The 2014 Whitefish Whiteout
Friday night I was nervous. Incredulous, I was, but it was unmistakable; I was worried about a 150 minute race the next day. In 2011 I fought to finish the Whitefish Whiteout, doing some of the hardest skiing I’d ever done. The next year I DNF’d, with not enough skiing under my belt to manage the steep descents safely. I really wanted to put my balance sheet back in the black.
I may not be qualified to judge, but if anyone said that skimo was the most demanding athletic endeavor out there, I would not argue. This year the Whiteout started, at it always has, with a skin straight up a steep blue groomer from base to summit. This 2000′ vertical skin takes everyone about a third of their total time, and while it is by far the least technically complex and most mindless part of the course, the unrelenting grade in the central stretch wears on you. The first part of my strategy for the day was to not burn out too fast, which is hard to do with the herd around you and general overenthusiasm. I summited a bit faster than 2011, and a lot faster than 2012, which was a bit worrying.
The first descent is, like the first climb, the hardest. Easy groomer skiing through the fog, then off the edge and down into the trees. We haven’t had much snow for a few weeks, and the luge runs between the big pines were well sculpted. My second goal for the day was to not ski well by skiing slowly and steadily, which in this case meant measured side slipping and quick turns to thread the needle. Soon enough, the ridge pitches off steeper still, the trees relent, and the steepest skiing on the course has to be negotiated. This year there was an added obstacle, glide cracks a 1/4 of the way down the slope, miniature crevasses fenced off. The double black moguls weren’t as icy as I thought they might be, and I linked slow turns all the way down.
The second climb is long and fairly technical, through steep trees, up onto a groomer, and then up an even steeper slope back to the summit. The hard snow made the largely non-existent skintrack hard to negotiate, and back in the pack where I was, most people were booting in a few spots. I enjoy technical skinning, and made it up the first booting section on skis before the skin problems began. I bought some BD Mohairs for my Currents last winter, and they’ve just never been particularly adhesive. Why is a question for another day, but on this humid, just-above-freezing day, they weren’t getting the job done. I put on a ski strap, that didn’t work, so I stowed the skis and booted to the top.
On the second descent I went the wrong way. The maps online showed the old course, and I didn’t pay attention to the pre-race briefing. Oops. The checkpoint volunteer at the transition confirmed that they had pulled the short, steep run because it was a bit too gnarly. That’s what you get for complacency.
The third ascent should have been skinnable for a ways, but my right skin was having none of it. More booting, which is direct but more strenuous. I was able to periodically look up the steep chute to see Amber climbing one handed, her right hand holding hers skis in place. She only needed one hand to go as fast as I was managing, and didn’t seem likely to drop skis on my head, so all I had to do was breath and not totally blow up.
After the top of the chute, the rest of the way up is on fairly low-angle, groomed terrain. My right skin now needed two ski straps to hold it on, which meant I got no glide. I forgot that at the top, trying to scuttle across the busy run below the lift, and managed to faceplant on flat snow. I needed to take the skin off by then anyway. The last descent and ascent was a gentle cat track to a steep, short face, and then back up. I had given up on skins, and hiked the whole thing.
I was content with a finish, as dropping out was rather tempting. I was happy with my skiing, and the massively enhanced degree of control, and consequent more efficient use of energy. I wasn’t very fat uphill, but that is to be expected this time of year. I’m pretty pissed about the skin issues, as the reliable way I do well in these things is by out-smarting and being more efficient than most. There’s at least one more skimo race this year, and thus a bit of opportunity for redemption. It’s good to have benchmarks over the years.