Eldora Rando Return

December 3, 2016

My first ski mountaineering race was almost over before it began.

I just found out about the race the day before and decided to do it on a whim. The only problem was it was early December and I hadn’t been skiing yet that season. Ski mountaineering is a lot like mountain biking for me–a lot of fun, I’m actually reasonably strong going uphill, and I’m quite shaky (relative to competition) going downhill.

I went a few hours early to Eldora ski area to do a couple of downhill runs before the race to refamiliarize myself to the process. Those runs went well. Then it was time for the race. It starts at the bottom of the hill. You hike to the top (with a special attachment on your skis to as to not slide backward down the hill) then ski down. The beginner race I did consisted of two laps, while the more competitive race was four laps.

201612 Eldora Photo 7D 12
Me in blue jacket and orange boots at far right of frame. Photo by Thomas Woodson.

I lined up near the back since this was my first race and I didn’t want to get into everyone’s way, but not too far back because, as I said, I’m much better at going uphill than downhill relative to the competition. When the race began a funny thing happened. As I started to walk one of my boots came detached from my ski. I had to stop and fix it. Then a few steps later it happened again. Then again. And again.

At this point I was in dead last place, only a few feet in front of the starting line as the rest of the race was well on their way up the hill. Frustrated, and rather embarrassed to be fumbling like this right in front of the all the spectators, I nearly turned around and walked back to my car to drive home. Then I figured out the problem. There’s one latch on the ski bindings that’s only used when going uphill that I forgot to lock into place. I locked it and my boots stopped coming out of the bindings. It was a really basic thing that I absolutely would have remembered to do if this race had not been the first time I skied uphill this season. Lesson learned.

Photo by Thomas Woodson

Now with a lot of ground to make up I started to, well, make up ground. I’m relatively good at going uphill. I caught up to the back of the pack about 1/3 of the way up the hill. I worked my way through that group and continued to move forward. Once at the top of the hill I tried to quickly take the skins off my skis and plunge down the hill. I was a bit timid. A handful people passed me (rather quickly). But these were all people I had caught up to and passed on the way up. I should be able to do the same on the second lap.

201612 Eldora Photo 7D 317
Photo by Thomas Woodson

201612 Eldora Photo 7D 363
Photo by Thomas Woodson

The second lap started with a gradual hike uphill, but took a different route than the first lap. There was a section so steep it couldn’t be hiked on the skis. Everyone had to take their skis off, strap them onto their backpack, and hike up on boots. This is a fairly standard feature in any ski mountaineering race, but I had never done it before. Hiking in ski boots is super awkward, but it was a short section, and it was over soon enough. Skis back on for the last bit of uphill and the final (for me) descent.

Again a few people passed me on the descent, but not as many as the first lap. I apparently finished in 9th place out of 29 in the beginner race. At the rate I was going (passing ~15 people each uphill and being passed by ~5 people each downhill) I maybe could have won the beginner race if it ended after one more uphill. But it didn’t. And it likely never will end at the top, so I need to get better at going downhill.