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Race Report: Trophee des Gastlosen- Team World Cup- 7th Place

A walk down memory lane… This race was a memorable one for me because my very first real ski mountaineering course was the Gastlosen in 2005. I was living in Switzerland, teaching at Aiglon College. That winter, my first child had just turned 1 year old, starting to sleep through the night, so why not take on a new challenge-ski mountaineering?

Team World Cup around the Gastlosen Range- 2304 meters of climbing and descending

Another beautiful shot of the range. I have climbed to the top of one of those peaks in summer. The race course circumnavigates this range, boot packing up several steep couloirs and skiing down the other sides.

There was a Friday night series of races in the area- all uphill at local ski areas, always followed by a great meal of fondue, raclette or pasta and a fun ambience- surely the cow bells were ringing.

The Swiss love their cow bells and haul them up on the course to cheer people on. This is one of the more beautiful ones I have seen. You can see the Swiss have real roots in ski mountaineering.

It amazed me how fit these people were that showed up for the night races but also how welcoming the Swiss were to all levels of skiers, from the elite to folks just looking for a good workout after work. This is how I hope the sport can grow further in the US.

I started on my heavy gear- atomic rando skis with fritchi freeride bindings and scarpa magic boots. A great set up for touring but for going fast uphill it was not the lightest. Quickly snowshoe-ers and many Swiss national team members passed me, but I did manage to hold my own and get a few good results even on heavy gear. The Friday night series become a great way to get out after work and even some students got into. Now Aiglon has its own ski mountaineering team and even hosting a race this season.

Michael my husband said if I did 6 races on my heavy gear I could then start to slowly invest in some lighter skis and then eventually boots. I found a flier for the Gastlosen race and asked my friend Tracey Wright if she was interested in racing with me. She was keen. We blindly signed up for the A course- little did we know that year it was also a world cup event.

Retro me in 2005 in my first Montura suit testing out my new Ski Trab light weight skis after fullfilling my quota on heavy gear.

Here is a little recap on my first ski mountaineering race experience at Gastlosen in 2005:

The day of the race we woke up early- 5 or so but I had been up already in the night to feed my little guy before leaving for the race. We arrived in the small Swiss village called Jaun (in the German speaking canton of Bern, just on the border of the French speaking canton-Fribourg, home to the famous Gruyeres cheese.) We arrived and the wind was howling, it was blizzard and there were many people in spandex suits. The bibs were being passed out at the local fire station. Tracey and I looked at the Course A and B and looked at each other both thinking the same thing. How would you feel about changing to the course B- Fun Pop category? Sounds good to me, I said. Little did we know what we were getting into?

Trace and me in the parking before the race of the Gastlosen in 2005-

We were bused to the start and quickly a Swiss man pointed his finger at me and shook his head at me for bringing my poles on the bus with my and not putting them behind with the others. (I did not want them to break)

We had 2 climbs to do on a ski area and it was pretty mellow-we cruised along at a good pace- got used to transitions and changing our skins however at the 2nd to last hill we joined up with the A course at the top of a steep couloirs. There were guides there helping people get into the couloir, directing the A people to go first. These racers were in full lycra suits and zipped down the couloir in a flash- not using the fixed line. There were rocks at the top. Trace and I carefully worked our way down the fixed line, trying to avoid the rocks in the way. The wind was still howling and racers from the course A slid by us like lightning. The next thing I saw was a rock coming toward me and someone yelling “rock” in French. We quickly moved to the side and were clear. Thankfully we were wearing helmets. We made our way down to the bottom of the couloir and the slope opened up, but there was avalanche debris on the slope (the guides slid the couloir before to protect if from sliding during the course) If you have ever skied through avalanche debris you know it is not easy. Big chunks of heavy ice and snow and even rocks sometimes obstuct your path. We continued on our descent, amazed at what we were actually skiing down, huge snow moguls, trees and off piste terrain –Nothing I have ever skied like before. Every now and then we were used somewhat like GS gates for the World Cup racers as they flew by at mock speed. Luckily we were not taken out by one of them. We finished in one piece. After catching our breath we both turned to each other and shook our heads, amazed at what we had just experienced. Somehow that experience made an impression on me, as five years later, I was one of the world cup racers on the A course flying by people in the B course on the couloir.

World Cup Team number -Course A- 2010

5 Years later…Team World Cup- Gastlosen- February, 2010

Lyndsay, my great friend/ teammate, and I arrived in Charmey at the Hotel Cailler (of Cailler Swiss chocolate) and enjoyed a hot chocolate while learning more about our course and where were staying. I managed to resist the temptation to eat more than one chocolate and save some to bring back home as little presents for the boys.

We enjoyed a pre-race hot cocoa at the Hotel Cailler (home to Cailler Swiss chocolate) The factory is not far from here. Free chocolate with the cocoa- only 1 though, as we were racing the next day!

All the World Cup athletes were lodged at a hostel at the race finish and not far from the start. It was super convenient and avoided leaving at 4:30 am like the 1400 other people. This race, we learned, was the 2nd largest Swiss ski mountaineering race after the Patrouille des Glaciers. More on that race in a future post, but to give a heads up- another team race of 3 from Zermatt to Verbier, Switzerland.

Go USA team sign made by Meg and Birken! We hung it proudly in our room! Thank you guys!

The Gastlosen range is a small mountain range that holds more than 1000 climbing routes. It is a dramatic setting when it is clear. Unfortunately the sun peaked through a few times while we were racing. This race is essentially a tour of the range.

Map of the Course- A circuit of the Gastlosen range- 4 climbs

Course Profile:

4 climbs totaling 2,304 meters climbing and descending over 20 miles in length. Quite a long course.

Here is the start in 2009- over 1000 people. It climbs up a ski slope for 550 meters and then gets steeper until 700 meters. The final part is a 250 meter climb on foot.

1st climb: 900 meters some technical switch backs at the top followed by a 250-meter couloir by foot with skis on the sack and in crampons

1st descent: killer couloir- fun skiing down but you had to be strong on your skinny skis. Just what Lynds and I love- steep descents followed by super nice softer snow-

2nd ascent: 500 Meters- technical at the top followed by a short 150 meter descent and

3rd ascent: another 500 meters of climbing.

3rd decent: This was a great 720-meter descent- super good off piste snow. Lynds and I let them rip.

4th ascent: 350 meters of climbing- not quite as short as I thought it would be. The top of the climb crowds of people lined the trail making a pathway to come through- Cowbells and cheers encouraged us on to the top and the transition.

Final descent of 6km with a 100 meter finish on foot.

A view of the Gastlosen Range

Racing as a team: This has to be one of the highlights of ski mountaineering for me but I have been very lucky. Some teams don’t work well together or are not at a similar level and then it can be miserable, I imagine. One of my (guy) friends explained your teammate has to be like your “2nd wife”. Lynds and I sure don’t talk much on course- but we don’t need to. You kind of know what the other person needs- help them out in a transition if one finishes with skins off first. Grab them a gel or fold up their skins or put their crampons in the pack. Sometimes we put the elastic on often more for the mental aspect of staying together as a team. This helps keep together especially on the longer races when one team member may be a little more tired.

Lyndsay and Nina working together as a team

The Finish: The finish of this race was super fun though there was a mens team in orange that were determined to beat us to the finish. In fact they were down right dangerous on the ski down. We crossed the finish line and, barely had a moment to catch our breath. Within seconds we were greeted by 2 strangers, one of whom, whisked Lindsay away for a random drug test (something they are do now in all world cup ski mountaineering events) and I did not see her until 1 hour later. I did not even have a chance to say goodbye! (For more on her experience on the drug testing check out her recent post on Brava Bella.com) I, on the other hand, was not drug tested, but had my equipment checked scrupulously by a Swiss miss; avi Beacon, probe reg size, and hovel. You can still use the small shovel with out a handle in World Cup but for the Swiss Cup races it is not aloud. This rule is likely to change- next year all World Cup skiers requiring a shovel. With a handle) other needed items: goggles or sunglasses. Hat or headband, helmet, safety blanket, whistle, wind layer on top and bottom.

Here we are at the finish! Glad to be done!

Recovery: I am all about trying to recover well…and there are many different ways: recovery drinks, ice baths, massage, stretching, recovery compression tights..Sport Legs…you name it! It was super handy to have our room just next to the finish so I headed up – drank my recovery drink which happened to have been Hammer Gel Strawberry flavor- but I have also heard Choc milk does the trick. Then it was shower time (cold bath soak too for the legs- it would have been better if I just lay in the snowbank for a while) followed by stretching , into skins recovery tights and socks and of course Sport Legs. When we are racing as often as we do in the competition season, you have to do everything you can do reduce soreness and fatigue after a race. Of course, lynds and I will do anything for a good Starbucks fix so we made a pit stop in Vevey, near lake Geneva (AKA Swiss Riveria)

I am not a huge coffee aficionado but I do miss the States- mostly my family but from time to time vanilla lattes.

Some of you Americans at home in the US may think we are crazy as you have them on every corner, but here in Europe they are hard to come by. Living overseas is funny. I miss my family a lot and good friends, I miss bagels and good mexi food and I also miss a good cozy coffee shop with ambience and good coffee-The Vevey Starbucks happened to do the trick for recovery that day!

Coming up soon! Local training and racing in France and the next World Cup is on the Italian island of Sicily. Yup, who ever thought there was skiing on a dormant volcanic island- at least I hope it is dormant.

Thanks for reading!

Recovery drink at Starbucks. We are suckers for Starbucks. It is not many places where you can be racing in the mountains in the morning and then have a nice warm drink near the Swiss Riveria in the afternoon.