This winter I discovered a love of randonee skiing. Buying some skis and having an exceptional amount of snow in Bergen meant that I have skied far more than planned. In fact, I have hardly had enough time to run.
Even with so much skiing I would never have imagined myself taking part in a race, but I lack the ability to say no to a new challenge and was excited to see what racing would be like. So after just 3 months of ski touring I was off to my first race.
Maybe you are wondering randonee is? There are slight differences but in my mind randonee, ski touring, back country skiing and ski mountaineering are all in a similar boat. You walk up a mountain with skins attached to your skis, at the top you rip the skins of, clip the boots in completely and ski down as if you would when alpine skiing. The uphill is great training (as is the down), you get to explore new mountains and you get to ski fresh snow.
From my first trip I was hooked and have had to find good reasons in order to not ski everyday. I was finding that I could ski for 6 hours and felt that my body was trained but not swollen or hurting in the same was as after running for 6 hours. In fact, on some days I have enjoyed skiing for many hours before doing a planned running session for some hours in the evening. This has added a new dynamic to my training and meant I can build a great engine with skiing, whilst keeping my muscles fresh for proper running training.
So I believe skiing has been helping my running…but why do a randonee race? Mainly because it sounded like a lot of fun, that and Moonlight Mountain Gear offered to help kit me out with some racing skis. Decision made, my first race of the year would be on snow.
Stryn Rando is a 25km course that climbs 3000m in the process, a Norwegian Cup event it wasn’t exactly a small local competition to start with but I figured I would keep expectations small and have enjoyment as the main goal.
Rarely content with simply having fun I need a secondary goal…so I figured beating the first lady would be a good one. So I was going to be that guy, pretty sure soon I’d be looking at my age group result too. Funny thing was that this became somewhat harder when I found out Emelie Forsberg was taking part, one of the best women in the world…
Being such a long race I figured I still had a chance as I class myself as having good endurance… the weather had different plans for the day though. High winds, rain and fog meant that the course would be shortened to two laps around the alpine ski area, totalling 15km with 1700m of climb. So now it felt like we were doing more of a sprint, just one that would take 2 hours.
One lap would consist of two main uphills (one including a hiking section with skis on bag) and two downhills (one in a forest and one on piste). This would mean something like 12 changes of either skins on/off and skis on/off bag throughout the race. Thinking back to doing triathlon transitions this was somewhat scary…
The start of the race was amazingly fast. I had no idea how much I could or wanted to push and what would happen over the next two hours. Once we got a little higher I found out why the fast start. There was only a single skin track. Overtaking would waste much energy so I decided just to sit back at an easier pace. Probably a good idea considering.
The first downhill was soon upon us and now I figured things would get interesting. 200m of descent to the tress was on crusty snow (the worst kind of snow ever) giving little control on racing skis. Once we hit the trees the snow improved but the skiing was really challenging. Over-tensing was causing my legs to stiffen up, this was certainly a different race feeling to usual.
Skiing into the changeover box I was pretty thankful to put my skins back on and start going uphill again. I had over taken a few on the downhill and had some gap in front of me allowing me to push a little. I was probably in something like 15th now.
The second downhill was far easier as we went down the ski slope. Not using goggles was a mistake and I could hardly open my eyes as I hurtled down towards another change box and the start of the second lap.
The second lap was where the fun would begin. I could tell that I still had the want to push and the other competition around me were starting to slow. One by one I would catch up to people and manage to over take.
Gradualy I was working my way up the field but could tell I was still quite far of and had a good idea I was still behind Emilie. Halfway up the last climb I saw her 200m ahead of me! The race was on. Pushing relatively hard I managed to catch up, pass trying to make it look as if I wasn’t trying and build a small gap. Coming into the last changeover box I ripped my skins of, locked my boots and skied of. She was less than 10 seconds behind me and would close the gap to 1 second by the time I got over the line at the bottom of the mountain. Embarrassing goal achieved I was over the moon that I was injury free and had somehow skied downhill faster than I could imagine. The final results were in and I finished in 6th… 10 minutes behind the winners.
Altogether a great experience and one I look forward to repeating in the future. With my running season soon beginning I’m not sure there will be more time for races this winter but I am already looking forward to next years winter and the possibilities of what more skiing could bring.