Monday, February 4, 2013

Bridger Bowl Skin to Win race report 2013

Ripping skins in hot pursuit.  Photo: Bridger Bowl
After skipping both the Targhee and Whitefish races in exchange for two days of touring, it was time to get back to racing.  This is my fourth consecutive year at the Skin to Win race, and I always enjoy the community spirit and exceptional course at Bridger Bowl.  This year the field was thin, and it ended up being a battle between me and John Curry.  The condensed blow-by-blow was as follows:

The race kicks off with a LeMans start, which I botched.  A hard sprint put me just behind John Curry and just in front of Dave and a few other competitors.  By the time we hit the steep hill below the North Bowl road, the pack was John, me, and Dave within about 20 seconds of each other, then a large gap.  Dave fell off the back by about a minute on the North Bowl road, and I slowly fell behind John despite pushing about as hard as possible.  The ridge booter went OK, and I was about 45 seconds behind John at the top of Hidden Couloir.  I skied with semi-reckless abandon down Hidden and the Apron, and managed to catch John at the transition.  It was glaringly obvious that this would be a 2-man race, and John was proving to be a tough competitor.  
Women's winner Nikki Kimball cranking turns in Sluice Box.  Photo: Bridger Bowl

Unknown racers heading north - fun, technical ridge traversing is
one of the hilights of the race.  Photo: Bridger Bowl
John had a great transition, and booted out of sight up the Motor Room as I put my skins on and took in some calories.  Somehow, John levitated up the booter, emerging with a 90 second lead.  The skin track was (too) steep, and I made up some time on the skin back to the ridge.  During the climb to the ridge, I looked back and saw Dave about 2 minutes back - this is before his skins failed, and I would not see him again for the rest of the race.  I skied upper Sluice Box quickly, and came into the second transition as John was skinning out.  The second climb was also too steep, and I used all my steep skinning and reckless skiing tricks to close the gap to about 20 seconds at the third transition.  Keeping with the theme, the third skin track was steep and challenging, and I finally caught and briefly passed John on the ridge.  We traded spots again on the ridge, and I emerged at the top of the final short bootpack about 40 seconds behind.  My skis got caught in my pack, and I lost another 30 seconds fiddling with them before starting down the final run.  I was able to pass John at the bottom of the run, but he skated by me on the short uphill past the Slushman's lift, and I was never quite able to catch him.  In the end, John skated over the finish line 10 seconds ahead of me, and we both collapsed in exhaustion.  What a great battle, and a big congrats to John for pushing hard for the win.

John's account of the race can be found here.
Sporting a new pair of skis on the men's podium.  
Women's podium.  Nice job Leah!

This is the hardest I have ever raced, yet it was not quite enough to win.  Obviously, a little extra fitness would help, but I had several small gaffes which cost me the race.  First, I stepped out of my ski at the LeMans start.  Bad form.  Second and most significantly, my skis got caught below the lower loop of the ski carrying device twice, which cost me 1-2 minutes.  Nothing some climber's tape couldn't solve, but I should have addressed this issue prior to the race.  Finally, I lost a lot of time on the bootpacks.  This happened at Jackson as well.  Probably a combination of sub-par poling technique and sub-par aerobic animal status. 

There were a bunch of things which went extremely well.  First, I pushed hard the entire race, and felt I was moving much faster over the last third of the course than in the past.  Second, I added 1 cm of rise to my race bindings, and I think that payed off.  Most US race courses have long sections of too-steep groomers and skin tracks, and I think a little additional rise well offsets the sub-10 gram weight penalty and any loss of stride on the flats.  Finally, the new Dynafit race skis ski MUCH better than my old SR 7.0's.  As a non-mutant uphiller, it is nice to be able to make up a little time on the downhills.  

In the end, I shaved about 5 minutes off my previous best time.  I think with all the wallowing and steep skinning, the course was a little (3 minutes?) slower than in the past.  Not a bad showing, but I am convinced that there are a few minutes in there for improvement in the future.  

The women's field was fairly strong.  Nikki Kimball had a good showing despite just coming off surgery and fighting through some skin issues.  And a big congrats to Leah who had a great race and placed third.

The overall showing was quite small this year, with only about 15 racers in the pro division.  Many past racers were absent (the entire Jackson crew, Luke Nelson, and the entire Kalispell crew including Ben Parsons, Erich Peitzsch, and both Katie and Brandon French), and there presence was missed.  Also, Blake from Missoula opted out in favor of ski touring in the Bitterroot.  In retrospect, it looks like postponing the race by a day was detrimental to turnout.  Which is too bad, because this is one of the best courses in the US, and the folks at Bridger do a great job hosing the event.


  1. Looking to sell some boards for cheap? Well done.

  2. Are you kidding Brian? You've got plenty of aerobic chops. This was your year to win it, for sure. It was just your technical bobbles that cost you. It happens to all of us and is just a part of skimo racing, right? Keeps us coming back to find the elusive perfect race.
    That damn pack loop can be a problem. Simply shrinking it with tape like you said solves the problem. I've also seen skis shoot out the bottom of them which is equally shitty.

    Maybe you can convince the promoters to flatten out those skinners. Vexing, they are.

    Sad to miss the race this year but Bozo is a long way from AK. Looks like the weather was better than last year's sufferfest.
    Nice job on the fat skis. I sold my Justice from last year the day I got back from the race for $450. Nice.
    Looks like you're having a good season. Cheers.

  3. Thanks Brian - I'm standing by my lack of aerobic prowess stance since I slowly fell behind on every climb, but the bobbles surely didn't help.

    I did tell the organizers that the skinners are too steep, but I think they already know. This year the skin tracks took out several competitors in the form of failed skins from slipping backward.

    And yes, the season has been great in MT - about 90% of average with no bad warm spells, cold snaps, or persistent weak layers.