Frigid temps pummel athletes
After a fairly innocuous opening day to the two-day ski mountaineering (skimo) race weekend in and around Jackson Hole, Wyo. last weekend, skimo athletes were subjected to the “Arctic vortex” on day two, dropping some racers to their knees in fits of frostnip and even frostbite.
Four skimo athletes from the Gunnison Valley made it through the two-day, three-stage race series dubbed the Wyoming Randonnee Roundup relatively unscathed, with Stevie Kremer winning the women’s title.
The event was the second stop of the United States Ski Mountaineering Association (USSMA) qualifier points series. The series determines who will represent the United States at the World Ski Mountaineering Championships next winter.
The weekend kicked off on Saturday with a “short” race at Grand Targhee taking athletes through a course with 5,000 vertical feet of climbing.
Kremer established herself on the scene, immediately winning the opening race.
“The course was what I love, steep uphills but on groomers,” says Kremer. “For the most part everything went smooth.”
Racers were then given some time to recover before heading to Snow King Ski Resort that evening for a sprint race.
The course took skiers on three loops of a sprint course that including all aspects of skimo racing, just in a confined area. As a result, skimo racers redlined it from start to finish.
“It was fun—the lights were on and everyone was excited to try out something different,” says Kremer. “It was basically 25 minutes of all-out torture.”
Kremer maintained her overall lead, winning the sprint race that evening. Everyone retired for the evening with the big race at Jackson Hole looming on the near horizon.
The race at Jackson Hole is infamous for a lot of vertical—8,000 to be exact—and an uphill tour of the famed Corbett’s Couloir, including a bootpack and ladder climb through the cornice at the top.
Now it’s famous for something else—frigid temperatures. While the start was nothing horrible, reports of strong winds had race organizers warning skimo racers of –20 degree temperatures at the top.
“Warming up at the bottom wasn’t so bad,” says Kremer. “I was feeling okay—my fingers were a little cold.”
While the latest in skimo gear has windbreakers available in a stuff sack on a belt that allows for quick deployment, Kremer made the mistake of putting hers on upside down. So, when she went to put it on, it proved fruitless and rather than stop to address the situation, she plodded on.
“I hate stopping unless it’s absolutely necessary,” explains Kremer. “So I just left it alone and figured maybe it would make me go faster. The top was really cold but I just pushed through.”
Meanwhile, race volunteers up top were stopping racers on a regular basis to check their health, and some racers were forced to stop with frostbite.
After dropping back down out of the wind, Kremer was in control and suffered only one mishap. Fortunately, it happened at a fortuitous time.
“I lost a skin on the final climb but it was pretty flat where it happened,” says Kremer. “I lucked out where it happened.”
Kremer cruised through to the finish to win the final stage and the overall race series.
“I got lucky,” says Kremer. “I had such nervous expectations but it didn’t turn out as bad as I had heard. For me, the longer the race, the better I feel and I felt better the more I climbed. I got lucky.”
Bradley Richmond started out the weekend slow in the first two races but crushed the Jackson Hole course to place third and finish fifth overall.
On the men’s side of things, Jon Brown placed fifth overall and Marshall Thomson placed sixth.
The local skimo contingent will now return to the COSMIC series and head over to Ski Sunlight this weekend for the Heathen Challenge.