Report and suggestions on racing at altitude and more: 2013 US Skimo Nationals at Jackson Hole and Grand Targhee Skimo Classic

After posting an article with Eric Carter on minimizing effects of altitude on skimo racing performance 2 weeks before it was time to test some of its preaching first hand.

What we did to “fight” the altitude

Due to time constraints our small group of Canadians (and an adopted Seattleite) headed to Jackson only two days before the biggest US race. (Eric recommends at least 4-6 days before a competition.)

16 hours in the car in a single push isn’t ideal either, however, at least it’s easy to stay well hydrated and fed since there is nothing else to do.

The key points of minimizing the alti effect that all of us stuck to were:

  • come well rested
  • come healthy
  • stay hydrated and fed at all times
  • do a short and easy skimo session (1h) the day after arrival to stretch out shortened muscles

The 2013 US Ski Mountaineering Championships in Jackson Hole

On Jan 5th, 8am start time meant sub -20 Celsius temperatures and had everyone struggling to warm up.

In our group, we were trying to figure out the best strategy to deal with a course that was set between 2000 to 3200m, with majority of it above 2500.

All of us were more or less happy with their result at the end and none had much trouble breathing during the race. Only above 2800m the feeling we shared was: “everything felt normal yet I couldn’t spin the legs as usual.”

At the end, Brad Schalles and I had a fierce last minute battle for the top Canadian stop and we finished 2 seconds apart, 12th and 13th respectively. Eric Carter and Igor Bernas came couple of minutes later at 19th and 20th.

Brad and I covered this high altitude (by our standards), very technical, 2450m course in 2h 51m 42sec which even two years ago I would consider impossible as we live between 0 and 400m all year round.

One thing that stood out to me was how great I felt up the last climb after descending back to 2000m from the very top of the resort. Acclimatization during the race?

Overall, I was amazed at performances the top 7 guys produced – they all finished within 3min 20sec while beating the previous course record by couple of minutes! Last year champ, Luke Nelson, even concluded that this was a longer and more technical course than the year before.

Europeans watch out, the gap is closing!

To top all that, the winner of the day (in 2:30.09) was a young John Gaston that apparently has some Body Miller’s descending skills. For obvious reasons I never saw him ski but those that did were impressed. Jason Dorais and Luke Nelson rounded the podium and qualified for the 2013 US National Skimo Team.

The average climbing speed would be quite inaccurate to figure out for a race with so many transitions but see below for Targhee numbers!

» Full results for 2013 Skimo Champs at Jackson

» Photo galleries are here

The Grand Targhee Ski Mountaineering Classic

On Sunday, Jan 6th, pretty much the same spandex crew lined up on the other side of Grand Teton for 1580m of more racing. Since this was again a qualifying race for the National Team the poker faces were on.

John Gaston was able to repeat the double-win that Canada’s Reiner Thoni pulled off in 2011 and he won on Sunday too, in 1h 36min sharp. Again, that is very a fine time given the vertical gain, altitude, and the fact he raced full out the day before.

I would estimate John’s average climbing speed was close to around 1170m/h after subtracting 15min off his time for skiing and transitions.

Behind him the order changed only slightly compared to the previous day, with Thomas Goth and Marshall Thomson coming in about one and a half minutes behind.

Brad and I once again battled to the very end. And again he got the best of me, this time by 56 seconds. We finished 11th and 12th. Eric and Igor 15th and 17th.

» Full results are here (few times appear to be wrong)

Women’s races

Not much to report here as Janelle Smiley won both races pretty comfortably and is looking good before setting on her World Cup campaign. Second places were different each day but the bronze was claimed back-to-back by a local Meredith Edwards.

More blog reports

Other racers has shared the above race experiences from their perspective:

Andy Dorais reports: Jackson, Targhee (excellent write up from first row seats)

Scott Simmons: Jackson, Targhee

USSMA blog: Jackson and Targhee summary

Is too steep, too technical the way to grow skimo?

To my surprise, for the women’s elite categories/courses, only 6 lined up for the US Champs and only 5 the next day at Targhee!

I wonder whether the courses aren’t somewhat responsible for this as both races start with wicked steep 15-20min groomers, and in Jackson Hole pretty much all the climbs continue up steep, slippery moguls.

Such type of terrain requires either great skinning technique and/or lots of upper body strength. This is not to say our skimo girls aren’t strong but rather to point out that maybe (many) participants do not return in the future because even the recreation division race courses were as technical and steep as the elite ones, but shorter.

Personally, I think such courses are OK for the elite men, and elite women too if they are shorter. But they are likely a bit too much for someone that is just trying out skimo racing or is only a very recreational backcountry skier. I don’t believe those people signed up for a 3h battle up and down slippery moguls. Or no?

Also, if the rec courses are more “skinning friendly” maybe the North American skimo scene can finally enjoy some interest from teenagers. Or no?


Training Plans for Skimo Racing

Skimo Racing Manual


  1. Jonathan, those are good points… and funny ;)
    Each part of the world/country has its own “demons” in regards growing the sport. At the end, through time things will shape up naturally and those who like it will stay, those who don’t will seek other sport events. But hopefully, more youth could be attracted.

  2. Andy, thanks for sharing your experience and perspective.

    I also prefer technical up tracks as I tend to do better compared to others (not all). However, the point I was trying to question is whether such steep/technical skin tracks are good for attracting new people.

    You gave me an answer which might be shared by others too! Thanks

  3. Overly steep skintrack?
    I can see how that would be a problem, but here we have the opposite problem.
    Jay Peak — with lots of great terrain and lots of great snow, even by your Western standards — has traditionally held an okay rando race, although with a stealth attitude toward pre-race information (and also no publishing of race results), including deliberately embargoing this year’s course layout until an hour before the start.
    I did learn though, after many attempts, that the core of the course will be gutted, leaving only about 700m vertical for the entire course, and the flat approach has been lengthened to include literally going around in a circle at the nordic center.

  4. As a backcountry skier and sometimes racer from the rocky mountains, I prefer a steeper skin track. I was in Jackson at the time of the race, but touring the backcountry instead of racing. I know that there are reasons to go with a mellow skin track angle (it’s a lot more efficient!), but a lot of the non-racing backcountry community in CO, WY, and UT like to set steep tougher guy tracks.

    I have also found that because of this and time practicing kick turns, I am much faster in skimo races with steep or technical skinning. I can’t keep up with racers on the flats, but sometimes make up time in the steeps.

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