New snow tools come in handy
BRECKENRIDGE – Most used the traditional methods Saturday at the 11th annual Imperial Challenge. But new technologies are starting to seep into the multi-sport race, which has always been as much about gear choice as athletic ability.
Mike Kloser won the race with skins and touring skis. Other competitors used snowshoes for the ascent to Peak 8 and skis or snowboards for the downhill.
But two racers stood out from the pack with their choice of equipment, using gear that didn’t even exist when the event began in the early 1990s.
Colin Prol introduced the Viole Split Decision snowboard into Imperial competition this year. The snowboard breaks down the middle into skis with free-heel bindings for the skin up, then attaches back into a snowboard for downhills.
“I think it’s great for this race if you’re a snowboarder,” Prol said. “The other snowboarders carry them and snowshoe, which makes it a little heavier. This is on the ground on your feet.”
Prol had a clear advantage over other snowboarders. And he didn’t have to make the same decision the skiers were faced with.
“It’s a great balance,” said second-place finisher Pete Swenson. “Your can’t use too light a ski, and you can’t use too heavy a ski.”
The fastest competitors Saturday used light, skinny skis for a quick ascent knowing they would get beat up on the downhill. With the Split Board, Prol had what amounted to heavy touring skis for the uphill, but a ride down that is faster than any free-heel ski.
“The only disadvantage is it takes three to five minutes to set up,” he said.
Dawes Wilson was the other innovator. He used ski boards – very small skis often referred to as snowlerblades and usually relegated to terrain parks. These allowed him to make legitimate alpine turns without lugging heavy alpine skis to the top.
When compared to the skinny skiers, however, Wilson was at a big disadvantage on the uphill, using snowshoes and carrying the ski boards and ski boots on his back. But he was more concerned with having a safe, fun ski down while shedding the extra weight of traditional alpine skis.
“I can ski down, make some turns, have fun and stay safe,” Wilson said.
The people that skin up with Nordic gear, on the other hand, are forced to fight it on the way down, especially in the steep upper sections. One – Ola Berger – broke his ankle.
Wilson wanted none of that.
“Last year I used cross country skis, and I thought it was just too dangerous,” Wilson said. “The really fast guys risk themselves on light cross country skis. And I’d rather be last than injure a knee.”
Jason Starr can be reached at (970) 668-3998 Ext. 231 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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