Wickenhauser takes COSMIC randonnee series win at Loveland

This is not my house, this is not my wife, how did I get here?
        —Talking Heads

It was a strange stop to the fifth event on the Cosmic Randonnee Series here in Colorado. The two prior years at Loveland proved to be very challenging, due in part to the weather… You are competing on the Continental Divide! It’s the same date on the calendar, but mild weather, no wind whatsoever and a slightly different course design.


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The weather was not the only noticeably absent item at the start—apparently there were some “other races” going on in the Western United States to pull a large Crested Butte contingent (and top two series points leaders) away from this week’s start line.
On to the action. Starting at 10,800 feet, competitors ran with skis and poles in hand through a 150-foot tunnel below I-70. As daylight reappeared at the end of the tunnel they finally clipped into their bindings and skinned up to the top of chair 8. Out in the lead was Michael Hagen, followed by Bryan Wickenhauser, Jake Jones and Jason McGowain. After the first transition it was a blistering fast descent down a groomed slope to the base of Chair 8 for another repeat climb.
Now on to the fun terrain. At the top of the second climb it was Wickenhauser out in the lead, followed by Hagen and Jones. The descent was down Sundown Chutes/Splashdown, where the second re-skin took place and on up to the top of Chair 9, a.k.a. Patrol Bowl. Some wind-buffed sun-crust and steep pitches began to give the race a backcountry feel, plus the racers were finally standing on top of the Divide now at about 12,700 feet, on up to the high point of the race at 13,010 feet.
The course from here took the racers on a ridge-top tour (departing from years past where competitors were asked to do one descent/climb along the ridge) across the likes of Primer Bowl, Castle Rock, Jelly Roll, Super Bowl and Wild Child (skiing N to S on the resort). It was still open to debate as to what would be faster—leave your skins on or rip skins and V1 up (or boot pack up) all the short climbs? In the end, it was all a wash. Bryan maintained his several-minute lead across the ridge tops and dropped into the off-piste shot below Wild Child.
This is where downhill skiing proficiency can help in the race as 160 cm skis, and F1’s can get you only so far: Who’s got the guts to ski down wind-hammered variable crust! Gaps are created on the ups for sure, but folks can get chewed up quickly if they display any fear on the descents!
Unfortunately for Jake Jones, this is where he hoped to close the gap on second-place Michael Hagen, but as he closed his F1 buckle wire broke and shut down any aspirations of chasing down Hagen on the descent.
Descending back down above Chair 6 and onto a run called Keno and into a meadow where competitors had to apply their skins for one last skin up towards the north-facing fabled terrain above Loveland Pass (Hwy. 6). With a commanding lead over second, Wickenhauser topped out of the woods above Chair 1 where competitors ripped their skins and skied down 100 vertical feet to the base of a boot pack up, Over the Rainbow terrain. With unsupportable sugar snow, mixed in with a dash of dust on crust it was an interesting 200 vertical-foot boot pack…. some real ski mountaineering if only for a bit, and at the end of the race as your legs are pumped … it had a “good burn”!
After getting into the Dynafits on a wind blown ridge, legs pumped, tank on empty and eyes bugged… it’s tough to get into the toe pieces, but ya get it done. Then it’s only last descent down lower Over the Rainbow through the refrozen, wind-hammered, bumped-out terrain as fast as humanly possible (no one’s judging the turns …. this isn’t a freestyle competition) and finish just above the base area maintenance building for a cold one.
In just over two hours it was Bryan Wickenhauser in first, Michael Hagen second and Jake Jones third, Jason McGowain fourth and John Crowley fifth.
In the women’s race division, unfortunately Monique Merrill was the only competitor with the other ladies getting pulled into these “other” events across the Western United States. Men’s Heavy Metal winner went to Patrick Mullen, who now must be looking to upgrade gear and play with “the big boys.”
Stats for the race were 4,659 feet up and 4,656 feet down, going counter-clockwise around the whole Loveland Resort.
….and then came the wind and snow!
The Cosmic Series takes a break with series organizer Pete Swenson taking a U.S. crew over to France for the Pierra Menta March 12-15; see www.pierramenta.com. For those sticking around the Rockies, head to Alta this Saturday, March 14 for the Powder Keg or Crested Butte’s Town Series this Thursday, March 12.

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