In two weeks Brighton Ski Resort will host the 11th annual Powder Keg, a backcountry race fest of speed, strength and endurance. Racers from all over the Wasatch will descend on Brighton for a weekend of uphill ski running glory. With Race, Rec and Heavy Metal (think Volant Spatulas with 1st generation Fritschis) divisions, backcountry types of all creeds are welcome to participate or cheer on their favorite competitors.
New this year is a Triple Crown, three-race format, beginning with a sprint race on Friday, the main event on Saturday, and a technical team race on Sunday. With three full days of sweat, spandex and skin glue, it’s the biggest event of its kind in the US. Race organizer Chad Brackelsberg believes the race has earned the extension. “It’s becoming more European, where some races consist of multi-day events.”
The race has shown a 10-15% increase every year since its inception in 2002. Last year saw 165 racers at the starting line. And with the upcoming three-day format, many more out of state racers are expected to make the pilgrimage to Brighton. “It’s a lot easier for people to drive eight hours for three races instead of just one,” says Brackelsberg. He believes most top racers will be doing all three events, climbing 16,000 feet over the course of the weekend.
Day One takes place Friday, March 8th, a sprinting race the event poster describes as “Fun!”—a quaint, lung buster that shoots up 350 vertical feet (per lap). It’s set up like a time trial, with qualifying and semi-final rounds that culminate in final heats where several racers go boot to boot for the fastest uphill time. Fun is the definitely the best word to describe this race.
Saturday is the classic skimo race, an 11-mile course with six climbs totaling 6,500 feet. Because Utah has certain rules governing where courses are allowed, the Powder Keg takes racers beyond the resort’s gates to some of the Wasatch’s most beautiful backcountry. “It’s a very scenic race,” say Brackelsberg, “with a wide array of features and great terrain.”
On hand Saturday will be other backcountry related activities, including a beacon search contest (for prizes), as well as an avalanche dog and strategic shoveling demo by Brighton Ski Patrol. Members of the US National Skimo Team, including SCARPA athletes, will also offer clinics on techniques and transitions.
Sunday’s Tech Teams Race is modeled after European events where teams of two work together on route finding, tackling much more technical terrain, and finishing the course relatively close to one another. “15 seconds or less,” maintains Brackelsberg. The Powder Keg “Tech Team” course raises the stakes with an extra 2,000 feet of climbing, including three boot packing sections, one of which a rope is required. In total, there are eight climbs and six summits reached before crossing the finish line.
Three solid races back to back are surely going to get people’s attention. But isn’t that the whole point? “It’s kind of an experiment,” says Brackelsberg. “We’re going to find out if the effort is worth the return.” If you are at Brighton on Saturday, March 9th, stop by the SCARPA tent to check out the latest SCARPA and Ski Trab products.