Kirkland and Scheefer open randonée racing season at Grand Targhee Classic

Both skiers headed to World Championships in March

It’s that time of year again for the local contingent of iron legs and human lungs. The randonnée, or ski mountaineering, racing season has begun.
The season opened for locals Jari Kirkland and Travis Scheefer last weekend as they headed to Cowboy Country, Wyo., to compete in the Grand Targhee Ski Mountaineering Classic.
The event is one of the last two opportunities for athletes to qualify for the U.S. ski mountaineering team headed to Andorra in March for to 2010 Andorra ISMF Ski Mountaineering World Championships.
The top three men and top three women from Grand Targhee automatically qualify for the team, so the event drew some of the top randonnee racers in the nation.
Scheefer qualified last year with a second place finish at the US Ski Mountaineering National Championships in Jackson Hole, Wyo. in March and admitted that the pressure was off him in Grand Targhee.
“I didn’t have the best race but I haven’t done anything fast yet,” says Scheefer. “I went to Targhee more for training.”
Kirkland, on the other hand, was gunning for a spot on the team and looked to check off that goal in Targhee rather than wait until the final qualifying race at Sunlight Ski area this weekend.
“I didn’t want to leave it up to chance at Sunlight,” says Kirkland.
The racecourse climbed a total of 5,200 vertical feet spread out over three climbs with three descents.
A lead group of 10 racers took off from the start and stayed fairly close through the first two climbs and first descent. It was when the course headed out of the resort boundaries that the field started to spread out.
The course took racers into the snow cat skiing operation area for a 2,200-foot descent and return climb, putting the skier’s abilities to the test off-piste.
“It was actually a little tricky to ski on those little skis,” says Scheefer. “It was punchy snow. Everybody’s legs were burning at the bottom of that.”
The race was won on the climb up after the descent as the leaders started to pull away.
Pete Swenson won the race and Scheefer eased his way to a ninth-place finish.
Kirkland sized up her competition prior to the race only to find out that Monique Merrill, who already qualified for the team, already had a couple of world cup races under her belt this year.
“I knew I was just going to have to let her go,” says Kirkland.
That left Kirkland in a battle for second place, and while she out-climbed her opponent, she lost second place on the descents and finished in third, punching her ticket to Andorra as part of the U.S. team.
“At least now I know what to work on,” says Kirkland. “It’s nice to know it’s a done deal at this point.”
Both Kirkland and Scheefer will now join the Colorado Ski Mountaineering Cup, or COSMIC, race series which kicks off on Saturday, January 16 with the Heathen Challenge at Sunlight Mountain.

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