ASPEN - As Pete and John Gaston reached the ridge of Highland Bowl on Saturday, frostbite threatened to derail their hopes for a top finish.
The Power of Four Ski Mountaineering Race was far from over, however.
After falling behind two teams, including Gunnison duo and reigning champions Brian Smith and Bryan Wickenhauser, the Aspenites used their alpine skills to catch up and eventually seize the lead on the final descent down Aspen Mountain.
The 25-year-old Gaston twins won the second Power of Four race on Sunday with a time of 5 hours, 28 minutes, 23 seconds. The race, which climbs more than 11,000 feet and descends about 12,500 feet, began at 6:30 a.m. and covered nearly 25 miles across Aspen's four ski areas.
Smith and Wickenhauser took second, followed by Mike Kloser (Vail) and Scott Simmons (Durango).
"I'm stoked that some local guys won it," Pete Gaston said. "It's a pretty intense race."
The three teams led from the outset at the base of Snowmass and pushed one another up to Elk Camp. After the traverse to Buttermilk, the three teams proceeded down Tiehack together and toward Aspen Highlands.
There, competitors contended with 40- to 60-mph winds on the ascent.
"There were some of the most heinous conditions I've ever seen on the bowl in my whole life," John Gaston said. "Pete and I both got frostbite issues and lost some time there."
At that point, the Gastons thought the race was over.
"Pete and I used some of our alpine experience to catch back up," John Gaston said. "I thought we had an outside chance of winning. I didn't think we would win because of the competition - they specialize in long events, and I don't."
After descending Highlands, the brothers caught 40-year-old Simmons and 52-year-old Kloser at Midnight Mine Road.
At the top of Ajax, they pulled into second behind Smith and Wickenhauser in front.
"You can't hold off the locals on their home hill," Smith said. "We just knew we had big targets on our back. ... The Gastons weren't here last year, and I knew it was going to be close."
The Gastons got into a tuck and sped downhill, passing the defending champs and cruising to the win.
"It was a hairy descent," John Gaston said. "We kept it under control for the first part of the descent, then I thought the ski patrol was going to come chase me down."
Smith and Wickenhauser crossed two seconds after the Gastons and were followed closely by Simmons and Kloser.
"We are pretty proud of our finish because we knew in the back of our minds that the Gastons and Kloser and Simmons were all going to be there," Smith said. "You look back at a 5 1/2-hour race, and it came down to seconds."
Added Simmons, "We wanted to win, but third is nice. Those young kids - they ski downhills really fast."
The course underwent a slight change from last year, as the ascent up to Elk Camp on Snowmass was shortened. The change, along with better competition, produced an almost 45-minute difference from last year's winning time.
"Personally, I would've liked to have done the exact same course as last year because I like the technical uphills and downhills," said Smith, who finished in 6:13:7 last year. "The course is still very challenging and great."
The Gastons, who are first-time partners for this kind of race, are proud that a couple of locals took the top spot.
"That was probably the fastest I've gone down Copper (Bowl) on any skis," John said. "We definitely had the win in the back of our minds at the start of the day."