Thunderfest 2014

In 2010 the Thunderbolt Ski Runners resurrected the Thunderbolt Ski Race to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Class A ski trail on the highest peak in Massachusetts, Mt. Greylock. After a successful event that year, the TSR decided to make it a yearly event. 2011 went off without a hitch but lack of snow in 2012 and 2013 ultimately cancelled the event. As luck would have it, I was signed up to race both years it was cancelled.

Even after two consecutive years of disappointment, the TSR was resolute and again planned Thunderfest weekend with the down-mountain race on Saturday and with the help of NE Rando Race Series added a truly backcountry SkiMo race for Sunday. Sunday’s race is one of only 2 or 3 SkiMo races in North America to be held completely outside of resort boundaries. Not to mention it would be the biggest race course in the Northeast with 6200 ft of ascent!

Closure of the Gould Farm at the start of the race required a lengthy detour from the ascent route used in 2010 and 2011. Rough estimates have it as an extra 0.7 miles of rolling terrain for a total climb of 3.5 miles. Competitors for the down-mountain race could leave race HQ anytime from 7:30-10 AM. I chose to start around 9:30 to minimize the amount of time sitting around in the summit shelter. A late start would give warmer temperatures and relaxed start to the morning. The only downside is that I would have to pass many other racers on the narrow trail.

Trail conditions were firm and fast with lots of frozen post-holes making traction difficult and a steady rhythm impossible. I just tried to keep my effort near maximum while focusing on form to minimize slipping. I said my best hypoxic hello to some familiar faces of volunteer ski patrollers who were also making their way to the summit and on to their assigned stations. I emerged from the trail onto the summit plateau and pushed hard on the flats and into the finish in 54:16.

The shelter has a wood stove which provided the opportunity to dry out clothing and stay warm in the hour long wait before my scheduled time to descend. The time passed quickly while mingling with fellow racers.

The Thunderbolt Ski Race is primarily focused on the down-mountain time but there are also categories for ascent time and combined up/down time for King of the Mountain. For the descent, a time in the 4.5-5 minute range would likely give me the KOM. I felt like I took a good line on the upper section but lower down got off the best line and had to negotiate some larger moguls. Meine oberschenkels es brennt, to say the least! A down time of 4:29 was good for 17th and the King of the Mountain.

Award winners annouced at Thunderfest in Adams, MA

Award winners annouced at Thunderfest in Adams, MA

A dozen participants plus 4 volunteer patrollers showed up for Sunday’s race. A light dusting of snow overnight made for a much more pleasant skinning conditions than the day prior.

The first climb strung out the pack with Josh closely trailing me much of the first climb. He passed me on the first descent, near the end of the Thunderbolt. I stayed on his heels onto the Bucket trail and pulled back ahead as he slightly overshot the transition. I slowly pulled away (totally understandable as Josh raced 12K verticle at the Aspen Power of 4 the previous day plus a redeye and limited sleep).

Aside from wrangling with a porcupine on the skintrack, I was alone for the remainder of the race. I did see a few battles going on between Jonathan and Bob on the last climb as well as Dima and Evan close together on the down.

Porcupine guarding the skintrack!

Porcupine guarding the skintrack!

A big thanks goes out to Jonathan, Josh Chittenden, Dave Childs, Steve Sauve, and countless others whom all put in a lot of effort to put on a high caliber event. Looking forward to doing it all again next year!


Local media coverage

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Mad River Valley Rando 2014

After a three week postponement due to lack of snow and two years of suffering on the endless skating section of the Rec Division course (also due to lack of snow), Sugarbush and Mad River Glen put together their longest course yet. It combined the original Race Division course with the bootpack up FIS (2011 & 2012) for 11+ miles and 4700 ft of climbing.

Mad River Valley Race Division Course - 2014

Mad River Valley Race Division Course – 2014

This race has been the monkey on my back; one third place and three runner-up finishes in the past four years. I had hoped this year would be different but three different illnesses in the three weeks leading up to the race limited my training to a mere 4 days on skis in the month of February. I had my doubts about my fitness coming in and with two-time winner Jan Wellford and a slew of QC racers having done very well at Burke two weeks prior, there was plenty of competition. Especially since the Burke victor, George Visser had upgraded his gear to the not-yet-released Dynafit RC1 boots and bindings mounted on 14/15 World Cup Skis.

From the starting bell, the pace was furious to get on the narrow section of trail leading over the bridge and onto the open slopes of Lower Antelope. My heartrate was pegged and I still wasn’t keeping up, even on the flat lower stretches. I backed off and watched Jan and George skin away and I dropped back to 7th place after the lower mogul section. I hoped that a few people had gone out too fast and I would be able to move up a few spots in what would be a 2hr+ race. Slowly, I started picking off people one by one. My first victim was Lincoln, whom I passed 2/3 of the way up the the first climb. I passed Daniel and Adam on the Long Trail and Adam hung on my heels until the top of the bootpack. I had also unknowingly passed George as he had broken one of his RC1 bindings and went a bit off course on the LT. Nearing the top of the booter, I had also closed in on Philipe and was somehow in 3rd. Jan was nowhere to be seen…

400ft of fast and firm moguls, a short groomer, and then 1200+ ft of more firm moguls lead to the Slide Brook work roads. Thankfully, the ‘bush had run a groomer through there to break up the heinous crust which also allowed ample room to skate on the two short uphill sections. At the transition there was no sign of Philipe ahead, but George and Daniel were close behind. George passed early on the last climb and Daniel pulled ahead right as we crossed the Slide Brook Chair. I stayed on his heels and with only 300’ of climbing to go, I had dropped to 5th but Philipe and George were now within sight!

There were few opportunities to pass Daniel and make a move for the other two, but by the time the four of us exited the forested skintrack, mere seconds separated 2nd from 5th. I was last into the transition, but two quick rips and stuffing my unfolded skins into my suit had me into 2nd. On the descent, Philipe and I leapfrogged each other 3 times. After being passed the second time, I knew there was a sharp uphill turn leading to a short herringbone climb. I stayed in Philipe’s draft planning on cutting the corner as tight as possible to make my move. The volunteer stationed at the corner was waiving us in. As I made the turn I saw that Philipe was unable to make the turn and crashed. I pushed hard up the small climb and only after cresting did I glance back to see if anyone else was still giving chase. I was in the clear and cruised to the finish in 2nd, monkey still firmly attached!

Big congrats to Jan for obliterating the field! Full Results here.

Ball o' skins

Ball o’ skins

This week racing moves to Mt Greylock in MA where the Thunderbolt Ski Runners are holding two events. A down mountain race on Saturday and a fully backcountry SkiMo race on Sunday (Sunday is collaboration with NE Rando Race Series). Sunday should be a real leg burner with ~6k ft of vertical.

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Dynafit Speed Turn Bindings

A bit more mass than the 330g figure on the box...

A bit more mass than the advertised figure of 330g. For some reason, binding manufactures like to spec binding mass without screws (~18g for 9 screws).

After purchasing a new pair of skis this season, I wanted a pair of bindings that would allow me to use either my TLT5 or DyNA Evo. This requires an adjustment range of 8mm. The tried and true pair of Dynafit Speed Classics that I had available only have about 6mm. The new skis are ideally suited for powder/loose snow and will probably also perform well in spring conditions. The binding I was looking for also needed a ‘high’ heel elevator position. Race bindings were ruled out.

In the end the decision was between the Speed Superlight with an adjustment plate and the Speed Turn (only available in Europe this season). Even after customs fees, shipping, and exchange rates, the Speed Turn came in as a very affordable option.

The Speed Turn is ‘new’ for this season and is a Frankenbinding that Dynafit themselves pieced together:  Classic toe (with a Radical lever) paired with the Speed Radical heel unit but swapped out the new flip style elevators for the Classic top plate. The mass per binding creeped up by 16g or the equivalent of 1 Gu packet per pair. Not a significant weight penalty and well worth the added adjustment range (+/- 12.5 mm). Longer heel pins are another incremental change that made it into this model.

My first pair of Dynafit bindings. Purchased second-hand and still going strong.

My first pair of Dynafit bindings. Purchased second-hand and still going strong.

Look for a post on my new skis if New England ever get a snowpack deep enough for some real backcountry skiing.

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2014 Race Schedule

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DyNA Evo – Safely Heating Grilamid

After a season of use my DyNA Evo liners developed significant wear above the instep at the ankle. The wear on one liner almost left the lower shell sticking through the liner. I even wore right through the supplied liner patch. This wear made it impossible to tighten the lower buckle for a good fit without significant discomfort. Upon closer inspection I noticed that just above the ankle the inside edge of the lower shell curved inward instead of having a slight flare back towards or slightly past vertical as was done on the outside of the boot. The TLT5 shell doesn’t have this issue as the lower shell extends higher than that of the Evo.

Area of Excessive Wear and Ankle Pressure Highlighted

Area of Excessive Wear and Ankle Pressure Highlighted

With a little guidance on a safe temperature to use to shape the Grilamid, I brought out the heat gun. I also had access to a FLIR camera and was able to closely monitor the actual temperature of the Grilamid nylon as well as the metal rivets that were close by. Needless to say I didn’t want to render my boots useless! Alternatively, IR thermometers are pretty common and affordable and could be used as a substitute. The temporal thermometer I own has a mode to measure surface temp.

FLIR Scan Taken While Heating Evo Lower Shell

Forward Looking Infrared Scan Taken While Heating Evo Lower Shell

I focused the heat gun stream at the offending area and alternated sides every so often. Above 220*F (I didn’t get an exact measurement but 220-250 is ballpark) the shell became pliable and I carefully sculpted the area so that it would no longer dig in when I tightened the lower buckle. Once I obtained the desired shape, I used a quick spray of water to cool the shell and make the shape permanent. Hopefully this fix will solve my discomfort and reduce wear on the liners.

Shell After Modification

Shell After Modification: Flares Outward to Limit Pressure on Ankle and Liner Wear

I forgot to take a picture of the shells prior to modification but I will try to get a side-by-side comparison.

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Summer 2013 Recap

Summer postings have been nonexistent partially due to the fact that I didn’t do a whole lot of racing but the bigger reason is that I have a new training partner. She isn’t particularly fast due to frequent naps and milk breaks.

Our bundle of joy!

Our bundle of joy!

I was still able to get into the mountains with some frequency to build a solid base for fall trail racing. Exploring some new-to-me trails on Moosilauke, the Kinsman Ridge, two Pemi loops (one a personal best of 7hr 49min), and an adventure in the Presidentials were some of the bigger days.

September brought cooler weather and it was time to put my training to the test. I won the Pisgah Mountain 23k in NH for my first trail victory (preceded with a 20 mile training run the day before and bookended with a Pemi the previous and following weekend). I hung around the finish line and chatted with Nina after she won the women’s race. Hopefully we will see her on the New England skimo circuit. A short time later Scott crossed the line in triumphant fashion to take the 50k win just a minute shy of the course record.

The TARC 50k was a few weeks later and would be my last tune-up before Stone Cat. Without going into too much detail a group of 8-10 started off in the lead pack including Scott, Eric (last year’s victory), myself and some other local talent. The pack slowly dwindled before Scott stopped toying with us after 2.5 laps. Eric and I hung together for lap 4 (after I picked up my pacer, Bailey). The weather was quite warm and inadequate fueling left me to employ a run/walk strategy (along with pounding Coke) to get over the wall and struggle to the finish in 3rd place. Post race we hosted some of the runners and volunteers at our house for some food and socializing.

The Family at the Stone Cat 50 Finish

The Family at the Stone Cat 50 Finish

My trail season finale would be the Stone Cat 50 mile, my first attempt at anything over 50k. Not knowing what to expect, my goal was to finish under 8 hours. The first half of the race went by smoothly running almost the entirety with a few walk breaks through the aid stations. The start of lap 3 was the low point mentally with two wipe-outs and a stubbed toe to get the full trail experience. Great support from friends and family kept me going to the finish line in a time of 7hr 53 min.

Bring on the snow!

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Wapta Traverse

April 22, 2013

I partnered up with two Canadian speedsters, Stano and Peter, to attempt a single-day Wapta Traverse. For a one-day push, clear weather on the high route would be critical. Luckily for us, a perfect weather window was forecast during my visit.  With 10-15cm of loose dry snow up on the Wapta and plenty of skiing the previous two days, we wouldn’t be trying for the speed record. With the clear weather we assumed people would be out moving around from the huts and figured we wouldn’t have to break trail the entire distance.


Ready to leave the Bow Summit Trailhead


Ascent from Peyto Lake


Looking up the Peyto Glacier and onto the Wapta Icefield from the research station


Stano leading toward the Olive/St. Nic Col


Cruising down the Vulture Glacier


Stano and Peter at Balfour High Col

Peter finishing the final climb to the Niles/Daly Col

Peter finishing the final climb to the Niles/Daly Col

Stats I recorded: 0 clouds, 26.23 miles, ascent of 7146 ft, and 10h 55min for the classic Wapta Traverse.  

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