Les Diablerets Race Course

2480 vm / 29.2 km / starting line @ at 1160 meters elevation

7 ascents, 7 descents, 2 bootpacks, 16 transitions

Last weekend I raced in a small Swiss town called Les Diablerets. The race took a teams format- meaning 2 athletes start, complete, and finish the course together; the two team members must go through all transitions at the same time. It is a fun and different concept to racing, as you change race strategy and look out for your partner. You work together and your actions reflect in the best interest of the team.

Le mans start

Le mans start

The course started right in the village at the congress hall, in the adjacent park. It was a Le Mans start, meaning on foot with skis in hand or pack. In this case we all had our skis on our packs. We ran across the snow covered field, across and bridge and then ascending a very steep and narrow European road. It wound its way up and up and up. The pavement lasted for quite some time- approx. 200 meters uphill. Finally we put our skins on and commenced a long icy climb. I had issues gripping the icy groomed snow with my skins, which made for a difficult start.  The first ascent was 640m. Each descent near the beginning was short and often followed by around 400 meters of climbing. The last little bit emphasized quick transitions as ascent 7 totalled 35 m, with a finish descending 125 m.

The route led the racers through some stunning scenery, up over various peaks and down wide alpine bowls. The majority of the race took place in the alpine. I personally enjoyed the via ferrata section- running across the ridge with a fixed rope. The views were indescribable.

section of the via ferrata

section of the via ferrata

Also of note- during one descent, bombing down the hill, we had a road crossing where traffic was stopped momentarily as racers took their skis off and ran across the road to the other side.

 

The finish was a fun 2km (ish) skate ski through the village back to the starting line. By that time of day the sun was blaring hot. My partner, Andrew, and I kept the stoke high and pushed hard right to the finish!

 

Andrew was a great team partner, a man from the UK currently living in Verbier, Switzerland. We had never raced together before, let alone skied together. He was in high spirits and with patience and flexibility we quickly learnt how to work together as a team. This was one more aspect added to our race, trying to pace off each other and move together as one having just met the previous day.

I would highly recommend this course to anyone. It was filled with challenge, excitement, amazing terrain, and majestic mountains.

new diablo course

 

Racing Monsters

Races can follow a variety of paths. There are some races in which the entire race goes smoothly: you perform well, fueling goes great, you meet your goals, and there are no gear failures. Success. There are other scenarios in which a water bottle might freeze, a skin might not stick, etc. It is inevitable to run into problems every so often when racing and it is accepted as a part of the challenge.

 

When a racing season is going well, a small little obstacle with the right coping strategies won’t materialize into anything beyond a mishap. Especially if the competition is completed in the desired time frame and goals are met. It’s no big deal.

 

However- if the season has been a rough go it’s easy to loose sight. The small obstacle grows into a large monster during a rough racing season. At the finish line, if the results are not satisfactory- the little gear issue cultivate into a pressure of not performing well enough. “I’m more experienced than that. I should’ve foreseen this issue or been able to solve it quicker.” The same incidents can produce such contrasting mental results depending on one’s mindset.

 

Do not overlook the other reasons you race- the challenge, the community, the beautiful places, creating goals, pushing your limits, improving your abilities and learning about yourself.

Marmotta Trophy World Cup

marmotta race logo

Marmotta Trophy: 1317 vm 4 ascents/ 3 descents / 2 portages / 10.5 km

Nestled in a mountainous region of Italy, in a beautiful town called Martello, is where the Marmotta Trophy World Cup Races took place.

I came to this race with a very interesting mindset. I wasn’t particularly satisfied with my results at the previous races in Verbier. But blended in with the negative emotions were also a elated memory of the teams race with my partner Kylee. Thus I arrived with a mixed bag of emotions alongside a tremendous amount of pressure (from myself) to perform well.

Friday my team-mates (Travis, Nick, Mel & Eric) and I set out on a little course recon. A little bit of homework on getting to know the course gave me a confidence boost. That afternoon my boot broke- specifically the bolt that engages the downhill mode fell out. This was a minor set-back. And thanks to Melanie’s connections and help I was able to get it fixed by the Scarpa rep. Phew!

Saturday morning I awoke early ready to race. I had overcome a small little obstacle the evening before and was up to the challenge of the Marmotta course- a new country and a fresh start.

My contact ripped.

For those of you who know me, you understand the magnitude of this phrase. I’m practically blind. I cannot see much detail more than 5 feet in front of me. To pack lightly into our tiny rental car, I didn’t bring a back up pair.

Rather than get worked up, I just quietly went about warming up and preparing for the race. Sure half of my vision was gone- a complete blur on the left side-but I wasn’t interested in sitting around all day.

In a quick nutshell- I lost a lot of athletes on the first downhill. It turns out that its quite hard to ski quickly without depth perception and sight. I lost a good chunk of the pack quite rapidly. If I had to sum up the race in one word it would be unique. By the time I came through transitions most of the volunteers didn’t cheer for me. They focused on staying warm. At times by –standers chasing their friends would yell out names of my fellow competitors. I couldn’t see very far, and it was often quiet. I simply focused on the few steps ahead of me, of doing my personal best. I redirected my negativity into building character.

It was a positive moment when I passed 2 competitors and then flew up the bootpack, dropping them like flies. The last descent was so hard to see- but I finished with my best effort.

As my wise friend Kylee stated, “You are building character Michelle and that is of much more eternal value than any placing in races.”

marmotta-trophy-skimo-cnd crew

 

World Champs Race Recaps: P1

VERTICAL RACE: 847 meters

I am one to speak with high optimism, and I’m usually stoked about most things. However, in the case of the vertical race, I finished with heavy disappointment.

The race followed a “king of the hill” format- first one to the top wins; one big climb of 847 meters. The course setters threw snow into the streets and sent us racing up through the middle of Verbier town center. This was neat, both for spectators and athletes. The streets were packed with people. Another fun element was the helicopter camera following along and filming. I took a few moments to look up and smile as it flew overhead.

Vert Race- photo by Ohler

Vert Race- photo by Ohler

 

“Don’t go out too strong!” advised many people over and over. A frequent mistake is to start to fast and then blow up partly through the race. In hindsight- I didn’t start fast enough. And then combined with the low angled course that traversed and traversed and traversed, I actually found it difficult to get enough speed to get my heart rate going. As a climber, I felt as though I was on a Nordic course. I kept hoping for some steep hills.

Crossing the finish line I sprinted as Katarina cheered me on. I pushed my hardest in the last 5 min, but that wasn’t enough. Within moments of crossing the finish I quickly recovered from my meagre sprint finish and was ready to climb another 847 meters. I fancied more vertical. I wanted my body to sense the tolls of a race, but I was fresh as a daisy.

With reflection, I have to remind myself that not everyone can become a world cup racer instantly. It takes time to figure out strategy, personal limits, and knowing how to race. I quickly assigned myself the homework of gliding technique and spending a bit more time training on flatter terrain.

All in all, I grew as an athlete, as more of my limiters were highlighted. It was an  experience abreast with sadness and joy.

 

INDIVIDUAL:

After feeling a little down from the relay and vertical race, I had my race face on and was ready to tackle the individual race. I had a few goals which included going hard, slobbering, and dropping of exhaustion at the finish line. I was hungry for an intense and hard race.

The start went pretty well. I managed to find myself stuck in the throng of ski poles, skis, elbows, butts, etc. Oddly enough, a fellow competitors pole managed to catch my skin and flick it off my tip right within the first 60 meters or so- this was a tiny setback, but with mental fortitude I made no big deal and managed to push myself to remain with the pack. With a refined focus, high cadence, and a strong will, I could stayed within sight of the many top females throughout a good duration of the first climb.

A few race highlights to note: I crashed hard on a descent. I passed 4 athletes on the 2nd ascent. I continued to keep several key athletes within sight.

Boot packing down from Peak Six Blanc

Boot packing down from Peak Six Blanc

With the last ascent only gaining 200 meters I coached myself to attack the climb and redline it. Unfortunately my binding collected ice and would not engage. My boot would not properly clip into my binding- thus over and over and over again I walked out of my ski. As you can imagine this was both frustrating and also time consuming. I stopped at one point to try and remove ice and sort out the problem, but efforts proved nil. The ready to attack Michelle was unable to attack.

Competitor after competitor passed me through my gear failure struggle as I snailed my way up the last climb, attempting to remain positive.

As I crossed the finish line- I lacked in slobber, high heart rate, and the desire to collapse. Again I felt discouraged.

Martha and I posing in front of our names

Martha and I posing in front of our names

 

Stayed Tuned for the amazing “Teams Race” Report!!!

Mont Buet

looking across  the valley

looking across the valley

Sitting at 3096m, Le Mont Buet, was my second French summit. We started with a beautiful train ride across the countryside to arrive at our destination- the bottom of the baby piste at La Poya village. (Here in France the bunny hill is more commonly referred to as the baby piste. It truly is for children only.)

We followed alongside a creek for a gentle tour up into the valley, and then started to ascent a large wide open bowl. The terrain was stunning with the majestic peaks surrounding us.

 

DSCF2718

 

 

Although we only went a few days ago, in the middle of Feb, it was smoking hot! I easily could have been skinning in a bikini! Water conservation was a must. The pace slowed a little as the day went on, making our way under the hot sun.

DSCF2751

 

The summit was excellent and contains amazing views! No surprise there.  A total climb of 1708 meters and many horizontal km made for a great day combined with excellent skiing on the descent (excellent skiing is hard to find these days with the lack of precip).

 

Hip hip hooray pour le Mont Buet!

Sur le sommet

Sur le sommet

ISMF World Champs coming soon….

 

ismf wc logo

The ISMF World Championship opening ceremonies start tomorrow afternoon. We will parade proudly down the streets with our Canadian flag amongst many other nations. A total of 251 athletes are expected to compete. There will be athletes from Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Spain, France, Great Britain, Germany, Greece, Iran, Italy, Japan, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Switzerland, Sweden and the U.S.A.

The countries to watch out for will be Spain, French, Italy, Switzerland, and Germany. Everyone expects the infamous Killian Jornet to podium in several of the men’s events-specifically the vertical and the individual. For the women we are watching Swiss Maude Mathys and French Laetitia Roux.  Laeititia started ski mountaineering when she was a mere 9 years old. I have counted 26 different skimo racing victories that she has claimed. Needless to say, I will be racing against the athletes who are leagues above me. I am super excited to learn and challenge myself!

Allez! Allez! Allez!

BG-Verbier-2015-Home-0

Peak 6 Blanc

I have been in Switzerland for almost a week now and I have been training quite a bit.  Most often I ski once a day, sometimes twice a day.

Yesterday my teammate, Travis, and I finally summited our first Swiss Peak!

IMG_0701

 

We walked 5 minutes from our chalet and started skinning (climbing) uphill.  We found a beautiful spot along the ridge with fresh snow and wonderful views.  We skinned to the top of the resort and explored past the boundary and summited our Six Blanc! This French name translates to the 6th white peak.  We were able to see so many mountain ranges surrounding us.  It highlighted how different Canada is from Europe as everywhere we looked we could see little villages and homes littering every single mountainside.  We felt like we were in the middle of nowhere for only a moment’s time, as there was always a little house or chalet perched along a hillside somewhere.

 

Travis skinning up

Travis skinning up

DSCF2330

From the peak we were able to ski a full 1300 meters almost right back to our chalet.  The access is incredible!  The valleys here are so deep compared to Canada as the village wasn’t even valley bottom.

Peak 6 Blanc

Peak 6 Blanc

EuroLand

After a 14 hour flight, layover, car drive, etc I have finally landed!  Last night after all the travelling, all Travis and I managed to do was eat some food, go for a walk, and sleep.

This morning we skinned up through the village of Bruson to the ski resort and had a little ski down.  Already, on the first day, I broke my race pole :( As you can imagine, I was not impressed and actually let out a little bit of colourful language.

broken pole

 

Travis and I are staying in a cute little chalet that used to be a barn.  It is well over a 130 years old.  The kitchen and living quarters were previously in the basement where the livestock also spent the winter nights.  It is now obviously in much different conditions.  chalet living quarters

 

On our little outing today we ran into other Cnd teammates, Kat and Eric, on the slopes. Their residence is only a 1 min walk from ours! The world is always small.

Well- off to buy some groceries, do a little housekeeping, and hopefully get in a second ski this afternoon!

 

Castle Mountain Race 2015

Phew- what a whirlwind of adventure.

The Castle Mountain Skimo Race is a spectacular event full of athleticism, mental stamina, challenging skiing, technical skinning, and remarkable scenery.  Just days after completed this competition, I’m still grinning from ear to ear and what a great event it was.

course map

course map

In short- the race had it all.  The skin track favoured no one, but instead incorporated all styles.  Due to a low snow year, the technical kick turns and course through the trees included a bit of alder-bashing, branch grabbing, and a bit bush whacking.  Before a third of the first ascent was completed, every athlete had their turn of tricky skinning.  In addition to technical components, the ascents included steep hills and flat sections, giving everyone a chance to shine at their strength.

2013 start line

2013 start line

One segment that I am particularly fond of is the boot pack.  Oh goodness I love bootpacks!  It involved several joys such as running across a technical rocky ridge, downclimbing, slipping, and jumping.  Parts had just a skiff of snow covering to make it slippery.

 

Rocky Ridge (2013 Race)

Rocky Ridge (2013 Race)

After a long bootpack we went for a long run down lonestar.  Usually filled in with powder, my skis chattered across chunder and and rock hard wind lips.  This took me by surprise and I believe I pulled in the reigns and didn’t ski it as confidently as I could’ve.

Ascent 2 held its own little goody bag-500 meters of non-stop arduous steep climbing right up the cat track.  The headlong climb made it difficult for me to pick up the pace.

The last descent in the cat skiing area challenged me, which also took me by surprise.  Last time I skied like a boss through that area- this time I was bucked around as if I were riding an upset horse.  It was embarrassing & I felt transported back to the first day of ski touring.

Finally I hit the cat track and alternated between tuck and skate-skiing to the finish line.

To sum up-> conditions! conditions! conditions!  It was a great race with some demanding conditions.

 

Earning Your Turns

At this time of the year the earn & turn ratio is a little heavier on the earn side.  Skiffs of snow mixed with November rain adds up to a lot of work for little skiing.  But when your heart is happy being outside, going for a walk and throwing skiing into the mix equals fun.  I’d rather breathe fresh outdoor air than spend endless hours in the gym.  I start to care less about the “work” or the lack of skiing and more about enjoying the scenery.

 

Skiffs of snow

Skiffs of snow

In the shoulder season it is all about perspective.  The days are short and the terrain is limited.  Scrambling and mnt biking are pretty much out of the question.  Doing 7 min laps at the nordic center is fun, but it’s not an all day adventure.  Thus, going for a walk with skis on the pack gives hints of good times.

 

Skinning up

Skinning up

A few friends and I tested out our gear, looking for kinks and reminding ourselves of our ski systems.  We explored new places, had some icy skiing, and had some “powdery-esk” turns in the mix.  We laughed at the rocks and the dirt and managed to still fist pump at the end of the day- despite the fact that our “skiing” was more accurately hiking.

Yay shoulder season :)

Couliour Boot Pack

Couliour Boot Pack

Heading on out

Heading on out