Monday, March 12, 2012

2012 Wasatch Powderkeg Race Report - Tandem Tele Revolution!

Another ski season is on its way out, and another powderkeg has come and gone. The Wasatch Powderkeg has become a fixture in my calendar, one that I look forward to every year. It not only means I get to head back to Utah from where ever I've been (Boulder, CO; Silicon Valley, CA; and soon to be Washington DC), but its the culmination of my true passion - backcountry skiing - and the perfect chance to act like a complete goon. After taking second place in the telemark recreation division last year, Dustin and I set our sights on revolutionizing the sport of telemark skiing.

It all began a few years ago when we started honing our skills, which can be seen in this film:

As our confidence grew, we realized this is more than just a spring skiing antic and could develop into something big, something aggressive, something global, a REVOLUTION to bring telemark skiing back to the TOP! After several years of careful preparation and planning, we decided to make our official debut at the 2012 Wasatch Powderkeg. All the photos shown below are from Sallie Shatz. You can see her work here.

The recreation division race started with the usual Le Mans start. Dustin and I, in our matching bright blue-yellow striped skin tight race suits, alternatively yelled "PODIUM" and other more gutteral war cries as we ran across the frozen parking lot. Once we got to our skis, we quickly implemented our system for getting into and out of the skis by having each of us get into one ski - with Dustin getting into the right front binding first and me getting into the left rear binding - and then Dustin getting into the left front binding before I got into the right rear binding.

The FIRST ASCENT went very well, there were only a few sections of technical moguls that gave us some trouble. We navigated these sections by cutting ourselves a shallower line across the hill into the trees and extending our lines as far as possible before we were required to make a kick turn.

The FIRST DESCENT was a cat track traverse that made me a bit nervous because I didn't feel totally in control on the icy track. By the SECOND ASCENT we were already caught by the racers, and we tried our best to stay out of their way to preserve any good will we might have gained from our stylish suits. Once we reached the SECOND DESCENT Transition, we had a pretty good system down - if only that could be said of our descending for the ACTUAL descent! This is where the excrement really started to hit the air conditioning (as my favorite author Kurt Vonnegut says in Hocus Pocus), as we descened the ridgeline through trees and powdered moguls we tried to side slip through most of it during the lulls between descending racers and lagging recreational division participants. Once we were able to drop into the backside, we gingerly side slipped down the south facing ice face with the pictures of both front bindings completely pulled out of the skis, screws and all, still clearly in our mind from a fall we took the day before the race.

Luckily we made it to the bottom and were able to transition for the THIRD ASCENT, which was quite a bit easier with only a few difficult spots. The only problem was that fatigue was already setting in as several hours had passed with the sun beating down heavily upon us and a two full descents from top to bottom and one full ascent from bottom to top still left.

The THIRD DESCENT was still slightly technical which required us to make more actual parallel turns (downhill style turns, i.e. not dropping a knee) to navigate trees and moguls. As we got close to the base we settled into a good rhythm and were able to connect several parallel turns instead of ski school style "pizza turns" with our skis formed in a shape of a slice of pie to slow us down. But, of course the more parallel turns we made the more ridiculous and hilarious the spectacle became as I had to hold Dustin by his hips to ensure we didn't fall opposite ways again and pull the bindings out. Along the whole of the third descent we were speculating what time we would make it into the sixth checkpoint at the bottom of the resort - which had a 10:45 am cut-off time. We were hoping we could beat the cut-off time so we could finish the race, but we both wouldn't have minded if were forced to stop because we were not looking forward to the final ascent all the way to the top of the resort OR the final descent that was going to take us down another steep cliff face. But we pulled into the sixth transition at 10:15 am or so, which meant we had 30 minutes to spare before the cut-off would have disqualified us.

The FOURTH ASCENT was mostly up the edge of cat tracks and some mogul runs with one extremely technical section which required us to make a mid-face kick turn on a steep section that we watched skier after skier in front of us fall down on. To our surprise we were able to make our awkward two step kick turn well enough to get turned around before we slid down a few feet on the face. Luckily we were able to quickly self-arrest and make it up that last challenging climb. After some more belabored skinning and explaining to befuddled gawkers what we were doing, we made it the top of the final climb, which ended at the top of a chair lift, exhausted and dehydrated because we had both run out of water. Thanks to a kind samaritan who gave us a propel to share, we were able to rehydrate and rest for a moment while Dustin's friend Nate and P-Keg photographer Sallie Shatz prepared to follow us down the steep cliff area, through the groomers, and into the finish.

For the FOURTH AND FINAL DESCENT we slid and made strategic turns down the steep sections while trying to avoid the gawkers, that were understandably compelled by their well-founded curiosity to attempt to make sense of the situation.

[NOTE: The photo above was featured as one of ten photos picked by Sports Illustrated for March 11, 2012. You can see it here. You will need Google Chrome to view the pictures (which can easily be downloaded and installed for free, if you don't have it), once in the SI Snapshot window you must select "galleries" in the top right corner, select March 11th, and then within the "Photos of the Day" you'll want to scroll down to our photo just below Tiger Woods (we are the 9th photo).]

Once we finally reached the relatively gentle terrain below we were excited to practice our tele turns in preparation for our triumphant finish.

But in our haste to prove our tele turning skills to our two patient photographers, we perhaps brought too much power and too much skill to bear too soon. Once we got into a good rhythm and connected five or six tele turns . . . DISASTER STRUCK!! We crashed and slid across the once icy, but now slightly slushy, ski slope. As we came to a rest, we looked at our gear to figure out what might have happened, and then my eyes fixated on Dustin's right binding that was curiously hanging in mid air; still attached to his boot, yet not attached to the ski. We weren't shocked at this development, as we were half-expecting it to have happened at some point throughout the race. So we quickly set about attaching the binding back onto the ski, as best we could, with Voile Straps (the best investment you will ever make!).

Once the binding was Voile strapped onto the ski, it proved too difficult to control the ski with us both strapped in. The straps were causing so much drag once our right ski was set down that it would immediately pull us hard right and throw us out of control. With the finish line within hearing but still about half way down the mountain, we each clipped into one ski and did our best "Better Off Dead" - one ski impression down to within a few hundred feet of the finish line. From there we both clipped in and did our best to slide to the finish, with me leaning back while grasping Dustin by the waist to prevent the Voile straps from dragging and making us lose all control. As we neared the finish line we did our best to make a few telemark turns on the increasingly flat ski slope in front of the finish line. Just as we came within the final few feet of the finish line, Dustin's right foot came out and we collapsed into a heap of intertwined blue skin tight ski suits. To heighten the drama, Dustin began crawling to the finish while dragging us both across.

Once we were across the finish line I "rode the pony" in commemoration of "owning" the recreational division course in a respectable time: our time of 5 hours and 25 minutes (the winner of the recreational division, Chris Lawrence, finished in 1:54:49). (If you are friends with my brother, Tim Valentiner, on facebook you'll be able to see a video of our finish here). Apparently we didn't win, but we DID win best costume - so we have that going for us.

A huge thanks to Sallie Shatz for letting me use these photos for the blog!


Missy said...

Your video made my morning. :)
Truly a big day in skiing history!

Dustin Butcher said...

The mainstream sports world sees the potential! Here we are as chosen by Sports Illustrated as one of the ten best sport photos in the world for the day:

jeremyv said...

It's just a bummer she didn't get a shot of us dropping the knee (or should I say "knees") for the SI photo.