Ryan and I are totally new skimo and racing. Thus, deciding to do the GT was a huge leap. We love backcountry touring and uphilling, but haven’t ever tried skinny skis before this year. No big deal, right? Skiing is skiing? Wrong. We are discovering that there is a whole lot more to gear considerations, logistics and training that we ever even thought. We had expected a huge learning curve, but it’s been more of a giant mountain than a curve….So, here are we are. Less than 8 weeks out and we’re figuring it out day by day, trying not to let the stress of what ifs get the best of us. In one way, the fact that we are doing this to honor my sister’s memory and to raise money for cancer research is a huge motivator for us; we just have to keep going to make her proud (not to mention all the amazing people who are supporting us – thank you!). And, it’s also adding a little pressure because we don’t want to let anyone down. We know this is silly since no matter what, we will give 110% and will be proud of that regardless of the outcome. However, we also really want to make the cutoffs and get to Aspen…..So, we are training our butts off and planning and acquiring gear and moving forward one day at a time.
Last week, we skied about 15 miles from Garfield to St. Elmo via Chalk Creek Pass. It was sweet to do a point-to-point adventure where we were committed to continuing and never retraced a single step. The views and landscape were stunning and the time alone together as a couple away from phones and computers was wonderful. In addition to being successful since we made it from point A to point B, the mission was even more important due to lessons learned. Here are a few. They may seem simple or obvious, but I’m realizing as we go through this huge, somewhat overwhelming process that it’s easy to lose sight of the small things and it’s the small things that add up to make a huge difference.
Lesson 1: Skimo boots will not fit the same way as your regular ski boots. They are lighter and faster and therefore, not as roomy or comfy as normal ski or A.T boots. So, it’s important to get them early and try them on every type of terrain and over long distances. A boot that feels great for 2 miles uphill may kill for 2 miles on flats. Case in point: I loved the Dynafit PDGs until this tour since prior to this we’d been doing mostly uphill skinning and downhill skiing. For the first 7 miles uphill, my feet were happy. Then, we hit the pass and decided to just ski down without clicking in or taking off skins. Mistake: even just a few hundred feet of that and my baby toes were thrust into the side creating massive pain, which made the next 8 miles a mental test that I could have done without. We’ve got it sorted out now and thanks to a boot punch and some liner work, the boots are once again comfy.
Take Home 1: Practice with all of your gear – especially boots and skis – on all sort of terrain – steeps, flats, rolling, downhills and on all sorts of distances.
Lesson 2: Practice eating and drinking early and often. Sometimes we go touring for hours and don’t eat or drink much until a few hours in. This will mostly likely not work as you increase the length and difficulty of your efforts. Trying to mimic race pace, Ryan and I didn’t stop for a snack until we were both hungry and I think this cost us in terms of performance.
Take Home 2: Adopt an eating & drinking schedule you stick to (i.e. 100-150 calories every hour) even if you don’t feel hungry and notice how energy levels shift.
Lesson 3: You won’t eat if you don’t LOVE the food you have with you. This was part of the problem. Nothing I brought sounded appetizing and the one thing that did was frozen solid so I had to just swallow whole frozen energy chews. Unless you are trying to win, there really is no reason to just suck down gels all race (unless you like those) so real food is ok, as long as you have practiced with it and know it works for you and doesn’t give you GI issues.
Take Home 3: Bring Snickers, cheese, nuts, etc…whatever you will want to eat no matter how you feel or what time of day it is. Practice with these snacks to see what works.
Lesson 4: Long training days are about improving and testing physical strength, but they also offer an opportunity to spend time in beautiful places, working as a team. It’s easy to focus so much on pace and gear that you miss all the magic around you. Don’t let this happen! We kept on pace, but also paused every once in a while to check-in with each other and to express appreciation for the chance to spend a whole day in the mountains.
Take Home 4: There’s always time for a few moments of gratitude and/or to make sure your partner is doing well.
Lesson 5: We often focus on elevation gain as a way to measure a “big day.” However, what’s becoming clear is that, the flats are going to be my biggest challenge. Mentally and physically, skinning or skating (which I am sort of very awkward at) for miles and miles on a flat road can be an energy killer and somewhat…shall we say, uninspiring. What does this mean? Well, the next few weeks I have to do more of it and figure out how to make it fun and more efficient. I played a little game with myself on the 7ish miles of flat, rolling terrain on this tour that seemed to work; I made a pact with myself that I wouldn’t stop or even look at my watch until I thought I had gone a certain distance. Then, I’d pick a song and sing it 4 or 5 times completely through before looking at my watch. Usually, I had gone farther than my goal distance and it motivated me to just keep pushing….Will have to come up with some other techniques.
Take Home 5: Don’t underestimate the flats. Practice, practice, practice what you like the least.
Lesson 6: Skiing downhill is usually the best, most fun part of any ski tour. Skinny skis make the downhill the most “interesting” or shall we say, scary part depending on conditions. On this most recent adventure, we actually had to take our skis off and walk down the first few hundred feet below the pass because it was dirt! Wind had blown all the snow away. When we finally did ski, it was crusty, weird, wavy snow that seemed to push me exactly opposite of where I was trying to turn! And, because the GT is a backcountry race, the conditions could be anywhere from fresh pow to bullet proof so sticking to groomers in training isn’t wise. Take Home 6: Whenever we train with our knowledgeable friend Matt, he always asks: “What’s your least favorite run?” And then he makes us ski that. So, ski the run that intimidates you the most, as often as you ca. Bonus if it’s in the worst conditions possible. ,