Sunday, February 2, 2014

Bridger Bowl Skin to Win - 2014 Race Report

This year's iteration of the Skin to Win race was fun as always, but first, a public service announcement for all randonee racers within driving distance:

The Skin to Win is one of the best courses I have raced.  Endless technical skinning, challenging descents, and miles of ridgeline traversing are the highlights. The resort does a great job hosting the event, the prizes are generous, and the food is good. I would highly encourage anyone within striking distance to put this event on their calendar for next year, especially strong backcountry skiers in Bozeman and Missoula, Canadians, Jacksonites, and SLC folks.

The race itself was great. I had a pre-race crisis when the cord closure on my ski boots exploded just a few minutes before the starting gun, but Reed from Bozeman had a spare cord and bailed me out.  Thanks Reed!

The blow by blow was as follows:
The LeMans start always shakes things up, and Nate Brown was first off the line, I was second, and everyone else left in a group.  I was briefly in the lead before Ben Parsons blazed by.  Knowing he would be fast, I let him go, and settled into a bright but sustainable pace.  Alan Adams passed me before the North Bowl road, and John closed in but didn't pass until the top of the road.  I transitioned to the bootpack mid-way in a group of 5, and we all hammered up the bootpack.  I was able to maintain position, and caught Alan at the top of Hidden.  Alan and Dave got out of the transition before me, but I was able to pass them both in Hidden couloir with some aggressive and slightly impolite skiing.  Dave and I charged down through cut up powder on the Apron, and somehow managed to stay on our feet. We transitioned with John and moved as a group up the Motor Room bootpack. John got out about 30 seconds ahead of me, and I got out just ahead of Dave. I think Dave started having skin troubles, because I would not see him for the rest of the race. I was running full width nylon skins, which allowed me to almost catch John on the way-too-steep skin track up Bridger Gullies. Sluice Box skied well. I think John was getting face shots. John wisely switched to nylon skins, but he had to rummage through his pack to get them, which allowed me to get out of the transition just ahead of him. The third climb reverses the Right Side/Tight Squeeze exit track, and is super steep and challenging, and I was able to work my steep skinning magic and open a 50 second gap on John to the ridge.  I pushed hard up the ridge to the Nose transition, where Becca was working.  Thanks for volunteering, Becca! The Nose skied well, and I got out of the transition about a minute ahead of John. Using my "if you don't feel like you are about to die, you should go faster" mantra, I pushed hard up the last climb, and focused on skiing smoothly along the technical ridgeline all the way to Slashman's. At this point, I was pretty much in no-man's land. It would take gear failure or an especially magnificent crash to catch Ben, and John was out of sight behind me, so I throttled back a notch and focused on not making any mistakes.  Soon enough, I was bombing down the last run and trying to skate efficiently on the long cat track finish.  The little uphill stinger was painful as always, but I was soon over the line, in second place, and glad to be done. John came in about 2 minutes later, then Dave, Nate Brown, and Alan, with tales of epic skin failures.

Starting photo, with everyone pondering how much they are willing to suffer.

Results in hours.minutes

1 Adrian Michela 3.02
1 Parsons Ben 2.03
2 Story Brian 2.08
3 Curry John 2.10
5 Hoffman David 2.19
4 Brown Nate 2.19
6 Bestwick Michael 2.23
7 Adams Alan 2.27
8 Watson Reed 2.30
9 Magajna Joe 3.20
10 Witt Jeff 3.29
11 Wood Edward 3.18

I had a great race. Even pacing, adequate fueling, just enough clothing, and strong skiing all went off without a hitch. Transitions were slow, but that is kind of the way of it. I have not been as motivated to train hard as in years past, so it was encouraging to see that my fitness has not fallen off too much.

Ben took the lead early on, and pretty much skied his own race out in front. Strong work Ben! Were it not for skin carnage, it would have been a battle between about 5 of us the whole way. John gave a good fight, as always. Thanks John! The race organizers worked especially hard this year to set the course during a snowy and cold week. The course was well marked, and the skin tracks were in, so thanks to everyone who helped out.

This is the third consecutive year of low turnout at the Bridger race, which is too bad, because the course is really, really good. As I mentioned in the PSA above, I would heartily encourage locals to support Bridger, grab your lightest setup, and just give it a go next year. Also, any racers looking for a good new course should make the drive and check it out. 


  1. I did it three years ago on my splitboard alongside one other splitboarder. Personally I can't get behind paying for a full price lift ticket plus an entry fee to enter races (three years ago I was a season pass holder) but the schwag and prize give away at Bridger Race series are pretty dang sweet and often end up "paying" for your race entry fee anyway.

    1. Yeah, Sam. I am rarely on the podium, but have won over $2,000 worth of schwag over the years, which has more than off set the cost of entry fees. Bridger is especially lucrative.

  2. Hilarious mantra. Great effort. Fun play-by-play.

    Could be the cost of lightweight racing equipment that keeps many folks from toeing the line.

    1. Cost is a huge issue for sure, Beau. However, I still contend that it is worth entering a local race with your lightest set of equipment, just for the experience. You have your efficiency tricks dialed, but most folks will pick up a few efficiency ideas just from entering a few races. I know I have. And moving efficiently in the backcountry coupled with good descents is what makes backcountry skiing rewarding, right?

    2. The lightest equipment can be of marginal benefit at times. In the small number of rando events I've seen/participated in I remember at least a handful of dirtbags that were in their standard touring gear who were at such a fitness level that they were able to out perform some of the "Freds" in lycra.

  3. @Samh: I come more from a backcountry background than a racing background, but my experience has been that racing gear really matters at the front of the pack where seconds matter. I certainly can't think of anyone who has been on the podium in a major race in the past few years with standard touring gear. As for lycra, regular touring clothing works OK, but there is no way to escape the fact that suits are simply perfectly suited to randonee racing.

    1. I agree that as the sport progresses and people get more and more serious about it one's VO2 max only goes so far toward a win and that lightweight and race-specific gear will make for a marked improvement at the head of the pack. Is it necessary to have all that and still make a good showing/enjoy the race? No, but if podium is on a person's mind then I guess they've got to put their money where their mind is.