Arapahoe Basin Ski Area to host unprecedented ski mountaineering event
Arapahoe Basin Ski Area this weekend will host a ski mountaineering racing event that will be the first of its kind for not only Summit County, but for the United States as well.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday’s events at A-Basin will serve as the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association’s official national-team qualifier for the International Ski Mountaineering Federation’s March World Championships in Villars sur Ollons, Switzerland.
The event will also serve as the federation’s first-ever Pan American Cup series race while doubling as a U.S. National Cup series race.
In total, more than 100 racers from across the U.S. and Canada are expected, said Summit County local Ram Mikulas, one of the event’s lead organizers and the president of the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association.
“It’s kind of just built up slowly with the opportunities we’ve had working with the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association and the ISMF,” Mikulas said. “We’re great partners with A-Basin. And the youth participation is expected to be the highest at any race there has ever been in the U.S.”
The event will commence on Friday evening at 4:30 after A-Basin stops spinning its lifts for the day. A vertical race will begin with a women’s start at 4:30 p.m. and a men’s start 10 minutes after. The vertical race will require skimo racers to skin to ascend up about 1,600 feet of A-Basin’s front-side terrain. Mikulas said he expects the top finishers to clock in at under 30 minutes.
The top four American finishers in five different age divisions will earn the right to represent the U.S. in the vertical race in March in Switzerland. Racing divisions for both Friday’s vertical competition and Saturday’s individual competition include cadets (15-17), juniors (18-20), espoir (21-23), open (21+) and master’s (45+).
Saturday’s individual race, scheduled to start at 7 a.m., will qualify the top two American finishers in both the male and female divisions to March’s world championships, with the other two slots awarded at a Jan. 5-6 skimo event at Sunlight Ski Area near Glenwood Springs.
Saturday’s individual long race course will require skiers to complete multiple ascents and descents across A-Basin’s terrain that will total just under nine miles and around 4,500 vertical-feet of elevation gain. The individual race will also require racers to complete four boot-pack hikes off of their skis and a temporary via ferrata roped-climbing section near A-Basin’s new Beavers terrain expansion.
“You’re wearing a harness and have lanyards with a shock-absorption system in it,” Mikulas said of the via ferrata portion. “You clip in your lanyards into the ropes to make sure if you were to take a spill or fall, you’re protected.”
For members of the public looking for a less-strenuous race, there will also be an individual race 2,500-foot elevation gain short course.
The individual race course will begin with an ascent from A-Basin’s base area near Mountain Goat Plaza to the top of A-Basin’s frontside terrain, near the Snow Plume Refuge. Racers will then descend to near the base of A-Basin’s Lenawee Mountain Lift before skinning back up to the top of the front-side terrain.
Boot-pack hikes near the ski area’s West Wall and Pallavicini Lift will follow, before racers ski down the gut of the Pallavicini area. They will then traverse from the bottom of the Pallavicini Lift up the ski line connecting Pali to the lower portion of the Beavers territory. It’s there where racers will complete the via ferrata portion at a spot just below the base of The Beavers Lift referred to as “The Bald Spot.”
“We tried to make a course we think is representative of the world championships,” said U.S. national team head coach and Breckenridge resident Joe Howdyshell.
Then, on Sunday, there will be morning and afternoon International Ski Mountaineering Federation-sanctioned youth camps hosted by Howdyshell as well as U.S. national team athletes. The free camp is open to anyone under the age of 23 and will introduce young skiers to competitive ski mountaineering racing.
All events are open to the public, though registration for both the individual and vertical races will close at 3:30 p.m. Friday.
Summit County locals are expected to compete for top spots in both youth and adult divisions. Top Summit County athletes such as Sierra Anderson, Jaime Brede, Nikki LaRochelle and Kate Zander are prime contenders heading into the women’s races.
“The top of the women’s field is getting more and more competitive, and is growing,” Mikulas said. “So we are really excited about that.”
For racers competing in the cadet division, this weekend is a major race leading up to 2020’s Winter Youth Olympic Games, which for the first time will feature skimo. Howdyshell said with Winter Youth Olympic inclusion, the popularity of the sport among youth has not only increased across the country, but in Summit County in particular. Howdyshell said his Summit Endurance Academy will have 17 youth competing this weekend, though he expected the total number of youth to be upward of 40 athletes. Last year, Summit Endurance Academy trained nine athletes.
“I think it’s a super cool opportunity for Summit County in a sport that is growing a lot,” Howdyshell said. “To kind of host a race and give back to the community a little bit and show that we can go fast.”
The weekend’s events will be directed by Joe Risi’s Cosmic Race Series while Jon Lowe of the Summit Skimo Club led the course design. The second Pan-American Cup race of the 2018-19 season will take place later this season in Lake Louise, Canada.
For more information and to register, visit USSMA.org/event.