By mid March, West Yellowstone, Montana has enough snow that sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the roof of a house and the lawn in front of it. The beautiful seclusion of the town accompanied by a welcoming coffee at Free Hell-n-Wheel during the “rest of the season” outside the West Yellowstone Ski Festival are reason enough to drive half-way across the country for a visit. A fun ski marathon makes it an easy choice.
I raced the Yellowstone Rondezvous for the first time last year in 2008. In the last 48 hours I’d flown from Jackson, WY to Tucson, AZ to buy a new car and drive it home via a stop in West Yellowstone. Since my bank’s check took a day longer to go through than I’d expected, I ended up with just enough time to get six hours of sleep in Idaho and buy two breakfast burritos before the start of the race. I’ll never forget the next two and a half hours of gut-bursting and simultaneous sugar at altitude.
At 6667 feet, the hilly Rendezvous Ski Trails hold the Yellowstone Rendezvous Race in mid march every year. It has a very home grown feel, and crossing the finish line you are likely to hear nothing more than how crazy you are to do such a long race from the announcer, while appropriately falling to your knees and begging your body for forgiveness.
The race includes rolling terrain but plenty of challenging climbs and fast flats on those terrifically groomed trails, the many transitions making for fun skating over the two lap course if you can hold your body together. There are 2K, 5K, 10K, 25K classic, 25K and 50K races, and the vibe is focused on bringing in the end of a long racing season with a bang.
This year’s race was held last weekend on March 7th, and Laura McCabe made a race of it, giving the faster men a run for their money. Laura writes the following:
It was wonderful to be back at the Rendezvous after a 10-year hiatus. It was gratifying seeing old friends and the hard-core rocky and intermountain contingent still getting after it. The rendezvous had been the first marathon of my skiing career so it has always been a special race for me every time I enter. I was fortunate enough to have won the event in 1993, ’97, ’98.
We awoke on Saturday to ½ inch of fresh cold powder on top of a firm base with the air temps about 15 degrees F. Jack Hart and Fabian Blondeau confirmed these conditions, as they got up early to test skis and wax bringing information out to the skiers. It was yet another example of a beautiful, winter West Yellowstone day.
At the start I squished my self between two fast skiers, an old Olympic and Factory Team mate Erik Wilbrecht and the other a fast friend from Park City, David Knoop. I knew if I got next to them I could tuck behind in the double pole and secure a spot in the field. The cannon fired and off we went. I was fortunate again to realize that my one pair of next year’s Solomon skate skis with a 615b Ultra Tune grind and fast Swix LF4-FC7 wax to be able to hang with the pack of the top 6 men until about 35 k. The winds were gusty at times and I was not pulling so I held on for the ride. It was lucky for me this day that the men were not skiing at there usual fast pace. At 37 k Erik cheered nicely for me to hang on, as I was still skiing in the back basking in the draft of the pull. However, it was also at that point the men decided they did not want me around anymore Erik, Jon and Barry decided to pick up the pace a little, and off the back I went. Luckily I had a partner in Joe Jensen and we were able to ski the rest of the race back and forth together, Joe being generous in the end, letting me pull ahead to the finish line.
It was a fun race, I felt fortunate to be back in the Rockies my mind floating back to so many skiing memories and racing with great old friends. Thanks to all the organizers and volunteers for continuing to make the Rendezvous happen. It is always a pleasure to spend time in West Yellowstone.
The following were the top finishers in the 50K:
1 Michael Brothers, Monument CO 2:30:04.7
2 Barry Makarewicz, Salt Lake City UT 2:30:42.7
3 Erich Wilbrecht, Jackson WY 2:30:43.1
4 Jon Engen, Ketchum ID 2:30:59.3
5 Jonathon Rulseh, Bozeman MT 2:31:12.1
6 Gunnar Kristiansen, Bozeman MT 2:32:42.7
7 Overall-1st Female – Laura McCabe 2:34:34.7
8 Joseph Jensen, Boise ID 2:34:36.2
13-Overall 2nd Female Sarah Max, Bend OR 2:40:32.0
24-Overall 3rd Female Nikki Kimball, Bozeman MT 2:48:44.2
From the race web site:
“The Rendezvous Race is the culmination of cross country ski racing in our region and, as the name implies, it is a reunion of old timers and new comers alike who have trained and skied on our trail system for years or who are skiing here for the first time.”