3:30am, March 3, 2018
By any normal standards, it’s the middle of the night. I’m in one of the most amazing homes that I’ve ever stayed, and I’m searching through the cupboards to track down a bowl big enough to accommodate my generous serving of oatmeal, granola and almond milk. Throwing back French Roast coffee and pinning on a number, I’m feeling the energetic buzz of race anticipation and an unknown adventure. I’m T minus 2.5 hours from doing a race that I had never heard of just 5 months previously.
I’ve since learned intimately about Aspen’s Power of Four Ski Mountaineering Race (Skimo) that summits Snowmass, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands and Aspen Mountain covering 24 miles with 11k feet of climbing. Due to the unimaginable number of things that can go wrong in the backcountry (e.g. avalanches, broken skis, white outs, navigation issues, frostbite – to name a few), many Skimo races require that you race with a partner.
Despite the grueling nature of this epic race, finding an enthusiast, fit, athletic partner was actually the easy part. 6 degrees of separation becomes 2 degrees when one dabbles in cycling, or Colorado adventure, or endurance sports. My good friend Jon put me in touch with his friend Lucas, a strong roadie from Denver. One introductory email later and Lucas and I were committed to Power of Four. After a training day in Vail and one in Eldora, we were confident that we would be compatible partners. We even had podium aspirations despite being two roadies who had never done a skimo race!
We did not make it on the podium (we were 5th of the coed teams), but at the risk of sounding like I’m suffering from dissociative race amnesia (!), it was one of my favorite races of all times. Over the 8 hours of ascending and exploring Aspen’s finest, there are too many memories to capture in depth. Recognizing that I tend to lean on the side of optimism, enthusiasm and hyperbole, I’ve tried to articulate a handful of the highlights that made this such an incredible adventure.
Power of Four Top Ten List
10. The community lead up to the race – they say it takes a village…thank you Kyle and Kristen for letting me borrow gear, #honeystinger for fueling me, #primalwear for clothing options, and Eric for race tips.
9. Laughing uncontrollably with fellow Steamboat friends, Mindy & Alex*, at 5am. Keeping the race nerves at bay, we self-evaluated our gaperness relative to the skinsuit wearing experts (*despite their cool as cucumber nature, they WON the co-ed division!)
8. Skiing Aspen Highlands – holy cow, that sh** is steep! As the layer of snow gently rolled down on all sides, I was thankful that I didn't have to put the beacon, probe and/or shovel to use.
7. The relentless challenge – “So, groomers after this final climb?” I ask with blissful ignorance. “Actually, narrow steep moguls,” Lucas relays. After 7 hours and 10k of vertical, simply talking my legs into making a turn on the skinnies, let alone a turn on moguls, was a tough negotiation.
6. Surviving the infamous Congo Trail, aka the luge – steep, narrow, icy, fast track. Snowplow is only an option for so long until the hips and quads tell you to change up the form. Memories of an intense, high speed, adventure ride with attempts to scrub speed narrowly avoiding a tree by inches and Lucas flying by me warning ‘coming through…’.
5. Partner racing – I needed help…lots of it - attaching skis, putting skins in my bag, digging sunglasses out of my bag, securing straps, returning timing chips, managing eating, pacing, navigating, etc. etc. It’s great to have someone with you the entire day – and it’s up to the two of you to get to the finish as fast as possible helping one another.
4. Taking a shot of whiskey and pounding a coke at the final aid station, which featured the biggest and loudest cowbells in Pitkin county.
3. Finish line hugs & surprise cheers – Former MOOTs colleague and fellow Gila survivor, Bryce Daviess, on the course cheering. Massive rounds of hugs from Eric Kenney (my former cycling coach), Mindy and Alex, and Lucas’ family at the finish line.
2. The grind – settling into a pace, knowing I just have to put one foot in front of the other, step by step, hour after hour, and make it to the top. That’s my jam.
1. Throwing back an enormous burger and beer at Ajax Tavern’s wild après ski party – quite possibly the best people watching in Colorado (let’s just say that Aspen is keeping the fur, Dom Perignon, outdoor DJ dream alive).
Relive the Power of Four here.
Bottom line, the Power of Four exceeded my expectations...already looking forward to next year!
…but first, the Grand Traverse
March 23-24, 2018 | Crested Butte to Aspen | Partner: Mindy Mulliken