Scheefer takes second at national championships

A tale of a cannon and a sniper…..

Local skiers Travis Scheefer and Bryan Wickenhauser took second and third place respectively at the U.S. Ski Mountaineering National Championships in Jackson Hole, Wyo. on Saturday, March 21. 
With the second-place finish, Scheefer qualified for the U.S. Ski Mountaineering team that is headed to the 2010 Andorra ISMF Ski Mountaineering World Championships. Wickenhauser is currently on the bubble and has two more opportunities to make the team next year.
The Jackson Hole race is the culmination of randonnee races taking place all across the United States, including both coasts but with a concentration of racing in Colorado and the Rocky Mountains.
To appreciate the course you have to understand the terrain at Jackson Hole and the weather leading up to race day. The preceding two days prior to the race saw very balmy, sunny days with cool, clear nights. The terrain…. well, it’s legendary from the Crags to Corbet’s Couloir—it’s all a test of any great skier’s ability, not to mention the view of the Tetons!
Race day saw a coming together of probably the deepest field ever assembled in the nine years of the national championships. Nearly all the big guns from Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana and even a couple of Canadians to top it off lined up.
With the prior day’s high temperatures in the 50s and a cold night leaving a variable “death cookie”—refrozen crust for athletes to deal with—it was certainly going to be a technical race. To top it off, the course has two boot packs and over 5,600 vertical feet of total climbing.
At the 8 a.m. race start it was Monique Merrill leading the women’s field, with Pete Swenson, Wickenhauser, Scheefer, Brandon French and Ben Parsons establishing a lead men’s pack up the first 2,170-foot climb to the top of the Après Vous Mountain.
After a quick descent down a groomer to the second skin change, Swenson led a charge like he was shot out of a cannon, leaving the rest of the men’s field to battle for second up the 1,880-foot climb. With French, Scheefer and Wickenhauser skinning up the Crags it was a technical battle of skill to see who could nail their “skin purchase” across each side hill on the refrozen surface, billy-goating on up Sheridan Bowl to transition three.
The first technical descent down refrozen death cookies on a run in the Crags called C1 and into the first boot pack didn’t see any changes in position for the men. The 1,600-foot boot pack up Casper Bowl brought the athletes up to the top of the Headwall skiing past (Doug) Coombs run, where we traversed over and down into Ten Sleep Bowl and to the base of the famous Corbet’s Coulior.
Prior to getting to Corbet’s, there was one last skin change to bring us up 900 feet into the throat of Corbet’s. At the boot transition, the battle for second and fourth was tight with about 10 to 20 seconds between each of the positions. With Swenson already 200 feet up Corbet’s he was clearly untouchable.
Near the top of this legendary run, athletes saw the now famous ladder for the last 30 vertical feet, prior to topping out. At the base of the ladder… Brandon was topping out, with Bryan next out, having passed Travis on the boot climb for third.
Legs were throbbing at this point but in front of racers and the finish line is the largest descent, nearly 4139 feet, in all of North American racing. Swenson is out front on Rendezvous Bowl enjoying his cushion, while the battle for second unfolds behind him.
When descending its always beneficial to have someone in front to key off of, just like mountain biking or road cycling. The person up front might as well have a target on their back! Rallying down at speeds approaching 45 to 50 mph and then shutting it down to negotiate technical mogul, death cookie sections, it’s a constant battle to feather the throttle and the brake while your legs are screaming at you to stay on the brakes! …but that’s not what wins races.
On the final 2,000 vertical feet down Lower Sublette Ridge, Scheefer and Wickenhauser made contact with French and passed him, with the young sniper Scheefer, showing everybody how to lay it down across refrozen mank, making large high speed GS turns, nearly skipping across the terrain.
Wickenhauser and French were in hot pursuit, but with no chance of closing the gap, Scheefer was fearless. At the bottom of the run it was everything one could do to carry some speed on to a catwalk below Union Pass Quad. It’s a long gradual hill that required 400 feet of painfully slow, V1 skating technique, just to make sure the racers were fully tapped out at the line.
The gaps were established on the last descent, and even though racers could see their opponents up in front, no one had the energy to close a gap down. At the finish line it was Swenson resting comfortably in first, Scheefer, the sniper in second, Wickenhauser in third and French fourth after holding second position for more than 90 percent of the race. Rounding out the top five was Ben Parsons out-dueling Carey Smith by two seconds at the line.
In the women’s race, it was Merrill across the line first for the national champion spot, with Amy Fulwyler in second and Kris Walker in third.
With 5,656 feet of descent and 5,633 feet of ascent, it’s one race not to miss—just don’t forget to bring your “guns” to this Wild West show.

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