Enthusiasm growing as fast as participation rate
You could be forgiven for thinking a pack of skiers were going the wrong way when roughly 60 racers took off from outside the Roundhouse Saturday and started going up Whistler Mountain instead of down.
But these racers were right on course. They were taking part in Whistlers second Randonnee Rally, an alpine touring race that goes up, down and all around the mountain.
For the second year in a row, Revelstoke native Greg Hill took first place after a gruelling two hours and 20 minutes on Saturday morning.
Hill, who broke trail with second place racer Brendan ONeil throughout the course, said the two worked together.
"Brendan and I worked as a team," he said, adding that part of his strategy was to get out front and stay out front.
On their heels for most of the course was Toti Bes, a well-known Spanish ski mountaineer, who is part of the Spanish National Ski-Mountaineering Team.
Bes was in Banff ice climbing with some friends and decided to enter the Whistler competition.
But a wrong turn half way through the course meant that he was ultimately disqualified.
Bes, who had never skied Whistler before, said in Europe the course volunteers always tell you where to go and what to do so that the racers dont have to worry about going off course.
Hill admits that things could have been different had Bes not lost his way.
"If (Bes) had not gotten lost it would have been a much different race," Hill said after crossing the finish line.
ONeil took second place in 2:32:23 and Chris Kroger of Wilson, Wyoming took third place in 2:34:14.
Whistlers Randonnee Rally is the first in a series of races put on by Life-Link/Dynafit.
Racers tried to stay calm early Saturday morning after the race was delayed for almost two hours as Whistler Patrol conducted avalanche control.
"It wasnt as big a course as we would have liked because of avalanche control," said John Scott, executive vice president of Life-Link International and the events founder.
But the snow was good and the racers were excited to compete in the first race of the season.
Scott said randonnée is a growing sport in North America and even the Whistler numbers are up by about 20 per cent from last years race, where roughly 40 people competed.
More people are choosing to ski in the backcountry and when they start getting good at alpine touring, they want to compete against other enthusiasts, said Scott.
"Its like any sport," he said.
"When you get good at a sport you want to compare your skills."
There was a light-hearted sense of camaraderie at Saturdays race because many competitors knew each other from the alpine touring scene.
There were also newcomers to the competitive sport.
It was the first randonnée race for Curtis Blewett who said he has no qualms about doing another.
"It was so fun," said the Whistler competitor who was ready to ski some more after the race.
"I thought it was awesome."
Blewett wasnt the only Whistler competitor testing their mettle against randonnée racers from across the province and United States.
Kevin Titus came in fifth place, 20 minutes behind the leader. Other Whistler residents like Adam Mercer, Scott Flavelle, Will Routley and Kirk Becker also had good times in the race division.
In the mens recreation division Matt Collins, from Stevens Pass, Washington came in first place in 1:18:07. Second and third place went to Brett Yates of Whistler with a time of 1:18:10 and Matt Bedrin of Portland, Oregon, with a time of 1:18:17.
Thirteen women competed in the rally, eight in the race division and five in the recreation.
Jeannie Wall from Bozeman, Montana, was the first woman across the finish line with a time of 3:02:25.
Polly Samuels from Park City, Utah came in second at 3:17:52 and Nancy Johnstone from Jackson, Wyoming took third place with a time of 3:22:41.
In the womens recreational division Olivia Cussen from Portland, Oregon came in first place with a time of 1:30:30. Babbie McComb from Portland came in second with a time of 1:30:30 and Sam Elvin of Vancouver came third with a time of 1:37:46.
The Randonnee Rally race series continues at Crested Butte, in Colorado on Saturday, Feb. 14. For more information go to www.life-link.com.