Skin to Win at Bridger Bowl 2013 PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Curry   
Tuesday, 05 February 2013 19:55

Skin 2 Win Bridger Bowl MapLooking back over my favorite race experiences, some of the best have been the two person battles.  Often in difficult, selective endurance events you  end up racing alone, as each competitors' differences in fitness and skill level spread out the field.  Sometimes, however, when the combination of fitness and skills align or complement each other you end up with a battle.  And when the battle is for first the result is usually a lot of pain!  Despite the pain, the lasting result is usually a deeper satisfaction (whether you end up on top or not) knowing that you "left it all out there".

I was fortunate(?) enough to have such a battle this weekend at the "Skin to Win" skimo race at Bridger Bowl.  I was pretty excited for this race, since it's the hometown race on a fun challenging course.  Up until this year it's also the only skimo race I've ever done.  With faster gear and some more experience I was anxious to see if I could shave some minutes off my previous best time.

Skin to Win Bridger Bowl Map

The big news at the pre-race meeting Friday was that the race would be postponed from Saturday until Sunday.  Over 50" of new snow during the week and stiff winds predicted overnight meant that the ski patrol would have their hands full just getting the mountain open, let alone setting the race course through avalanche-prone ridge terrain.  A victim of this decision was my (very fast) friend Ben Parsons, who had to work Sunday.  I also noted at the meeting that most of the other regional heavy hitters were absent.  The exception was Brian Story, accomplished racer and ski-mountaineer from Missoula.  Things were looking promising for Dave (now sporting light race skis!) and myself to at least take a shot at the podium.

Skin to Win Bridger Bowl Start

Race morning came, with the promise of sunny weather compared to the blizzard that rolled in during last year's event.  After the running LeMans start I clicked into my skis (Dynafit Low Tech auto-locking toe pieces are great for getting in quick!) and found myself in front setting the pace.  This was new and unusual so I just tried to relax and ease into a threshold pace.  After a few minutes it was a 3 person lead group with myself, Brian, and Dave.  We cruised up the mellow groomers on the lower mountain.  As the grade increased I was feeling good and applied a bit more pressure.  This seemed to space out the group a bit, with Brian now a few seconds back, and Dave a few more behind.  I didn't get too excited though, since I figured these guys would be reeling me in on the descents.  I reached the top of the first descent (the intimidating entrance to the Hidden Gully couloir) a handful of seconds ahead of Brian.  The snow on the lower apron was heavy tracked powder and I was feeling the burn.  Sure enough, Brian caught me as we skied into the transition.  The first part of the second climb is a booter.  I chose to procrastinate putting skins on and threw my skis on my pack, while Brian stopped to apply skins.  When it switched to skintrack I hastily applied my skins and began skinning before Brian caught up to me.

Skin to Win Bridger Bowl Lower Mountain

I maintained a steady gap of ~45 sec over Brian over the next series of 2 climbs and descents.  He would ski down into the uphill transitions just as I was leaving.  At the start of the last climb/traverse I was having a bit of trouble getting one of my skin tails to stick.  I took a bit of extra time trying to get it going but eventually just decided to go with it.  If I pulled out my spares, I would have been chasing Brian, and I liked the mental aspect of staying out front and "running scared".  I nursed the skin a bit on the challenging skin track and fortunately made it up onto the ridge with a slight advantage.  At this point I was feeling the fatigue and kept hitting the HEED and Hammer Gel to try to get some energy for the final push.  Brian was on my heels, and overtook me at the base of the booter up Z chute.  We stayed together, and I took the lead after the next short booter to Fort Benton.  From above the Slushman's lift the ridge traverse descends a bit before the final climb up to the South Boundary.  I descended with skins while Brian chose to rip skins here and boot the final climb.  This was not pretty, and I had to use a few hip checks, desperate snow plows, and a couple face plants.  I shook it off, hustled up the final climb and prepared for the final long descent.  Brian came up as I was dropping in, but I knew he'd be right behind as he'd already ripped his skins.

Skin to Win Bridger Bowl Apron Descent

The final descent was exhilarating   The snow was excellent, I felt smooth and focused, and my legs didn't cramp as in years past.  However, I was not surprised to see Brian come flying by me during the final pitch above the base of the Slushman's lift.  I rounded the cat track below the lift a few seconds back and began the painful skate up the first part of the road in pursuit.  I was surprised to see Brian stop to take off his skis.  I skated past, but he began running and was soon catching me on foot.  Despite my oxygen deprivation I could still appreciate the humor of the situation.  I'm sure we looked awfully ridiculous to the skiers in the lift line.  As the grade turned downhill Brian stopped to clip back in and I passed him back.  From here it was a drag race to the finish along the cat track, with the final uphill skate to the finish and I was able to hold a slim margin to the line.

Skin 2 Win final straight

Meanwhile, after a great start, Dave's race had taken a turn for the worse near the top of the first climb.  First, a transceiver snafu held him up at the bootpack.  Then he had skin failures on both his primary and backup skins.  At this point most folks would have thrown in the towel, but Dave used one skin to tie the other to each ski, and was able to complete the race and still hang on for third place.  Awesome!  Lisa also jumped in the women's rec race and took 2nd on her fat powder planks.

Skin to Win Bridger Bowl High Five Finish

Thanks to the crew at Bridger for putting on a great event!  Next up, King and Queen of the Ridge (maybe, sounds painful...) and perhaps a March road trip to UT or CO.  Thanks for reading!

All photos by Bridger Bowl