The US Ski Mountaineering Championship was held at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort on Saturday, March 20. A record field of 82 participants attacked a new, longer course. The resort had not seen much new snow in recent weeks before the race, providing fast, firm, challenging conditions for all the competitors.
The race started under cold, blue skies with a mass start up the first 3100′ climb of piste, cattrack and off-piste skinning. Skin selection was a bit difficult as the climb had a bit of everything. Most racers opted for a slightly grippier skin to keep from slipping on the upper, ungroomed section of the course. Toko team member Erich Wilbrecht tried to put his nordic skills and technique to work by kick-waxing his skis for the cattrack. Unfortunately, he had worn most of his wax off during the warm-up and didn’t get the kick he wanted on the flatter section. He valiantly persevered but decided that the time lost by taking skins off and on was not worth the time gained with the extra glide on the cattrack. The first descent was rock-hard bumps into Laramie Bowl, followed by another slick skin up a groomer. This ascent saw two drastically different styles depending on skin choice. Skins with superior grip were able to ascend directly while those with less traction were forced to make switchbacks. Neither method proved to be vastly quicker.
The second descent was more north-facing bumps. With fatigue creeping into the racers’ legs, the favored technique was to minimize turns by using the high-speed sideslip down the narrow run. Wax choice was not critical! Transitioning onto the third climb saw the field skinning to the top of the Bridger Gondola for the steep bootpack to the top of the Headwall. Ripping skins at the top of Chute 10a was definitely exciting as the chute rolls blindly over between two rock walls. This snow was firm but chalky enough to get an edge into, make a few turns then hit the gliding traverse under the cliffs to start skinning again.
The next climb took racers up Tensleep Bowl to the bootpack/ladder up Corbet’s Couloir. The long climbs and high altitude could be seen in the labored steps of all the racers. But the satisfaction of climbing out of the couloir into the sunshine on top of Rendezvous Bowl re-energized almost everyone for the 4100′ descent from top to bottom.
After suffering down the long ski to the base of the mountain with ears ringing and teeth hurting from clenching and jarring there was one final skin back up to South Pass Traverse. This climb up the lower face of the resort required mad skills to avoid rocks, bushes and the downside of steep, slick bumps. There was so little snow that these runs were actually closed the next day.
One final bump-riddled descent down Lander Bowl took the racers to the finish line.
Pete Swenson won the men’s pro division. He was flanked on the podium by Brandon French and Toko team member Cary Smith.
The women’s podium saw Monique Merrill on the top step, with Amy Fulwyler of Team Toko in second and Michela Adrian rounding out the top three.