Race report: 'Ultimate Mt. Challenge' a leg-killer, lung-crusher in Vail

Day Two: Ski Mountaineering Race:

Toughness Factor: Masochist’s Delight! Race Recap: Climb 2,200 feet up the front of Vail. Traverse the summit ridge in a blizzard. Ski down steep, a thick aspen grove through deep, heavy, cruddy snow. Skin across the resort’s Back Bowls. Climb mountain again up steep, icy face (topped off by nearly vertical boot pack!). Ski down Highline run, one of Vail’s toughest and longest bump runs. Boot pack up slippery, grassy slope. Finish down giant slalom course. Collapse at the end.

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Uphill, into the white abyss

Key Gear: Ski Trab Duo Freerando Light racing skis, Dynafit Vertical ST bindings, Scarpa Alien boots, Ortovox 3+ Avalanche Transceiver, Lifelink Guide Shovel and pack, probe, Honey Stinger gels (between 600 and 800 calories consumed), Deuter water reservoir. I wore a Rab MeCo T-shirt, Patagonia Capilene mid-weight top, Black Diamond CoEfficient Jacket, a Gore X-Running Light AS Jacket, Adidas Terrex Multi-Pants, Eddie Bauer Polartec Wind Pro gloves, and (for some retro flair!) a very old, very tired Giro bike helmet from the mid-80’s. Oh, and a Buff.

Summary: As the second stage of UMC, the SkiMo race is one nasty beast. I gave it my all for 4 hours and 20 minutes and left the finish line completely spent.

After skinning up the front of Vail Mountain, the course followed a long, gradual uphill to the summit then shot down into bowls via a gnarly tree run. I love tree skiing but floundered through this section, falling several times before reaching the bottom 20 minutes later.

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Fresh at the start

After a long skin across the base of the Vail Back Bowls the next climb was steep, icy and covered 2,000 vertical feet over about 10 switchbacks. That cardio thrashing led to a somewhat spooky boot-pack, in which racers removed their skis and climbed a near-vertical section of rock with the aid of a knotted climbing rope.

The race then sped down the front of the mountain via Highline, arguably the toughest and longest bump run on Vail Mountain. I love skiing bumps, but that sucked with fried quads on skinny skis.

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The author after 4 hours, 20 minutes racing in the Ski Mountaineering event

One final, 500-foot boot pack up a frozen grassy slope awaited before the finish line, which was after (of all things) a giant slalom race course. I crossed the line in a delirium, looked at the announcer and, with a straight face, asked “is that it?” (To my great relief it was!)

Next page: Day Three: Vail Uphill. . .

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