This article was submitted by Melanie Bernier – an elite skimo racer and a pillar member of the Canadian National Ski Mountaineering Team. She will be contributing to Skintrack’s pool of quality content with tips, race reports and her skimo trips.
Melanie is one of the most enthusiastic and hardworking skimo racers you can ever meet. With her on board Skintrack hopes to further inspire people to seek challenge whether in the backcountry or on “a race track”.
She is writing from a 3-week long road trip with her boyfriend Andrew McNab (also a Canadian Team member):
Were the snow forgot to fall
Of all the events on the North American calendar, the Jackson Hole US Ski Mountaineering Championships and Grand Targhee Ski Mountaineering Classic races have been on my radar for a long time.
And having never skied in the States besides racing at Montana’s Whitefish Whiteout three years in a row, coming down to Wyoming and Idaho for these two events seemed like a great road trip idea.
We left Revelstoke where the snow was amazing to drive down south where it seems like mother nature forgot to leave a white present over the holidays.
It seems to be the case when we travel for racing – a similar thing happened last year when going to Claut, Italy for the World Championships.
Still smiling about the whole situation, we got to Jackson on Thursday night before the race, had a great long night of sleep to get ready for a weekend full of action.
On Friday, we decided to go for a quick ski but since Jackson Hole ski hill does not allow uphill traffic we walked up Snow King and did a few intervals. By that point, it was clear to Andrew and me that racing in the following days would be quite challenging. Living at 500m and coming to race between 2000m-3000m would certainly add to the level of difficulty.
Jackson Hole race – Mel’s POW and 4th place finish
On Saturday morning it was great to see a lot of familiar faces. It really seemed like Europe out there with about 100 racers on light equipment and skin suits. Also, it was very encouraging to see the level of skimo popularity down here which makes me believe that there is a future for great ski mountaineering racing in Canada as well.
After warming up and getting in as much liquids as possible, we lined up at the base of Jackson Hole for the start of nothing less than 8000 feet of vertical climbing!
The first climb was really what set the pace to the whole race. We climbed for 900m over steep to moderate terrain to the first top transition. I kept looking at my watch to see where I was at, then tried to keep my head up and the amount of pain down but it was very obvious I was not getting enough oxygen.
The first descent was really rough going through moguls, rocks and ice. By that point, I was thinking to myself that I would race my own race and try to keep energy in the tank till the end no matter what the outcome would be.
I got to the bottom transition with Janelle Smiley just ahead and a couple of other girls just behind. Sari Anderson, Stevie Kremer and Gemma Arro Ribot were already ahead at that point.
The second climb was quite slippery on a single skin track. I picked a high glide skin set unfortunately so I was working extra hard to move forward. The climb brought us up to the first boot pack where I started to pick up a bit of momentum and pace.
At the top of the boot pack, we had to do a quick flat traverse then rip the skins and try to control our speed down a rather steep icy face. From there, we traversed towards the famous “Corbett” climb which we contoured and ended up boot packing on the ridge leading to the top of the tram.
From there, a 1000m descent on moguls, icy chunks and crusty conditions was waiting us. If our legs were not punched by this point then they were getting toasted here for sure!
The descent led us to our final climb which was nothing but the hardest. We zigzagged on an icy slope “American Style” – meaning as steep of a skin track as could be! I have never seen anything quite like it. 🙂
I kept on looking up and seeing Gemma just ahead and I tried as hard as I could to keep the momentum and close the gap. But by that point, I started to get leg cramping and just could not push as hard.
Finishing in 4th place, I had mix feelings about the race. I was for one really happy to be done and happy to had a chance to race in such a well-organized event but I was a bit disappointed to see the limitations of my body when it comes to quick elevation acclimatization. In hindsight, it’s something that I did not have control over and I’m just glad I gave it all I had at the time.
Andrew had a difficult race as well. In addition to the elevation factor, he brought from Canada a nice flue. While traveling, he tried to get better as much as possible. He was on the fence about racing until the last minute and decided to go with it since he was feeling slightly better on Saturday morning.
I could see him from the distance during the event and he did not have his strong McNab “go get her” look! Never the less, he did not abandon and finished the race in just over 3 hours. As for Niall Gleeson, also from Canada, he decided not to finish the race since he was really sick.
Congrats to Luke Nelson and Sari Anderson who both had pretty solid races and won the US National championships.
Onto the Grand Targhee Classic – Mel’s race and her 2nd placeAfter really generous award ceremony we met few friends for some stretching and hot and cold recovery at the pool. We then relaxed with a hot beverage before going out for some great food.
After dinner we decided to drive to Grand Targhee that night just to be able to sleep in a little more before another race on Sunday. We had an interesting night of sleep up at 2400m and woke up to foggy conditions for the race.
At 10:30am, racers crossed the start line to head up one of the steepest climbs I have ever done. No switch backs, straight up a groomed run for about 600m. As we got to the top, I gained a bit of mojo and started sprinting to get ahead of a few people. But this first climb just about killed me!
We skied down really gnarly conditions (mix of crust, ice and rocks) to the first transition. I managed to pass a couple of people here so I was thinking to myself: “I’m still in the race!”
Fortunately, the second climb was not as steep as the first one as we made our way up on a cat track leading to zigzags in trees. From there, a quick skins-on traverse brought us to the boot pack where I passed Amy, then gave it all on the descent to catch up to Sari.
I knew Gemma was far ahead so I kept my head down and crested the last ascent just behind my sweet heart Andrew. As we reached the top a nice shot brought us back down to the groomer for a fast rip to the start/finish area.
Andrew completed the event in just above 2 hours and I was a couple of minutes behind him to take the 2nd place in women’s category.
Congrats to Jason Dorais and Gemma Arro Ribot for the 1st place.
Road tripping in the States and exploring what Teton Pass has to offer is on the menu for the weeks to come. Our aim is to get used to elevation in a hope that racing in Colorado at the end of the month will end up feeling normal again. 😉