What a day….
As we drove to the start of the race in Snowmass, the storm’s intensity increased. Despite the March 1st date, it was actually raining, so heavily that our windshield wipers were on high as if we were driving through a summer thunder storm.
The rain was falling as snow higher on the mountain and the 6am race start was delayed to allow for more time to get the Highland Bowl avalanche control work completed. Rumors quickly spread that the Bowl might not open and the course would be re-routed.
At 6:30 a.m., about 100 teams of two began the race along the 26-mile course that gains 12,000 vertical feet. As we made our way up Burnt Mountain, the snow fell heavily. At the top, our gloves, shirts, and shells were soaked, the new snow was deep and getting deeper, and the winds picked up.
We all marched on…. We skied across the ridge to the top of Buttermilk and down Tiehack through 10 inches of wet powder. The asphalt bike path that we normally walk over to Highlands was snow-covered and could be skated. The 4,400 vertical foot climb up Highlands was the usual grunt.
By the time we approached the base of the Highland Bowl climb, enormous wind gusts forced Christy and I to layer-up with everything we had— shells, mitts, buffs, and goggles. We were told an alternate route down Mushroom was available if we didn’t want to battle the weather up to the Peak. We saw some racers opt for Mushroom, and others who decided it was all too much to bear were heading down the frontside to call it a day.
But when I asked Christy what she thought we should do, she rather expectedly replied “Head on up.” Of course. Why did I even ask?
It was as bad as the worst day we could remember. Unrelenting gusts forced people to take a knee, or risk getting blown over, and exposed skin quickly turned white. Eventually we were at the summit. By the time we skied down Full Curl, there was nearly two feet of untracked snow all the way down to the Deep Temerity chair.
With that behind us, the rest of the day seemed easy. Relatively speaking at least. The Congo Trail was in great shape and Midnight was the typical slog, but it was out of the wind. By the time we reached the Sundeck, it was dumping snow again. But it didn’t matter, it was the homestretch and we were just happy to cruise down the moguls of Walsh’s and Bingo Glades to the finish of this crazy day.
Between soaked gear and clothing, heavy snow squalls, and wind up on Highlands Bowl, it was definitely the most challenging conditions this race has seen. Eventually the Highlands Patrol had to close the Bowl all together. The stories of suffering and punishment, DNF’s, and all around slow finish times were shared all night at dinner and the awards.
Hats off to everyone who was out there and pressed on through the adverse conditions. And thank you to the Aspen Ski Company and ski patrollers that did everything they could to keep this day moving forward. It wasn’t easy. I’m pretty sure that people will use this year’s race as a measuring stick to which to compare all others.