Bryan Wickenhauser races for Team GO-CB, a ski mountaineering team sponsored by SCARPA. Important to him that athletes, especially those with European racing experience, give back to their sport and produce high-caliber events, he was the race director for last weekend’s U.S. Ski Mountaineering National Championships. He believes it helps the U.S. compete on a level playing field with Europe. Taking a quick breather before the Grand Traverse next week, Wick recapped the fun at the National Champs.
For the first time ever, the United States Ski Mountaineering Association (USSMA) moved the skimo flagship event from Jackson Hole to Crested Butte Mountain Resort. Both ski towns have great ski touring cultures and phenomenal terrain for our sport.
Our three goals of this event (and the USSMA, in general) are:
- Move the event around every few years to keep it fresh and exciting, exposing new athletes to the sport
- Add a technical rope section (often prevalent in European races)
- Incorporate a three day format that will allow the racer to compete in three separate disciplines
Crested Butte took those goals and ran with them. For athletes, the anticipation of the Guides Ridge, a roped, 800-foot arête at the top of Mount Crested Butte, posed the biggest anxiety. Plus, the snow conditions proved challenging for skinning up the mountain. The snow was firm, weeding out those whose technique wasn’t flawless.
The first discipline of the three-day event was the Vertical Race. Under a sunny evening sunset, the athletes climbed a rolling 1,500-foot course, with the last 300 feet on a 37 to 40-degree pitch. It tested the mettle of racers’ techniques and two locals, J. Marshall Thompson and SCARPA athlete Stevie Kremer, took the National Championships title and coveted champion jackets.
On day two, the Individual Race showcased the Guides Ridge. It required the athletes to carry a via ferrata kit and a hand ascender to negotiate the technical element. Those skiers with a climbing background flashed the rope section and rallied the 5,100 feet of vertical to the finish line. A few terrified tears were shed by the inexperienced, but Tom Goth (Salt Lake City, Utah) and Janelle Smiley (Jackson Hole, Wyo.) took the wins.
The final discipline is modeled after the true spirit of backcountry travel – always ski with at least one other skier! The Team Race took the racers up the Guides Ridge for the last time and in the end, J. Marshall Thompson (Crested Butte, Colo.) and SCARPA athlete Scott Simmons (Durango, Colo.) took the title for the men. SCARPA athletes Jari Kirkland and Stevie Kremer took it for the women.
In the end, there were no injuries, which is the race director’s biggest goal. Thanks to Crested Butte Mountain Resort, the event was harrowing and fun. We can’t wait to come back next year.