San Juan Rando Race

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Individual Race turns into a to team effort to find the Finish

 At 7800 hundred feet it was just a light drizzle, but as we wound our way up and over Red Mountain Pass from Ouray to Silverton it quickly turned to snow. The 2nd Annual San Juan Rando Race was held 6 miles south of Silverton on Molass Pass. Pulling into the parking lot just after 7am, with the glow of excitement on familiar faces, we jumped out of the car and shared the joy with fellow racers. It was becoming a little socked in, but not bad, so we all lined up at the start line. Ready, set, go.... we were off. The pace was about fast as usual, but it felt faster. It must be the beginning of the end of the season.



Right before the start of the race I clicked my skis off and tried on Chris Kroger's new lightweight La Sportiva skis; I was thinking about how light they felt so when I switched back to my skis, I forgot to lock into tour mode. On the first climb I hit some uneven ice and my ski popped off and started sliding back down the hill. I was lucky there was a very kind man behind me that caught it for me. As I put my ski back on I started to think about how quickly this season has escaped me. Then I remembered I was racing and stepped it up again to catch up to the men in front.

I heard there were some incredible couloirs on this course and I couldn't wait to drop into them. As we came to the cusp of the first climb the visibility was decreasing dramatically. I could see the walls of the couloir but couldn't quite distinguish the degree of the aspect. So with a little side slipping, I felt the aspect then made some quick turns through the steep rock walls. After several tight turns the couloir opened up and I could see someone in front of me, so I followed him to the next transition. There were four of us at the first uphill transition and it was becoming complete white-out conditions. I followed the men up the second couloir to a boot pack. There was a little vegetation and it helped break up the vertigo of the feeling of being inside a ping-pong ball.

As I came to the top of the second climb there were four racers coming back down with Pete Swenson, the COSMIC race director who was calling off the race due to lack of visibility. At this point we all grouped up and turned our skis downhill. Meeting up at the bottom of the couloir collecting other racers along the way to insure no-one was eaten up by the great white monster. The wind was becoming fiercer and blowing strong so everyone started sharing their extra gloves, wind jackets, and buffs to make sure everyone was properly covered. About half the racers were getting cold or were over it and decided to head back down. My husband, Mark, a man of adventure yelled out "we didn't get all dressed up for nothing, let's finish this!" With his motivation, and the reluctant willingness of another who knew the course, a few of us were off into the great white to finish the race. Back up another couloir we struggled as our skis kept sliding out on the steep wind scorched hillside. As a team of six we reached the summit and followed the red flags towards a tight steep couloir. It was full of fresh powder and the skiing was amazing. After the rocks disappeared back into the hillside, the whiteout again engulfed us. I would not of known which direction to go so I was happy to have the team. Up and over a few hills, dropped us back into the trees. It was nice on the eyes to see some green. In the distance we could see the finish, so back into race mode we all pointed it though the finish banners.

We found the finish as one big team. What I love about these races is the camaraderie. Sure we are all competitive and love to push our bodies and minds to their limits, but when it all breaks down everyone was there for each other: to encourage, to support, to share warm clothes, and to help bring everyone home safely. It was not the day I had expected when I woke up that morning, but it is a day I won't forget. I can't wait to come back next year to take in the views and see those couloirs we all skied in a whiteout.


Good friend and fellow athlete Chris Kroger and I at the finish

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