Race Report: Kristin Tackles The Power of Two Skimo Race in Aspen
by KRISTIN MAYER·
Google will tell you: "Skimo stands for ski mountaineering, which is simply climbing and skiing mountains. Today, the modern sport of Skimo has taken on a different form, although it’s still rooted in the traditional definition of ski mountaineering. Skimo is all about moving fast and light. It’s an endurance sport that heavily revolves around racing up and down mountains on skis either at a ski resort or in the backcountry. If you enjoy winter trail running or skate skiing, you’ll probably love skimo. You can think of it as “fitness skinning.” It’s a great cardio workout and excellent cross training for summer sports like trail running, mountain biking, and climbing."
Maybe I should have asked chat GPT because Google missed something with that definition. “If you enjoy winter trail running or skate skiing, you‘I’ll probably love skimo” is like saying if you like riding a mountain bike you will love doing Red Bull Rampage. I guess I could have broken a collar bone, twisted an ankle or got sunburn in triathlon and cycling but I wasn't hurling myself down a chute, ice luge, or 50% bowl where I could literally wind up in the hospital if I make a wrong move.
There was almost 50 years between the time my parents threw me on skis and when I worked my way down the Congo trail (a.k.a. The Ice Luge). My parents loaded us into the wood panel Jeep every Friday night after school and headed to Vermont. I would return to school on Monday smashed from a weekend of Nastar in Sugarbush. Those were my winters growing up.
During the triathlon years, Skiing took a back seat but with Matt and I progressively relocating to Park City, I followed the lead of my friend Lyndsay Meyer and my goal soon became to toe the start line at The Power of Four in Aspen.
To know me is to know that I obsess over stuff. Being a mom, design, sneakers, puffer jackets, Dex, and apparently maps. I am not sure if the sheer number of hours I spend studying the terrain is more mind blowing than the actual terrain itself but the terrain, specifically the steepness of the gradients going down AND up in this race, is mind blowing.
The Power of Four gets its name from four mountains you traverse during the race. Snowmass, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands, and Aspen. As I mentioned before, Google is wrong. This is not an endurance event. It is a survival event. The super humans (like Lyndsay) race it at the front it but for us normal people, it is a survival event more than anything else.
The downhills on this course, when they aren’t best characterized as an ice luge, have downhill gradients as steep as 50% where snowballs and ice come flying past you as you work your way down. The downhill, however, is not the problem. The uphill gradients are steeper than anything I could find in Park City and were a challenge to keep moving without slipping. The icing on the cake is the altitude. Starting at ~8300 and peaking out ~13,000—it's a thin air beast. Getting ready for the beast took some creativity.
Currently (I am praying it will change) Park City has an uphill policy limited to gentle terrain and is only available until 8:30 AM. Translation: Getting up at 4AM and marching up the hill in the cold, dark, wind, and at least this year, never ending snow.
Matt and I signed up as a team. I got myself super-light race gear (a.k.a. matchsticks), we hired a skimo coach, practiced transitions in the garage, and slept in an altitude tent to get us ready to tackle the challenge. I got the best sleep I've had in years while Matt got headaches and nausea. More on that in a minute.
To me, the sound of the pump in the chamber was soothing and put me to sleep. We did it for 4 weeks slowly ramping it up from 1000 feet above PC to 4000 feet above PC which put us sleeping at about 10,500. A month out from race day we went to Aspen to do some course recon. Matt started out promising but ultimately conceded to the altitude and threw up the white flag. We both realized the full Power of Four race was over our head for the type of training we'd been doing in PC. I downgraded to The Power of Two but with only 3 weeks out from the race I had to find a new partner if I was to finish the ~15 miles + ~8,000 vert.
There was a 7 day roller coaster of partners coming and going, phone calls, crying, and stress but when all was said and done I was lucky enough to meet my new partner - Ali. Ali hadn’t done the volume of training I did but she is a badass and her background/baseline fitness is best characterized as “fit AF.” You know the type.
Meanwhile, my former tri coach, Roch Frey had signed up to do The Power of Two with a mutual friend with roots in Southern California and we were planning on a So Cal x Aspen weekend but getting to the start line is half the battle with this race. Roch's partner landed in Denver the day before the race, his connection to Aspen got cancelled and he bailed on Roch 12 hours before the start of the race. FFS!
At the pre-race meeting Ali, Roch and I made a pact to make it a party, have fun, smile, and get to the finish. Race morning, as I was pacing in Lyndsay's kitchen singing to Beyoncé's Break My Soul, Gavyn texted me "Good luck today! Kick ass ❤️". After 21 years he understands the crazy stuff I do and mom watts are part of the recipe.
7 hours later - mission accomplished. The day was completely bonkers! The steepness (40% in places) + length of the first climb had people slipping backwards all over the place. The trees and 6 foot rock jump/decent in the middle of the trees had women yelling at each other. Some were afraid. Some were just dumbfounded, I guess. The boot pack hike up Aspen Highlands Bowl was gorgeous but 30 mph sustained winds with gale-force gusts had me clutching the rope.
Dropping into the guts of the bowl at 45%+ incline on matchsticks with no brakes and more winds was the steepest skiing I had ever done. The last challenge was the Congo Trail which was little more than a narrow ice luge that had Roch catching tips and flinging himself into the trees on multiple occasions. My power plow left my ass cramping but ready for the final, mind numbing ascent up Midnight Mine.
I have very few super powers. Actually, I only have one. (Well, maybe two. My feet are gorgeous.) My superpower is that at about 5-6 hours into a race I get a second wind and my super power was on form that day. By the top of Midnight Mine I was ready for the out-of-bounds run down a gladed, double black diamond, mogul field with massive moguls the size of Great Danes.
Whether it was the training program, the days marching up the hill in the dark, the altitude tent, the magical Betty Designs BDlab compression tights under my skimo race suit, or the Skratch Labs + Precision Gels combo (scroll down for the deets), I was able to laugh at the insanity all day. I never felt scared. Just put my head down and conquered the task + terrain and ski’d through the finish feeling like I could have kept going. When all was said and done, we crossed the line in just over 7 hours (good enough for 10th in the Women’s P2 category).
Now that I've had a few days to reflect, the one word that keeps coming back to me is grateful. Grateful that my parents gave me the ski base and genetic mindset to do something like this (even though they don't understand where it came from!) and most importantly, I am grateful that at 55 I can still physically and mentally get stoked, stay injury free + highly motivated to push my personal boundaries.
(hopefully) See you next year, Aspen! XK
All of this would not be possible without the training plan from Summit Endurance Academy, strength from EverAthlete, my daily boost of Monster Energy, constantly fueled by Skratch Labs + The Feed, my feet being protected by Curad Performance Series sports tape, sunscreen from Zealios, all the metrics monitoring with Strava, Wahoo Fitness and the expert equipment advice from the staff at Skimo.co.
RACE NUTRITION STRATEGY
BREAKFAST = 660 calories: 2 tablespoons peanut butter (200) / 2 oatmeal packets (240) / 1 Ensure Nutrition Vanilla Shake (220)
ON COURSE = 2,015 calories: 21 scoops Skratch Labs Super Fuel Drink Mix in 2 liters of water. Drank about 50 ounces (1,000) / 1 x 90g Carb Precision Nutrition Gel (360), 3 x 30g carb Precision Nutrition Gels w 100 milligrams of caffeine (360) / 8 x 15g Precision Nutrition Chews (480) / 3 oz. Skratch Labs Sport Hydration (40) / 6 oz. flat Coke (75)