By Bryan Wickenhauser
The US Ski Mountaineering National Championships is the culmination of randonee races taking place all across the US, including both coasts but with a concentration of racing in Colorado and the Rocky Mountains.
To appreciate the course you have to understand the terrain at Jackson Hole and the weather leading up to race day. The preceding two days prior to the race saw very balmy, sunny days with cool, clear nights. The terrain is legendary from the Crags to Corbet’s Couloir … all a great test of any great skiers’ ability.
Race day saw a coming together of what can probably be considered the deepest field ever assembled in the nine years of the National Championships at Jackson Hole. Almost all of the big guns from Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana and even a few strong Canadians to top it off!
With the prior day’s high temperatures in the 50s and cold night leaving a variable chatter death cookie, refrozen crust for athletes to deal with, racers awoke to scary and technical conditions on race day. To top it off, the course featured two boot packs and over 5,600 vertical feet of total climbing. Not only would conditions be scary, but we were going to be tired to boot!
Off the starting line, Monique Merrill (Dynafit) blitzed into the women’s lead. Pete Swenson (Ski Trab), Bryan Wickenhauser (Goode/C.A.M.P.), Travis Scheefer (Goode), Brandon French (Ski Trab), & Ben Parsons formed a lead men’s pack up the first climb to the top of the Après Vous Mountain (2,170 ft). After a quick descent down a groomer to the second skin change, Pete Swenson led a charge like he was shot out of a cannon leaving the rest of the men’s field to battle for second. Brandon, Travis & Bryan fought a technical battle skinning up the Crags to Sheridan Bowl (~1,800 ft).
The first technical descent down refrozen the death cookie crust (on a run in the Crags called C1) brought the men to the first boot pack with no changes in positions. The boot pack up Casper Bowl (~1,600 ft) brought the athletes to the top of the Headwall skiing and past the famous Coombs run before traversing across and down into Ten Sleep Bowl to the base of the famous Corbet’s Coulior.
A 900 foot skin brought the chase pack into Corbet’s where Bryan passed Travis before tackling the vertical ladder topping out the climb up the coulior. Brandon French in second, Bryan Wickenhauser third, Travis Scheefer fourth. All tight except for Pete Swenson who was already 200 feet up Corbet’s when the chase pack pulled into the boot pack. Untouchable!
Legs are throbbing, lungs are busting, but the racers still had to face the longest descent in all of the North American ski mountaineering races (4139 ft) before crossing the finish line. Pete is cruising the descent enjoying his cushion as a battle for second place unfolds behind him.
When descending its always beneficial to have someone in front of you to key off of (just like mountain biking or road cycling). The person up front might as well have a target on their back. Rallying down at speeds approaching 50 mph and then abruptly shutting it down to negotiate technical mogul, death cookie sections, these descents force racers to feather the throttle and slam on the brakes with screaming legs. It’s an epic battle to keep hitting the gas.
On the final 2,000 vertical foot section down Lower Sublette Ridge, Travis and Bryan made contact with Brandon and passed him. Then Travis laid down the law negotiating the frozen death cookie terrain like a cool, calm sniper poised for the kill shot. He skipped across the crusty terrain making huge high speed GS turns creating a gap leading into the final catwalk that neither Bryan nor Brandon could close.
At the finish line it was Pete Swenson, the cannon, resting comfortably in 1st, Travis Scheefer, the sniper in 2nd, Bryan Wickenhauser in 3rd and Brandon French 4th. Rounding out the top five was Ben Parsons who out-dueled Carey Smith by two seconds at the line!
In the women’s race, Monique Merrill was first, with Amy Fulwyler in second and Kris Walker in third.
In Men’s Heavy Metal, Davey Mitchell took first over Tobin Stegman. Jonathan King finished third only 17 seconds behind!
Women’s Heavy Metal saw Jessica Cochrane beating Katie French to the line.
The gaps in the lead packs are closing. The 2009 US Ski Mountaineering National Championships certainly saw the usual suspects stepping up to the podium, but with gaps as tight as two seconds it is anyone’s guess what next season might hold!
Special thanks to TetonAT.com and Dave Bowers for images and coverage. View full race results here: http://jacksonrandoneerace.blogspot.com/