauser battled equipment issues at Sunlight and finished in seventh place; Brown came in eighth place and Biggers took 14th place.
“I think the Gunnison Valley has the strongest contingency at these races,” says Wickenhauser.
In the end, Wickenhauser did “punch a ticket to Switzerland,” as did Brian Smith and Brown. The three join Passant to fill four of the 11 spots on the men’s U.S. randonnee racing team. Kirkland earned a spot as well on the women’s team.
“It’s a strong representation from the valley,” adds Wickenhauser. “We’ll do some training on Cranor. Lots of transitions and great interval training.”
The COSMIC series makes its next stop in Crested Butte for the Arc’Teryx COSMIC race on Saturday, February 9.