Power of Four race could be a classic
by Curtis Wackerle, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer
Organizers of last weekend’s Power of Four Ski Mountaineering Race are calling the event a resounding success.
“I don’t want to go overboard and say we have created a classic here,” but the event seems to have legs for the long term, Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle said.
The race had 70 two-person teams attempt to go up and down all four area ski mountains, connecting the journey with jaunts through the backcountry. Prior to the race, SkiCo said total vertical was around 11,000 feet in 26 miles, but race participants using altimeters found total vertical was about 12,500.
Just over half the teams that entered the race finished (see full results on page 20). Most teams that did not finish were required to stop because they did not make it to Castle Creek Road before the 3 p.m. cutoff. Hanle said race organizers would consider extending the cutoff in future races to allow more teams a chance to finish.
Brian Smith and Bryan Wickenhauser, both of Gunnison, posted the top time in the race, finishing the course in 6:13.07. The slowest team to finish came in at 10:35.42.
About half the teams were from the Roaring Fork Valley, while most of the rest were from other Colorado mountain towns or the Front Range, according to SkiCo. A Scottish endurance racer who was in town also participated.
Only one person required medical attention during the race, Hanle said. That person was taken to Aspen Valley Hospital with dehydration but recovered quickly, he said.
The race began at 7 a.m. in Snowmass Base Village with a skin to the top of Hanging Valley Wall and a descent via Roberto’s and Lower Ladder. Skiers then crossed into the backcountry for the trek to West Buttermilk and skinned to the top, then skied to the base of Tiehack. Then it was across the footbridge and Maroon Creek Road to the base of Aspen Highlands.
There began the 4,200-vertical-foot climb to the top of Highland Bowl, followed by a descent down the bowl’s gut and a tricky ski down the “Congo Path,” which takes skiers from the Highlands ski area boundary to Castle Creek Road.
Skiers then skinned up Midnight Mine Road to the top of Aspen Mountain. For the final descent, they took the Midway Road traverse to International and then skied the bumps on Silver Queen and FIS Slalom Hill before ending at the base of Lift 1A.
The backcountry skiing blog wildsnow.com posted the headline Monday “Best ski mountaineering race in North America?”
The Power of Four race is three weeks before the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse, a 40-mile nordic race between Crested Butte and Aspen. Many Power of Four contestants are previous Grand Traverse contestants, and this weekend’s winners are previous Grand Traverse champions.
Ted Mahon of Aspen, who took third place in the co-ed division with wife Christy Mahon and is a Grand Traverse veteran, said many aspects of the Power of Four are more fun and challenging than the Grand Traverse. He completed the Power of Four race despite breaking a ski on Buttermilk.
“[The Power of Four race] has way more vertical gain in fewer miles and the ski descents are more exciting,” Mahon said via email, clarifying that the two races are hard to compare.
The Grand Traverse starts at midnight to mitigate avalanche danger. But that also means racers spend much of the competition secluded in the dark. In contrast, “To hit the crux climb of the Power of Four at Aspen Highlands and have the mountain full of activity is just more fun,” Mahon said.
“Everyone there had a great time, at least as they talked about it afterwards,” Mahon said. “With a few minor adjustments, such as staggered start times so everyone can finish, it has potential to be an awesome event people would come from all over to do. The SkiCo deserves a thanks for giving it a chance.”
Some of my incredibly fit friends said this was the hardest thing they ever did!