Sunday, March 9, 2008

Ski to the Clouds Race Report

Mt Washington, NH
8km, 45:05
5/11 Men 40+, 22/70 overall (results)

Wouldn't you know it, we close in on another ski race and a weather system fouls things up again. The two days before the race consisted of heavy rain and sleet before the temperature plummeted. To make matters worse, conditions at the 6288ft summit of Mt Washington were expected to be 85+mph winds with windchill many 10's of degrees below zero. I was worried the race would not go up the auto road or be cancelled.

Base lodge, Mt W obscured in snow and clouds (it would fill image)The planned course consisted of 4km of rolling hills before climbing 2200 vertical feet in 6km up the Mt Washington Auto Road. The finish was to be around 4000ft, well below the summit, but exposed above tree line. When Dave Penney and I arrived at the venue, the race was on as planned, but about 45 minutes before race start, a decision was made to shorten the race by 2km, for a race total of 8km. Thus this year's return of Ski to the Clouds was re-dubbed "The Toughest 8km Race in America." The decision to move the finish down was not due to extreme wind and temperatures, it was due to a wind swept, bare ice surface that could not be groomed. This would be too dangerous to race. The summit winds topped 113mph with -42F windchill before the race. Our finish would be a little less extreme.

summit conditions, race started 10:15amWarming up, we noted that the recent grooming churned up fist sized chunks of frozen granular all over the place. It varied from loose chunks to solid and choppy. This was true for both the 4km rolling start and the 12% grade climb. I could barely stay vertical rounding corners on this crud. The only redeeming quality of it was that it was quite fast. It probably didn't matter a whole lot what glide wax you were using. I suspect the classic skiers had trouble.

The start was self seed. I placed myself about 2/3 of the way back, not wanting to get tangled up on the fast, gnarly corners. The start was delayed 15 minutes for one last pass down the auto road with the groomer. The race was started by the same cannon used to start the bike races at Mt Washington. It scared the crap out of me, actually. It is so loud you feel the percussion.

start of climb, I'm #62 in yellowThe first kilometer was all double polling, not by rule, just because the pack pulled you along at great speed. As soon as we got into rolling hills, I started passing people. Lots of them. I probably picked off 10 skiers before getting to the big climb. This held me up some, and I was skiing well below my limit during this part of the race.

Then we hit the climb. The Rock Pile, as it is affectionately known by the cycling community, is an old friend that I missed last year. The Rock Pile can be cantankerous sometimes, and both cycling races were cancelled due to extreme weather in 2007. I was going to take what I could get today, even if it were a teasing morsel to the 2.5 mile mark. The race really busted up as the climb ensued, and I started passing a lot of guys and gals. I might have lost a minute or more on the rolling 4km, but that pales in comparison to how much time I was going to put on those I passed going up the Rock Pile. I never got passed by anyone in this race, but that doesn't mean much when you start near the back.

Dave approaching finishThis was a "C" race for me. I just wanted to enjoy it and get a premium cardio workout out of it. I didn't taper much, riding 3.3hrs in the two days prior. I had to haul my own descent layers up too, as we got there to late to send them up ahead of time. And I carried a camera up. As everyone hunkered down for the grind up, I went into my climbing mode. I quickly found a groove and stayed with it, passing skiers right up to the finish line. There's something about a deep burn in the chest that is so addictive. I managed to put good distance on several skiers that put good distance on me last weekend at Rangeley. The difference today was mostly due to the fast, crusty conditions. I can be reckless with my technique, utilizing core cycling strength, and bully my way up this beast. I crossed the line in 45:05 minutes. This is the "sweet spot" for me as a hillclimb/time-trial cycling specialist.

Beginning descent, snow blowing upslopeIt was bitterly cold at the finish, around 3100ft elevation, although I didn't notice it right away. At times, the wind would come up and conditions would nearly white out. The trees were pretty short and scrubby here, but still provided some shelter. Now that the easy part was over, the hard part was next. Yes, the race up was way easier than the frozen icecube surface we had to snowplow or try to carve back down. I saw many skiers taking headers. I took one. This destroyed my quads and hips more than the race, plus it was nerve wracking.

Looking down on Nordic Center on Rt 16Back at the Nordic Center, Dave and I ate a few bites and went back out for another hour to sample the Great Glen trail system. Little of it was groomed. We did find one large loop that had nice flow to it that might have been groomed the night before. It was very hard and scratchy, but at least smooth. We did two laps for another 14km. We were completely cooked after this. This brought the day total to about 30km distance, 900m (3000ft) climbing, in 2.4hrs skiing time.

Not being a priority event for me, I was quite pleased with my result. Still a far cry from what I can do here on a bicycle. In 2006, I placed in the top 2-3% overall out of 600 competitors. On skis, only in the top third out of 70. But at Rangeley last week, I was in the bottom third of finishers.

Jeff Palleiko in his make-shift windbreaker from trash bagsNo more skis races this season. I hope to ski a few more times however, especially on one of those special spring days where you can dress light and fly on corn snow. With three bike races planned next month, I really need to focus on quality intensity work on wheels now. I think the cardio engine has been tuned to optimal efficiency with skiing, and this should provide a solid base for this cycling season.

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