Whitefish Whiteout ski mountaineering race: big checks, fast times, wicked course

Another round of the US skimo racing series was hosted on Saturday, January 23, 2010 at Whitefish ski resort. According to organizers, for the first time in the events history the weather didn’t stay true to its name. It was clear skies with a bit of cool temperatures but just enough to make for great racing conditions.

How it all went down

Canadians seeded the field with almost a full national team against two very strong home boys that are also members of the US national skimo team.

From left - second Ben Parsons, first Brandon French, third Reiner Thoni.

From left - second Ben Parsons, first Brandon French, third Reiner Thoni.

The whole race featured about 1425m of vertical gain, according to my watch, and the times set by all the racers were quite inspiring.

The race started fast since there was a $50 bonus for the fastest guy up the first hill.

The climb was 640m vertical, according to my watch, and Reiner Thoni from the Great White North took the prize with super speedy time of 26min 59sec.

Local racer, Brandon French, was right on his heels (27min 4sec) but could not answer the well timed attack.

In the process, Reiner set a new record for this climb which was previously held by Ben Parsons and was around 29min – an improvement of around two full minutes!

To cover 640 vertical metres in 27min translates into a vertical speed of 23.70 metres/minute or 1422 metres/hour! This is an amazing speed which is way greater than the speeds achieved at the Tiki Torch vertical race in earlier December 2009. And never mind that this was just a first climb of the race.

Both racers used two different but very light setups: Brandon – all new complete Dynafit DyNA setup, Reiner – Ski Trab WC skis with Scarpa F1 carbon boots.

The overall winner of the women’s race category, Canadian Melanie Bernier, was also the first girl to the top of the first climb with a very fast time of 33min 1sec which means a speed of 19.40 m/m or 1164 m/h. Like Brandon, Melanie also races the full DyNA setup.

On the second climb, Reiner had some skin problems and was passed by Brandon and another local Ben Parsons. This is also how they rounded the top three.

From start to finish, 4th placed was occupied by a Canadian team member James Minifie who was racing in a no mans land. He was always about 3-7min behind the top three and about 2-3min in front of a pair of another Canadians – Ian Gale and myself (finished 5th and 6th). Ian and I weren’t making up or loosing any ground on James after the first climb but we were consistently pulling away from a group of about 5 racers.

Wicked race course

The race course deserves two thumbs up as it was a true ski mountaineering course yet still managed within boundaries. This is a testament to the ski area’s great terrain.

I found the course very much to my liking with lots of technical skinning and skiing, and I mean there was lots of it.

The boot pack section was very nicely setup with good supportive steps and a very straightforward line between two rocks.

As for the marking, I was a bit afraid of what to expect based on hearing stories from the previous year. But the organizers really stepped up and I don’t think anyone had a slightest problem to follow the route.

Results and big checks

Inspired by golf tournaments the prize money were handed out on big cardboard checks that made the awards ceremony quite special to the non-involved public at the ski area’s base restaurant.

Below are just a brief results re-typed from the official ones I got from the race organizers. As soon as they appear in full length on the USSMA website I will link to them.

Men’s race AT:

1. Brandon French – 1:27:34
2. Ben Parsons – 1:29:39
3. Reiner Thoni – 1:30:48

Women’s race AT:

1. Melanie Bernier – 1:47:18
2. Billie Velisek – 2:10:43
3. Kylee Ohler – 2:17:00

Men’s race Tele:

1. Clint Muhlfeld – 1:50:00

Women’s race Tele:

1. Anne Walton – 3:19:05

Then there were also other categories and a race on a shorter course for those that wanted to try our sport for the first time and I would have to believe they got a great introduction on a great course while getting a light sun tan.

Thanks to everyone for racing and big thanks to organizers for putting together such a great event.

Training Plans for Skimo Racing

Skimo Racing Manual


  1. Great race report … and comments.
    Sorry I missed the race!

  2. Stano: thanks for lending me your skins for 2011 whitefish race for the last loop! I needed them! After the race I skied directly home (live up here) and asked an organizer to return your skin to you. If you didn’t get it back for whatever reason, let me know.

  3. Now that we have two comparisons we are getting a more objective picture.

    I would say that the truth about our current climbing speeds (for Euro racing) is somewhere in the middle between the Golden vertical and this Whitefish climb, leaning more towards the latter.

    And you can also see how much Reiner and Brandon improved by having lighter gear. Of course, other things played a role too (training, gradient) but I believe this was a big one.

    For all interested in the first comparison you can read it here:

  4. Those were pretty fast first climb speeds in Whitefish. I was revisiting Stano’s “comparison” between NA racers and Europe’s best in December and given the rates at which we were climbing, the top 4 in Whitefish would be in the top 20-25 in the World. In fact, Reiner and Brandon would be pushing top 10 climb rates. This assumes that the climb rates could be sustained for another 200 vertical meters but, like Stano said, given that this was only the first climb of a 1425m race….we could probably assume most of us weren’t completely maxed out for that climb and could probably have pushed it even a little harder. Still hard to make a direct comparison because this is so course-specific but if North Americans can stay in that 21meters/min+ rate of climb…..we should do OK.

  5. Ian, maybe in has something to do with ownership? I am sure the Fernie hill was much different back in the days of Fernie Snow Valley versus the modern RCR’s Fernie Alpine Resort.

  6. It’s interesting the difference in ski hill culture in the states vs canada. It’s hard to put your finger on anything specific, but after hanging out there for the weekend aand getting a feel for the local attitude, I don’t find it surprising at all that they allow uphill traffic. Maybe a stronger sense of pride, as in localism without attitude? a good vibe for sure.

  7. Whitefish Whiteout is a really good and under-rated race. At over 1400m its an honest amount of work and volunteers and events crew seem really into it. Props. Really great to see a resort (Whitefish Mountain) encourage and support uphill movement within ski area boundaries. There seems to be a healthy dialogue between human powered users (racers in training, side-country skiers) and resort brass, and they really seem to make it work. There is obviously a few issues but at least the resort is open to finding solutions and allowing people the use of their common sense.

  8. I agree Stano, great race! I was unsure at first when we preran the course but the techy ups and re-frozen downs were a fun challenge. Thanks Whitefish!

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