As I’ve said before, VertFest is one of my favorite events of the year. I’m sure my non-skiing friends get sick of hearing me talk about it. I’ve noticed the eye roll when it gets to that time of year and the subject comes up. “So you’re going to race VertFest with me this year, right?” The response is usually something to the effect of, “Oh, is that the crazy race where you run up mountains and ski down? No way!”
But the friends I have dragged along have all enjoyed it. Just a moment! I don’t think any of them have come back to race a second time. Well, it doesn’t matter to me, I love it and will do this type of race any chance I get!
This year the weather seemed to come together at the last minute, cooling off and dumping about 10 inches of fresh snow on Alpental the night before. Walking up to the lodge to sign in, I ran into a long time ski buddy who’d recently moved back to Seattle. It was fantastic to see him there and catch up! Got signed in, fueled up, then outside for a couple of short warm up laps on the lower mountain. The skins were sticky! Once again I left the ski crampons in my bag in the lodge. I hoped I wouldn’t regret it later, as had been the case last year.
On the start line I ran into a ski patroller I knew from Masters Swim at Samena. I lined up next to him to chat. Looking left, there was Andy Traslin, the Canadian pro who nearly always wins. Standing there chatting with these two guys and who then sidles in with us but Andy’s brother, Mike. Perfect starting position. Last year I stuck with them for nearly half of the first climb, until I slipped and fell about 40′ near the ice drip. How long could I stay with them this year?
After a brief word and cheer for our lost friend, the race was started. I found out very quickly just how tough the day was going to be. Charging up the slope with Andy and Mike, I glanced around for the other usual suspects. Lowell Skoog was right there, along with a handful of others I didn’t know. I fell into the back of the lead group and tried to find a reasonable pace.
By the time we reached the creek crossing I was falling off the pace. It was clear that it wasn’t going to be sustainable for me. As I approached the bottom of the steep ice drip pitch, the leaders were passing through the control gate at the top. As I came around under the lower wheelhouse of Chair 2, they were charging up the Fan. I was solidly dropped, but at least I wasn’t getting passed.
At the bootpack climbing out the top of the Fan, I fumbled with my ski carry and someone got around me. He quickly kicked steps up the pitch and was gone. I followed, carrying my skis and tried to catch him on the next skinning section. I caught him just as we approached the second boot pack. This time, my skis slipped into the carry straps on the first try and I was able to scramble up the steep snow with free hands.
Skis back on our feet, I trailed just behind as we raced the last pitch to the top. The other skier left the transition area just ahead but I caught and passed him descending Upper International. That’s right, I passed someone on the descent. I think that was a first! It was a short lived feeling as at least two more managed to catch me on the descent.
At the finish line some were done with their one lap event, but this was transition two for the race division. I stashed my goggles and re-applied skins then started climbing back up the mountain chasing the two who’d blown by me on the way down.
I caught them on the first pitch up to the top of the St Bernard chair. One of them was the patroller I knew from Samena, Andy. He chuckled about passing me on the descent, saying “I’m a downhill skier!” I laughed back. “And I’m an uphill skier!”
Relatively quickly I put some distance on the two, but then about half way up made a navigation error. A route marker was clearly visible above at the top of a steep pitch, but somehow I missed the skin track to reach it. Forging my own route saw me to the top, but the hesitation and extra effort allowed the two to catch me, using my own fresh tracks to ease their ascent. One of them passed and managed to build a gap, but I held Andy off.
The third transition was set at Knoll 1. I arrived a few seconds before the skier in front of me departed. No way I’d catch him on the final descent to the finish. The challenge was now to hold off Andy. I made quick work of peeling and stashing my skins, then dropped onto the steep powder below. A few wonderful turns of untracked snow brought me back to the ski area boundary just above the Snake Dance traverse. Andy was nowhere to be seen.
At this point in the race, with the finish line all but in sight, I pushed as hard as I could. Arcing turns on steep bumps in lightweight gear had me on the edge of control. Andy was still out of sight. Then approaching the top of Sessel, the last straight line descent to the finish, Andy was there passing me on the left. We both opened it up and made an all out dash for the line. I didn’t stand a chance at that point against a much stronger downhiller. Despite my protesting quads I managed to stay just behind him, posting a finish time only two seconds back. The official time was 1:53:36, good for 11th place.
More photos can be found on or linked from the event’s thread on Turns-All-Year. I also tried something new this year and carried my Garmin Edge 500. Mostly I was interested in timing transitions and descents, and I was pretty happy with the results. All three transitions were under two minutes apiece. Getting better!