Summit County’s ski mountaineering talent makes statement at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area event
This past weekend at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area served as a statement for the growth of the sport of ski mountaineering in Summit County — particularly among young athletes.
The event was ultimately dubbed the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association’s A-Basin Pan American Cup. It also served as a qualifying event for the U.S. national team. Summit County local skimo veterans Jaime Brede and Nikki LaRochelle again punched their tickets to compete for the U.S. at March’s International Ski Mountaineering Federation’s World Championships in Switzerland.
Around dusk on Friday night, after A-Basin stopped spinning its lifts for the day, the uber-athletic Brede blazed her way up the 1,600-foot-elevation gain course to take third place in the senior women’s vertical race. The podium spot for Brede means she’s unofficially qualified for the national team spot, as the race concluded near the Snow Plume Refuge and the sun set to the west of the ski area.
Brede said hometown Summit County racers had a distinct advantage at the above-tree-line altitude versus their visiting counterparts from locations such as Utah, Montana and Canada.
“I think stemming from years of doing cycling time-trials and hill climbs on the mountain bike has set me up well to sit in and suffer for 20-30 minutes,” Brede said. “I was prepared to work hard. It was a beautiful evening, and the course — we know the course because it is our local race.”
The following morning, Brede’s fellow veteran Summit County racer Nikki LaRochelle finished in second place in the much longer individual competition. The race required skiers to ascend nearly 5,000 vertical feet with multiple ascents and descents spread across A-Basin’s frontside terrain. It included a steep, double-black diamond bumped-out descent down Pallavicini, a roped via ferrata climbing ascent on exposed rock in the Beavers, and a grueling, final climb through the snow in the Beavers to the above-tree-line finish line.
LaRochelle said the course — which was designed by the Summit Skimo Club led by club president Jon Lowe — was very similar to the best European individual race courses. She added that she was ready for the course thanks to her six-day-a-week training here in the county, including in her backyard by Bald Mountain. LaRochelle also said Nordic skiing cross-training helped her be ready for the race, though it was her technical preparation that proved pivotal come Saturday morning.
“I was very pleased and surprised I was able to pull it off,” LaRochelle said. “The depth of the competition is increasing each year. The race definitely felt like it was way bigger. There was definitely a gravitas to it.”
LaRochelle also said the most difficult part of the race was the mental aspect of the final climb through the Beavers.
“To push really high at tree line feels terrible,” LaRochelle said. “It was a pretty technical race in that there were a lot of transitions. You had to manage your gear, even drinking. The level of exertion was at a pretty high level. I’d credit it, I may not be the fastest, but I credit it to my experience and paying attention to the details.”
If there was any segment of the weekend where Summit locals impressed, though, it came in the youth races.
Grace Staberg and Jeremiah Vaille won both the cadet 15-17 vertical and individual race divisions. Elsa Bates finished in second place behind Staberg in both the vertical and individual while Connor Albin finished behind Vaille in second in both the vertical and individual races. Sam Burke finished in third place in the cadet 15-17 vertical race.
In the junior division 18-20 vertical and individual races, Max Bonenberger and Finn Remias took second and third places, respectively
To U.S. Ski Mountaineering National Team coach and Summit Endurance Academy founder Joe Howdyshell, the performances of the young athletes he coaches served, essentially, as a coming-out party to the North American skimo scene that Summit County is developing younger racers at a high level.
“I’m really, really proud of the crew,” Howdyshell said. “… I get a kick out of how, when you look at all the youth, we have the biggest youth team out there.”
Howdyshell also said he was proud that the visiting delegate from the ISMF left impressed with the technical ability of the young racers.
“In the U.S., we typically think of the sport as something done by typically fit people, not skilled people,” Howdyshell said. “Over the years, the skills have improved drastically — especially in the youth.”
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