“It was quite the beast”
Seventy teams signed up for the inaugural Power of Four ski mountaineering race in Aspen on Saturday, March 5. By the time the event was done, the Power of Four left almost everyone powerless.
Of the 70 teams that signed up for the full course that day, only 37 finished.
A Gunnison Valley team of Bryan Wickenhasuer and Brian Smith won the men’s team race comfortably and even they were pummeled by the race.
“It was quite the beast,” says Smith. “It was one of the hardest winter races I’ve ever done. I wasn’t quite ready for what we undertook.”
The 27-mile course linked the four Aspen ski areas together with 12,800 total feet of climbing and long downhills complete with a single track sized tree-lined section, open groomed slopes and a descent off the top of Aspen Highlands.
“It’s like skiing four complete laps on Emmons, car-to-car,” explains Wickenhauser.
Smith set the pace off the start at the bottom of the Snowmass ski area and Wickenhauser held on for the ride.
“You just put your head down, get out in front and try to hang on to Smithy,” explains Wickenhauser. “As long as I don’t puke or blow up, we’re going to win.”
The two never felt the heat from the rest of the teams behind them and, for all intents and purposes, they had a pretty smooth race.
About the only mishap came when they skied off the top of Aspen Highlands after a brutally long climb.
“The Highlands vertical was just astronomical,” says Smith. “We were told at the bottom it was about a 40-minute climb but it was an hour, 20 minute climb. By the time we hit Highlands Bowl my legs were done.”
Smith crashed in the bowl but recovered to finish the descent without taking another beater even when bombing through the tree-lined exit off the ski area.
“Given how tired we were it was dangerous,” says Smith. “I had to stop once to get my legs back.”
“It was like coming down the treed section below Friends Hut,” adds Wickenhauser. “Four feet wide with trees on both sides and nowhere to really dump speed. It was super fun but dicey.”
Following a section on road that was “skiable yet questionable,” the course took teams up the Midnight Mine Road to the top of Aspen Mountain for the final descent.
“The only stinger was the slog up Midnight Mine Road,” says Wickenhasuer. “It’s just a long, slow slog at the end of the race.”
Smith and Wickenhauser finished the race in six hours, 13 minutes and seven seconds, almost 20 minutes ahead of the second-place team and completely crushed.
“When I got to the end I was so blown,” says Smith.
Gunnison Valley resident Jon Brown teamed up with a skier from out of town, Jan Koles, to finish in fourth place in a time of six hours, 32 minutes and 19 seconds. A Crested Butte team of Pat O’Neill and Jake Jones rallied on the final climb and descent to take seventh place with a time of seven hours, 13 minutes and 23 seconds. Brothers Charlie and Max Nuttelman teamed up to finish in 12th place with a time of seven hours, 57 minutes and 43 seconds.
Local Jari Kirkland teamed up with an out-of-town athlete Eva Hagen to take the women’s team title in a time of seven hours, 58 minutes and nine seconds, and a Crested Butte team of Stevie Kremer and Marshall Thomson finished second in the coed division with a time of seven hours, 42 seconds.
“It was a great, tough race,” says Smith. “It had a little bit of everything. I’ll definitely be back to do it again.”
Next stop for the local endurance ski racers will be the Grand Traverse on Friday, March 25 —all except Smith, who is headed to Finland for the Winter Triathlon World Championships that same weekend.
Gunnison Valley duo of Smith and Wickenhauser takes Power of Four
“It was quite the beast”