Mr. SkiMo Rising

Goin’ the full Euro: Rando racers elevate their heart rates at the Winter Mountain Games at Vail. Photo by Steven Dewitt

Who are Colorado’s fittest endurance sport athletes? Try your first ski mountaineering race this season and we guarantee it will become painfully clear—even if you’re an expert skier in the best shape of your life.

The Heathen Challenge: January 12 • Sunlight Mountain

The Heathen Challenge’s recreation course is ideal for SkiMo first-timers, with “only” 2,500 feet of elevation gain. The regular course, aptly named the racecourse, is a different story with almost double that number. Add in the fact that this year’s Heathen Challenge is the final selection race for the U.S. National Team, and you’re opening yourself up to a world of hurt. According to the race directors, the skiing will be “extra adventurous” and the skin tracks and boot packs “more interesting.” ussma.org

Powderhorn Ski Mountaineering Race: January 13 • Powderhorn Mountain 

Leveraging the Heathen Challenge the day before, Powerderhorn Mountain hopes to create a double whammy of weekend SkiMo racing on the Western Slope. At press time, the course details weren’t yet available—the race will be Powerhorn’s virgin initiative. In addition, Powderhorn is also planning a Wednesday morning training series, which begs the question, just how much pain can one endure before work? ussma.org

North American Ski Mountaineering Championships: January 26 • Crested Butte

Crested Butte has been a stop on the Colorado Ski Mountaineering Cup (COSMIC) race series for five seasons, and one of the most successful thanks to course quality and difficulty. Last year, CB played host to the first-ever 2012 International Ski Mountaineering Federation’s (ISMF) GORE-TEX North American Ski Mountaineering Championships, which translated as more vertical, a class-five boot pack ascent and a more technical course. Look for more of the same this year. ussma.org

Race the Divide: January 27 • Monarch Mountain

Last year, Salida Mountain Sports added more tree skiing and boot pack to the traditional Mirkwood Bowl loop. This year, they’re promising an additional loop that’s allegedly 100 percent backcountry. Race the Divide is historically an appealing race for SkiMo newbies, being one of the smaller, community-oriented races. Folks entering the rec category get two laps, instead of four, and considerably less vertical than the racers. But don’t worry, it still hurts. Bad. ussma.org

COSMIC Sprint Race and SIA Uphill/Downhill Challenge: February 4 • Winter Park

Every season, Winter Park hosts the on-snow demo day following the annual SnowSports Industries America (SIA) trade show where industry insiders, sports retailers and media gather to try out the latest ski and snowboard gear. The highlight of the day is the SIA Uphill/Downhill Challenge, where participants skin up to the Sunspot Lodge and then ski down the iconic Outhouse bump run. The race is a fundraiser for the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association and while it’s free to enter, a donation is suggested. More experienced SkiMo racers, or gluttons for punishment, can opt to enter the COSMIC race on the same day, which follows a similar course, but includes a skin up the Mary Jane run.ussma.org

Winter Mountain GamesFebruary 9 • Vail

The Winter Mountain Games SkiMo race offers the biggest prize purse in North America, with $1,000 being awarded in the elite category to the fastest man and the fastest woman. Cash prizes go six deep for both genders. But cold hard cash in that amount comes at its own price—a heart-exploding 6,500 feet of vertical. Not quite ready? Enter the rec category or the advanced category, depending on experience. The first three finishers in each win an Eddie Bauer First Ascent Jacket and perhaps a sandbagger designation. mountaingames.com/winter

The Power of Four Ski Mountaineering Race: March 2 • Aspen/Snowmass

Four mountains (Snowmass, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands and Aspen Mountain) and 10,000 feet of vertical gain in one race means no one can go it alone, no matter how big a superfreak. Participants compete in teams of two during this daylong undertaking that kicks off at 7 a.m. in Snowmass Village. The route is not overly technical, but the vert and distance are enough to make grown men weep openly. ussma.org

The Five Peaks presented by CAMP: March 23, Breckenridge

Now in its fourth year, the Five Peaks is the original team sufferfest, taking pairs across the Ten Mile Range behind the Breckenridge Ski Resort. Last year’s course included six ascents  (two boot pack climbs) and 8,000 feet of vert on Peak 7, 8 and 9, and is looking to be the same this year. The rec course is a dialed-back version with three ascents and 4,500 feet of climbing. New for this year: a 6:30 a.m. start time. Ouch. thefivepeaks.com

Cody’s Challenge: March 23 • Steamboat Springs

For the fifth year, the Cody St. John Foundation celebrates the life of the former Steamboat Springs Ski Patroller. Participants climb, traverse and descend Mount Werner, with the option to do either the short or long course. Last year for the first time, Cody’s Challenge courted ski patrollers to compete in teams of two. The team with the lowest combined time won a $2,000 grant toward group medical training for their mountain’s patrol. whatwouldcodydo.org

San Juans Rando: April 6 • San Juan Mountains

Last year’s race got cancelled due to snow, or more accurately, lack thereof. The year before, it was called early due to white-out conditions impacting visibility. Race promoters are hoping that the third time’s a charm for this storied course that takes participants from Molas Pass through couloirs and steep skin tracks before finishing with a long descent off of Spencer Peak. sanjuanrando2012.blogspot.com

Spyder Grind: April 20 • Arapahoe Basin

The 11th annual Spyder Grind begins Euro-style with a running dryland start. Rec category racers will spend anywhere between 45 minutes and 1.5 hours negotiating the 2,000 feet of vertical punctuated with hair-raising descents. The race category follows the same course but adds a second loop on the upper mountain for about twice as much vert. But the suffering shall not be in vain—there’s New Belgium beer for all at the afterparty, along with the Spyder Big Rig. ussma.org

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