I returned from McMurdo Station, Antarctica just in time to get in some good spring skiing here in the Vail Valley. I’ve lived in Vail for the past three winters and missed most of a superstar ski season by being away. While I was gone, friends here emailed me the updates which sounded something like this: twelve inches of new snow today…two feet this week…we’re getting slammed with snow…skiing powder again. It was enough to make any skier jealous. So I’ve been making up for lost time skiing at Vail and in the surrounding backcountry. I devoted all of March to last-minute training for a backcountry ski race, the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse, a 40-mile suffer-fest from Crested Butte to Aspen.
Training for this beast-of-a-race involved many ascents of Minturn’s Meadow Mountain on Nordic skis (yours truly on the summit, above).
My EMGT race partner Rich and I whittled down our time from the parking lot to the Meadow Mountain summit cabin to just under one hour and twenty minutes.
The view from the top of Meadow Mountain (above) made the lung-bleeding speed sessions worth it.
Other training involved skinning up Arrowhead in the evenings, as above with Rich and Tammy. On Nordic gear, the icy descent was often a screamer, but it did help me get better control on this set-up that we used in the race.
Rich’s birthday involved a social training day on Mt. Elbert, Colorado’s highest fourteener at 14,433 feet. We started early and got a glimpse of the peak in pink morning light.
The Elbert Crew made this a fantastic day out. Lisa and Tess were the sassy ladies kicking butt up this peak with a great group of guys–Billy, Eph, Carl, Kenny, Rich, and Marble—Carl’s superfit dog.
EMGT race day arrived, and Rich and I were thankful to complete our final gear check. For weeks, we obsessed over our gear, which included a list of required items such as a stove, tools, spare bindings, emergency/first-aid kit, avalanche gear, and pretty much all of the ten essentials.
The race started at midnight in Crested Butte. For the next several hours, we skied by headlamp, and we reached the Friend’s Hut in freezing temperatures just as the sun was making its way over the horizon. I slipped on ice and slid off of Star Pass…and was sort of broken mentally and physically by the experience of having to climb out, using my ski poles to keep me from falling further down the ravine.
After the Star Pass incident, I felt like the race ended up being more about finishing than racing, which was a bit disappointing. But…Rich and I did indeed finish the 2011 Elk Mountain Grand Traverse with smiles on our faces. At just under 16 hours, the EMGT was one of the most sustained physically painful things I’ve ever done in my life. Would I do it again? Yes—but only to race it next time…and I think I’d have to train all winter in the mountains (instead of the on Antarctica’s flats) to make that happen. Hey, EMGT: I’ll be back?