Our big local races are just around the corner and we needed to log some miles. And since you never go out as hard on training days as you do when it’s a real race, we figured it was the right thing to do. Sure, we could have spared ourselves some suffering by opting for the recreational or advanced course, but we all know that the more you put into something, the more you get out of it. So Christy and I, along with a whole bunch of other friends from Aspen, lined up for a long, hard day at the elite start of the COSMIC ski mountaineering (skimo) race at Vail’s new Teva Winter Games.
About 20 miles and 8,000 vertical feet later, we were done. The race, in its first year, proved not only to be really challenging, but was also a surprisingly cool tour of Vail.
Hats off to the organizers who put it all together, I think they’ve created something that’s here to stay. I wrongly assumed the course would involve lots of inbounds skinning and skiing. Instead, the creative circumnavigation of the massive Vail mountain-plex was often outside the ski area boundaries and had some surprisingly fun descents along the way. The long finish to Golden Peak had us skiing the endless run of moguls on Highline, followed by a 10-minute uphill bootpack, that then led to an icy, 30-gate, giant slalom training course. It was a cool finish on tired legs. At 5+ hours for much of the Aspen group (John Gaston and Brian Johnson were closer to the front), it was the perfect mix of suffering and fun.
Or at least that’s how I’m looking at it now, in hindsight.
Because it’s hard to read from the map, the basic description for the elite course was this:
Head up from Lionshead, pass the top of the gondola and go all way up to the top of Game Creek Chair and out to Sundown Bowl. Descend Sundown Bowl, leaving the ski area to the right, and head into the tight aspen glades, skiing all the way down to the creek. Cross Pete’s Bridge and skin upvalley, as you near the ski area boundary, turn right and head up to the looker’s right of Earl’s Bowl, switchbacking to the long ridge of Blue Sky Basin. Once on the ridge, follow it to the summit of Blue Sky, then to the top of Pete’s Express Lift. Descend the ski run to the skiers right, then drop (right) into some steep cliffy terrain (sidecountry?), eventually following the bobsled-like run back down to the valley. Skin up and around Outer Mongolia Bowl, again just outside the ski area boundary, and at the high point of the ridge, pull skins and descend. Climb and descend for one more short bit back towards Two Elk Lodge. From there, make your way to the moguls of Highline, and then to Golden Peak and follow the race training course to the finish at the base. Have a beer.