A Few Things I Learned Running Up a Ski Mountain

Blog_UphillSpikes_02162012A close up of the spikes

On Sunday, I (sort of) ran from Vail's Lionshead base area up 2,200 feet to Eagle's Nest. This is not how I normally travel at ski mountains.

The run was the final of three events in the Ultimate Mountain Challenge and part of the Winter Teva Mountain Games, which, as I understood it, were meant as a celebration of the lesser mountain sports that people do in winter—Nordic skiing, ski touring, snowshoeing, snowbiking, ice climbing. It seemed occasionally odd to celebrate sports that most of the time work against gravity at a resort, Vail, that most of the time works very much with gravity, but I appreciated the general sentiment and it appeared that plenty other people did, too.

Anyway. Things I learned:

1. For running on firm, groomed snow, long cross country spikes work perfectly well, and maybe better, than touring skis or snowshoes. With a few variations, the top three men seemed to agree. Deep or loose snow would've been a problem.

2. Whatever was the average grade (2 miles, 2,200 feet of climbing), it was too steep to run continuously. At least for me. I found that my calves packed it in well before my heart. Halfway through the final pitch (it was both very long and very steep) I decided to try walking and ended up moving much faster than I had been while trying to run.

3. Someone is always working harder than you (me). I traded surges with a randonee racer in a green jacket most of the way up. (You could ascend on whichever kind of non-mechanized snow gear you wanted.) At the top of that last pitch, he frantically stripped off his climbing skins, locked his heels into his tiny Dynafit bindings, and started skate-skiing furiously across the flat, final 200 meters to the finish. When I passed him, 30 seconds later but 20 meters before the finish line itself, he was crouched over vomiting. And I thought 'Good for him!' Too bad he couldn't have waited until the finish, though.

4. Should I do a similar event again, I would choose skiing up the mountain over running up it, if only because nothing beats going downhill on skis after you've gone uphill on them.

5. People get fantastically good at fantastically obscure things. Running up one of North America's most famous downhill ski mountains in modified running shoes, for example. The men's winner, Josiah Middaugh, actually trained specifically for this event. I suppose there was the incentive of money, but still.

5a. If you decide to casually enter a race that you expect will be sparsely attended and not terribly competitive, sometimes a lot of people will beat you.

—Peter Vigneron

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