Aspen Power of Four

Friday, April 29, 2011

"Sometimes you're the hammer, and sometimes you're the nail."

When organizers in Aspen announced the first ever Power of Four, a ski mountaineering race covering 27 miles from Snowmass to Ajax with over 12,000 feet of climbing, I was intrigued. An epic race in my  backyard? Yes, please. When my La Sportiva 
teammate Jason McGowin asked if I wanted to join him on a coed duo team, I didn't hesitate. Jason is a former member of the US Ski Mountaineering Team who raced the Pierra Menta the same year I did. He's a strong climber and an amazing descender. Racing with a new partner for the first time is always risky, but I knew Jason was a good guy and we'd have fun together.

The race started at the base of Snowmass at 7:15 am, and as usual, the pace was fast even though we had at least five hours of racing ahead of us. Our main rivals for the mixed division, Monique Merrill and Mike Kloser, started right next to us with Mike towing Mona from the line. Jason and I maintained our own comfortable pace and reached the top of the first climb alongside Mike and Mona. We all enjoyed some great turns through soft snow in the Sugar Bowls and skied strong into the next transition. As we were putting our skins on for the third climb, Jason asked if my  water was flowing because his had been frozen from the start. I offered him some of mine, but at that point we'd already been racing for almost two hours. That was our first red flag, but neither of us thought much of it.

We enjoyed a fun skin along the ridgeline to Buttermilk, then a high speed descent of Tiehack, followed by skate past the rec center and then a short run (!) on the paved bike path to the base of Highlands. Katherine, Jason's wife, passed off some much needed food and drinks and we started up again. I felt refreshed from a sandwich and some Coke, but Jason was really starting to feel the effects his early dehydration.

In my adventure racing career, I've been towed across the deserts of Abu Dhabi, through the forests of Quebec and up mountains in Mexico. It can seem demeaning at first, but a tow can help you over a slump and often just ensures you keep your teammate in sight. Jason and I were prepared with a tow system and I offered to help him up Highlands for a while. Unfortunately, Jason wasn't recovering and he stayed on tow all the way up the boot pack to the top of the Bowl. Despite our mutual suffering, we saw lots of friends who cheered us along (thanks Mike Schneiter, Andi, Kir and Penn!).

The descent down the gut of the bowl was great as usual and we seemed to be moving well after 
a short skin up the Grand Reverse and then the fast, narrow descent of the Congo Trail down to Castle Creek Road. As we dropped into the Congo Trail, Pete Swenson (race director) mentioned he thought it would be two more hours to the finish line.

Starting up Midnight Mine Road, I knew Jason felt horrible and was barely persevering. We took a few breaks and tried to get more electrolytes and food into Jason. Thankfully I had some extra Honey Stinger chews because they were about the only thing he could stomach. After about an hour and a half on the road with lots of breaks, Jason threw in the towel. He agonized about the decision, but it was clear he was done and I finally convinced him to turn around and get a ride back to town.

Jason told me to continue up the road and finish alone. Only two teams had passed us, so I pushed the pace a little and caught back up to Brian Edmiston and Mark Beardsley. Together, we crested a rise and saw the Sundeck indicating it was all downhill from there. Our legs were tired but we all pushed through the pain and finally crossed the finish line at 7 hours and 23 minutes.

I found out at the finish line from Jason's wife that the volunteers on Midnight Mine took one look at Jason and drove him straight to the hospital. By the time I got there to see him, he was already on his third bag of fluids, but he was in good spirits and feeling much better.

It was a tough race for Jason, but I'm proud of our combined effort and I actually felt pretty good throughout. It was an awesome, humbling race and I'm psyched to have finished. Congrats to Wick and Smith on their 
win and to all the teams that even attempted this race! Read a recap from the Aspen Times here and full race results here.

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