The Power of Four is a 25 mile, 2-person team race that covers all four of the Aspen ski resorts with 12,000 feet of climbing. After using up a fair number of wife points and securing a teammate (Josh was pretty easily convinced), my only hope was that I wouldn’t succumb to the altitude. A quick test of the lungs in Vail on Thursday and a recon mission at Highlands on Friday showed my breathing was normal as long as I didn’t push the pace too hard.
Race morning didn’t start off well as I forgot my watch and we turned around to get it. The few minutes it took to retrieve my watch was enough of a delay for us to arrive at the parking lot just in time to see the shuttle bus pull away. Luckily for us a sweep vehicle arrived a few minutes later to bring us up to Snowmass.
The 6AM start time had us warming up in the dark and then packing into a narrow starting corral. A countdown from 10 and we were off on a groomer that quickly funneled over a bridge and then out on a wide low-angled slope where more bad luck ensued. Within the span of a minute, an errant pole placement by me almost caused Josh to take a spill and then the tip loop on one of Josh’s skin was dislodged peeling the skin almost completely off. Stopping to replace the skin had us at the very back of the field. Knowing that many hours lay ahead, we didn’t push too hard but slowly worked our way through the field on the ~3,000 foot climb to the top of Burnt Mountain.
After a ripping the skins, the course proceeded out the backcountry gate down a ridgeline towards Buttermilk. There was a mix of crusty snow, bumps, brush, and some rocks thrown in for good measure. Frustrated with the skier ahead of me who was snowplowing down a narrow section, I tried to scoot by in some softer snow. My skinny skis sunk into the snow, caught a tip, and I took a tumble. It took me a bit to get out of the deep snow and back on the well traveled section. Lesson learned.
This section had the feel of true backcountry with great views up the valley and a skintrack that reminded me a bit of the Long Trail in VT. The climb was short, however, and we were soon cruising down a groomer to the bottom of Tiehack then a skate over the bridge, some double poling along the sidewalk and finally, a short jog into the aid station at Highlands. A quick refuel at the aid station and we were off on the long 4352 ft climb to the top of Highlands Bowl.
Josh and I had done about half of this climb the day before and knew that the initial section was on a fairly steep groomer followed by a flat traverse, a moderate climb through the woods, back on the groomed, and lastly a bootpack. I brought out the tow line to keep us together and focused on the 2 hour ascent. Once on the ridge up Highlands, the wind was blowing but the sun was shining and kept the temps comfortable to go along with plenty of great views to soak in.
The skiing from the summit was initially chalky snow before transitioning to chopped up powder or some untracked lines if you skied off the direct fall line. Ozone is a 37 degree pitch but after then initial entrance, I ventured to the left onto Be One which maxes out at 45 degrees. Some seriously steep in-bounds skiing!
After the leg-burner descent to the bottom of the Deep Temerity lift, another low-angle skin lead to the second aid station and the real crux of the course, the Congo Trail. The Congo Trail is a narrow mountain bike trail with numerous tight switchbacks. The trail itself isn’t that difficult but when you pack a torrent of spandex-clad racers on skinny skis all trying to get down at the same time, a bottleneck ensues. Luckily there was soft snow on the side of the trail that could be used to slow down when coming upon someone snowplowing down the trail. Still, passing was next to impossible.
Off the luge track that is the Congo, a 5 mile, 3000 ft ascent up the Midnight Mine Road takes you to the top of Aspen Mountain. By this time of day the sun was out in full force and the 40 degree temperature was draining. It was much more tolerable where the road would turn a corner and shade overtook our route. Still, our pace felt like it had slowed to a crawl which was exacerbated by the fact that halfway up the climb the Kadlecs pulled away like we were standing still. With a mile to go, the 2nd place women’s team of Jari and Lyndsay also cruised by. It would have been nice to know that the route had been altered from last year and was a mile shorter than I was expecting.
The course didn’t relent on the last downhill with big bumps on Walsh’s and continued through a rocky section of Bingo Glade before dumping out onto a groomer and down to the finish in 6:46:32 (safely under our goal of 7 hours).
At the finish line it was great to hang out in the warm sun, meet lots of fellow racers that we had gone back-and-forth with all day, and hear of the carnage of crashes and broken skis. The skimo racing scene in CO is quite captivating, I will return! Even one of the mayoral candidates is out racing, and quite well at that; Frisch for Mayor!