Preview of 2017 Pierra Menta: 8 North American Teams and Biggest Podium Favourites

577787_136267549877997_1245434306_nThe 32nd edition of the famed Pierra Menta is just around the corner – starting on Wednesday, March 8 – and currently, snow is accumulating very quickly in the area, even at low elevations! This is great news for all athletes that just competed at the fairly snow-less World Championships in Italy.

Pierra Menta is a 4-day true ski mountaineering stage race which course is designed to accumulate 10,000m of climbing (32,800 feet) by the end of the 4th day. The distance covered can vary significantly from year to year but likely falls within the 75-90km range.

I’m here to cover the event as media (or perhaps be a spare) but the more important news is that there are other 16 North American athletes (8 teams) taking part in the Pierra Menta this year – the most ever! Besides these 8 North American teams there will be of course another 200 European teams :)

To help you figure out what’s going on and who the favourites are let’s give you some insight on this years edition.

For those that are looking for more information on what the Pierra Menta skimo race actually is, keep reading until the end.

Racers climbing on a beautiful day in the 2015 Pierra Menta. Jennie Bender Photo

Racers climbing on a beautiful day in the 2015 Pierra Menta. Jennie Bender Photo

The Big Favourites

Without a doubt, the biggest favourites for the win in men’s category will be an Italian duo of Damiano Lenzi and Matteo Eydallin who just won the teams race at the Worlds and have significant experience at the Pierra Menta, besides being in great shape this year.

There will be a couple of strong teams challenging them, however, we think they will mostly fight for the 2nd and 3rd places:

  • William Bon Mardion will team up with Xavier Gachet:
    William is a fantastic descender that lives in the valley and is a multiple PM winner.  Together, they are bronze medalists from the recent teams race at Worlds. This French team will be locals’ favourite!
  • Catalan Kilian Jornet and French Matheo Jacquemod:
    Both are multiple PM champions having teamed up previously  together and with other partners.
  • German Anton Palzer and Swiss Remy Bonnet:
    Definitely a strong team but with less experience than all of the above.
  • Other potential podium challengers will come from:
    Didier Blanc and Alexis Sevennec (both FRA)
    Nadir Maguet and Michele Boscacci (both ITA)
Bon Mardion and Gachet in the 2015 edition.

Bon Mardion and Gachet in the 2015 edition.

On the women’s side, the strong favourite is the French/Swedish duo of Laetitia Roux and Emilie Forsberg – both strong going up and down, and very experienced athletes. Barring any equipment issues or injuries, this team will easily be the bookmakers favourite.

Challenges will come from the French/Italian team of Axelle Mollaret (previous PM champion) and Katia Tomatis as well as the Swiss team of Jennifer Fiechter and Severine Pont-Comb.

Also of note will be the French team of Lorna Bonnel (1st in teams race at World Champs with Axelle Mollaret) and Valentine Fabre.

The mythical Pierra Menta... with Mont Blanc presiding. Jennie Bender Photo.

The mythical Pierra Menta… with Mont Blanc presiding. Jennie Bender Photo.

USA and Canadian Teams

Women:

Jessie Young and Janelle Smiley (both USA) – fresh off a fourth place at World Championships in the teams race. They are looking forward to competing with the top women. Janelle Smiley has the experience as she has already finished 4th in PM once when she teamed up with a Canadian Melanie Bernier in 2013.

Kylee Ohler and Michelle Roberts (both Canada) – excited for their first Pierra Menta and the first entirely Canadian women’s team! This team will be looking forward to gain value-able experience that will help them in the future.

Men:

Elson and Carter finishing stage four of the 2015th edition!

Elson and Carter finishing stage four of the 2015 edition! Andrea Kuba Photo

Eric Carter (USA) and Nick Elson (CAN) – 15th place in 2015. Both have experience racing in Europe and are feeling strong! With Coastal snow falling in Areches at the moment, these conditions should suit them well.

John Gaston and Max Taam (both USA) – 15th place in 2016. Similar European experience to Carter/Elson but more history racing team events together. They also had a strong finish (11th) in the teams race at the recent World Champs.

Mike Foote (USA) and Rob Krar (CAN) – The North Face team ultra-runners and Pierra Menta rookies. Both came to Europe for the World Champs but are excited for a longer event that might suit their strengths more.

Scott Archer (USA) and Steve Sellers (CAN) – Another US/CAN rookie team looking to get their first PM experience.

Jon Brown and Rory Kelly (both USA) – US Team members and PM rookies. Both highly fit and hoping for less challenging descents that suit their strengths.

Teague Holmes and Tom Goth (both USA) – US Team members who excel at long distance events and are strong on descents. Expect a strong result in their first PM.

» For a full start list, click HERE.

Race Details & Current Conditions

It appears that the 2017 course will be similar to that of the 31st edition in 2016 and average ~2,500m+ of climbing per stage. Conditions in the Areches-Beaufort region were a lean snowpack but a storm in recent has been significantly improving the snow situation. More than 80cm fell on a majority of the course over four days with more still currently falling. The weather is expected to improve significantly on Tuesday and Wednesday with high pressure arriving just in time for the race! An excellent course is expected.

The first stage might not go into the high alpine, as proposed, due to high avalanche danger. Therefore, it is likely to utilize the endless network of meadows and local trails in the valley and within the tree line. After that, the conditions should improve for a more ski mountaineering style course.

Current conditions in Areches! Stano Faban Photo

Current conditions in Areches! Stano Faban Photo

Spectators are encouraged throughout the event but the highlight is certainly Saturday’s Grand Mont stage. Early upload times on the Areches chairlifts assist spectators in reaching the course but skins and avalanche gear are still necessary. It is also fun to watch the athletes racing on foot through the town of Areches in the first stage! Regardless of where you watch, bring some cheese, wine, and be ready to cheer on our North American athletes!

Spectating at the Pierra Menta -  the most exciting skimo race in the world! Jennie Bender Photo.

Spectating at the Pierra Menta – the most exciting skimo race in the world! Jennie Bender Photo.

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