The forecast had been for cloudy skies and a chance of mixed rain and snow. Not exactly good news for a fair-weather skate-skier like me. What we got was yet another blue-bird Tahoe day. It was cold enough at the start for some fast conditions, but warmed up to make things a little mushy by the end. (I guess the key here is to ski faster and you'll get good conditions the whole way!)
In addition to attracting talented skiers from all over the country, this race is one of those community events where I feel like I see every local I know: neighbors, friends, co-workers, students. It makes for an enjoyable day, and helps me remember that my goal here is fun, not competition.
The race starts in six different waves. You're assigned to a wave based on your previous finishing time at this race. (If you're a first timer, you have to start in the back.) The fast kids take off first, and each wave has progressively slower skiers until you get to what they call the "party wave." I ended up in my standard wave 4 - somewhere between the real racers and the partiers.
Racers start with their skis in the groomed tracks, and when that wave starts it's double-polling only (no skating) until you get a couple hundred yards out where the tracks end. Then, it's skate like mad through the wide stretch to try to get ahead of as many people as possible before the inevitable bottle-neck that occurs almost immediately. Since I always get my butt kicked at this race I don't take it too seriously. Thus, I always find this mayhem at the start to be terribly fun!
It's crazy to me that the race never really seems to thin out as much as I'd like. For the entire first 10K it seems like I'm knocking skis with people. This isn't a big deal, until you get a klutz like me tangling you up enough to cause a crash.
Aside from the glaring disadvantage that I have ghastly skating technique, this course works well for me mentally. The first 10K is all uphill, which is, of course, where I excel. I pass folks like mad all the way up. By the time I reach the top, all the hard stuff is over with, and I still get 20K of trail to enjoy.
The next 10K is downhill, and the last 10K is rolling. This, of course, is where everyone I passed on the way up kicks my spineless, fraidy-cat, I-suck-at-downhills booty. But the scenery is awesome!
Here's an extremely short clip of the trail. I had a rather tenuous grip on my camera, and knew I was risking a fall by trying to hold a camera and ski pole at the same time, so the footage is sub-par to say the least, but it gives you a little idea of the trail, anyway.
A race like this is a perfect way for me to start the season. It's a killer workout, and a huge exercise in humility. For twenty kilometers I am passed by little girls and old men alike. I was passed at about the 15K mark by a former colleague of mine who is a great skier. I couldn't figure out why she was even behind me in the first place, until I realized she was just pacing her daughter. And I'm not sure, but based on size, her daughter couldn't have been much older that eight. They beat me by 14 minutes.
I had a few good crashes on some of the steeper downhills, but nothing too painful. I actually couldn't help but laugh as I looked both up and down the trail to see skiers everywhere, sprawled pell-mell about the trail, those who remained upright trying to navigate the human obstacle course. Such good fun!
The finish of the race consists of a portion that I like to call "The Ice Luge." After your muscles are quivering from the exhaustion of navigating 30K, the skier is required to negotiate a series of narrow, steep, hairpin turns. If you're like me, about 500 skiers have already come through to scrape the top layers of snow off, and you're left with a scooped-out track of ice. Slowing down? Forget about it. It's so terrifying for me that I always find myself laughing through the whole thing.
Way back up there at the top is the end of the "Ice Luge" section. Notice skiers are still braking hard toward the finish line.
Once you survive that, you pop out onto the wider, downhill stretch across the finish line. This part is much easier because it's wide enough to make turns and slow down. Of course, many skiers think they're home-free and carelessly get up enough speed for an exciting crash. Spectators always have a good time at the finish of this event!
Thanks to Tahoe Nordic SAR for putting on another great year at The Great Race!