New Aspen ski mountaineering race will test competitors’ mettle |

New Aspen ski mountaineering race will test competitors’ mettle

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen Times file photoA climb up Highland Bowl is but one challenge in the Power of Four Ski Mountaineering Race, to debut March 5. The event includes climbs and descents of all four Aspen/Snowmass ski areas.

ASPEN – A race as gnarly as any previously dreamed up in Aspen will make its debut Saturday, March 5, on the slopes of the four local ski areas.

The Power of Four Ski Mountaineering Race will feature more than 10,000 feet of vertical gain, including a climb from the Aspen Highlands base to the top of Highland Bowl – after competitors have already skinned up Snowmass Ski Area and traversed across to Buttermilk.

The Aspen Skiing Co. is presenting the race after sensing demand for this type of event among a growing number of ski mountaineering competitors in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“There’s been a growth in this sport, in these types of endurance events,” said Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle. The Skico is also planning a mountain bike race on a course across the four ski areas in August. A running race might also be explored.

Between 50 and 75 two-person teams are expected in the inaugural ski mountaineering race, Hanle said.

Ski mountaineering races combine the use of skins to ascend slopes on skis, descents down tough trails and often hikes. There are a growing number of races being held each winter. Aspen residents Max Taam and Jessica Phillips are two top local competitors. They qualified for the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Team and will compete in the world championships in Italy this month.

The Power of Four Ski Mountaineering race will be held three weeks before the Grand Traverse, a race across 40 miles of rugged Elk Mountains backcountry, starting in Crested Butte and ending in Aspen. It is expected to appeal to many of the same competitors.

“This would be an excellent practice run for them,” Hanle said.

Practice indeed. The Power of Four race starts at the base of Snowmass on a long, winding climb that takes competitors to the top of the High Alpine chairlift and on up to the top of the Hanging Valley Headwall. Racers will ski down Hanging Valley, ascend again to the top of Elk Camp, then catch the ridge on Burnt Mountain and trudge over to West Buttermilk and up the Red’s Rover trail.

From there, they ski down Tiehack trails. Half-course competitors will call it quits at the base of Tiehack; the journey gets tough at that point for full-course racers. They cross the pedestrian bridge between the base of Tiehack and the Aspen Recreation Center, cross Maroon Creek Road to the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Clubhouse, then grind up the 3,600-foot vertical gain at Highlands, not stopping until they reach the summit of Highland Bowl.

After skiing down the bowl, they will divert off the Grand Reverse onto the Congo Trail, a primitive route outside the ski area boundary. They will descend to Castle Creek Road, then skin up Midnight Mine Road. From the top of Aspen Mountain, they will ski down the east side of the ski area and finish at Little Nell.

Participants must race with a teammate. Each racer must have a beacon, shovel, probe, skins, windshell and helmet. Only alpine touring gear or telemark gear will be allowed. No nordic or nordic touring gear will be allowed.

The full-course racers will start at 7:15 a.m. The half-course racers will start at 7:30 a.m.

The cost is $170 per team of two before March 1, regardless of whether they race the full- or half-course. The price increases by $20 after March 1, and there is no race-day registration.

More information about the race, including course maps at each of the ski areas, can be found at the Aspen Skiing Co.’s website, Navigate through the “events and activities” link to the 2010-11 events and find Power of Four Ski Mountaineering Race.

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