Conditions werent the greatest for the 51 skiers who took part in the third annual Life-Link/Dynafit Randonnee Rally on Whistler last Saturday, Jan. 8. It was cold, icy and overcast, with frigid winds that froze the sweat to your face. Still, competitors were upbeat about the weather as more than one racer put it, "if you think this is bad, you should have been here yesterday."
"At least you could see," said Revelstokes Greg Hill, who has won the Whistler event of the Randonnee Rally series for the past two years. "Yesterday it was total whiteout, and I was afraid it would be the same today."
The Randonnee Rally is essentially a ski touring race where competitors skin up and ski down aspects of a high alpine course. The course itself was close to 10 km long with approximately 5,000 vertical feet of climbing and almost the same amount of descending.
Hill, competing in the race category, completed the course in one hour, 39 minutes and 49 seconds, almost seven minutes faster than his closest competition, and 40 minutes faster than last years time.
Despite winning a hattrick in Whistler, Hill is humble about his results after taking part in a few European events last season.
"I got sick before I went to Europe last year, I just got schooled like crazy. There were a couple of women I raced with, the guys were just too fast, and they kept beating me. It was really impressive," said Hill.
"Im not really a racer. I come out and I do well in this event, but if anyone really serious turned up I wouldnt do well."
Hill says theres no pressure defending his title.
"I do this for fun, it wont change my life whatever happens. It is fun having to defend a title, though I like the sound of that."
Racing with the recreational category was also good says Hill because the racers had already made the tough boot pack up Harveys, the last climb of the day, by the time he got there.
The second and third racers in the mens category were Steve Romeo of Jackson, Wyoming and Chris Kroger of Wilson, Wyoming with times of 1:46.44 and 1:46.52 respectively. Both racers were also with the Atomic/Patagonia Race Team, the first factory team at a Randonnee Rally event.
The top Whistler competitor was Scott Flavelle in 12 th with a time of 2:12.07. Other Whistler racers included Curtis Blewett in 20 th , Makoto Tange in 22 nd and Duncan MacKenzie in 24 th .
In the womens race category the top racer was Jeannie Wall of Bozeman, Montana and the Atomic-Patagonia team. She finished in 1:56.41, more than 14 minutes ahead of her closest competitor.
She was also relieved that the visibility improved from Friday to Saturday. "We thought it would be Arctic winds and cold," she said.
Although things did clear up, she said she still did get a little vertigo during the race when the clouds moved in and you couldnt tell what was in front of you or how fast you were moving.
Gear was also a challenge, with most competitors having problems with skins sticking to the snow and vice-versa. Luckily she brought a back-up pair of skins to use that didnt have that problem.
"You cant pick your conditions, you have to show up on the day ready to race," she said.
While challenging, she says the Whistler course isnt as physically demanding as others on the five stop Randonnee Rally tour.
"Its not as hard as Jackson Hole or Alta (ski resorts), but I like the fact that theres more alpine. Its also the only course where they left you off-piste, because there are no liability laws in Canada."
Wall is a former competitive cross-country racer, and says the Randonnee series appeals to her because it mixes those skills with her love for alpine skiing. She also enjoys the technical aspect of the race, and the transitions from climbing to descending that you have to make along the way.
It also helps to have strong competitors in front. For the first part of the race Wall followed a couple of guys. With a track to follow and someone just ahead, she said she was able to keep her head down and race. When she was on her own towards the end of the race, she says it was harder to get her bearings.
"Before I could just follow the steps, but when I was on my own I really have to look where Im going. There are no trees up high, and if you dont know the mountain it can still be kind of tricky. Its easier to figure that out together."
Wall was followed by Monique Merill of Breckenridge, Colorado and Anna Keeling of Lehi, Utah.
In the mens recreational race, which took place on a shorter course with about 2,500 vertical feet of climbing, Troy Jungen of Revelstoke was the leader in 1:22.21. He was followed by Jimmy Rogers of North Vancouver and Mathew Hart of Seattle in times of 1:34.28 and 1:36.22.
Jungens closest competitors for most of the race were the top recreational female racers, Whistlers Tamsin Mills and Erika Janackone, who finished in 1:35.14 and 1:35.34. Erika was the first competitor to the last climb up Harveys, but Mills pulled ahead in the last section of the race to take the win. Carla Greer, also of Whistler, was third in 2:02.38.
The next stop for the Randonnee Rally series is at Crested Butte, Montana on Feb. 12, followed by events at Mammoth Mountain in California, Snoqualmie Pass in Washington and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
For more information on the Life-Link/Dynafit Randonnee Rally, visit www.life-link.com.