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Pierra Menta - Day 4

Well, we made it. There were times during the first stage where I wasn't so sure we would. Nate was in a bad way that day and had to dig deep to finish. We hoped for something completely different on day two and that's what we got. Days three and, finally, four were more of the same with only slight variations in energy and motivation. One thing is for certain; there were no discussions of dropping out after the beginning of the second day. 

Day four dawned with lots of snow in the hills and a few inches on the car. Because it was only 1,400 meters of climbing, we started 30 minutes later at 0730. Ahh, the luxury of sleeping in. It was funny to witness the slow degradation of morale and appetite at breakfast. The first morning dozens of French, Italian and Spanish chatted away while taking in lots of calories. On morning four, not so much. Just long looks, nearly zero conversation and a half hearted pecking at a baguette and some coffee.

The start was the same sea of Lycra and skiers scurrying about trying coax the fatigue from their legs. We dropped our bag and made our way through the beacon check. The gun sounded and we took off with about 370 others at a pace that was surprisingly brisk. Seemed like no one was saving anything on the last, relatively short stage.

We turned off the piste and onto a machine road. The new snow created three distinct skin tracks and we all settled in to our respective lanes. The thing that warmed my heart throughout the four days was the competitiveness of even the back markers near us, me included. Even this far into the pack, we were still throwing elbows and bumping each other trying to gain position and fill in gaps as they formed. This is what it’s all about. We’re competing no matter what.

The long line slowed considerably as they directed us off the road and down into a tight drainage on our way to a long series of tight switchbacks through the trees to a ridge. This made for some serious elbow throwing and the accumulated fatigue brought out some short tempers.

At one point I got into a little tiff with a Catalan female skier who switched lanes in front of me trying to follow her partner ahead of her. Of course, she failed to acknowledge me in the lane, stepped on my skis and forced her way in. I was not amused and told her as much fully protesting in English with as much color as I could muster. Two turns later I pulled the same move on her and she wacked me with her pole. I informed her that I could certainly go slower and did so just to piss her off. No need to be nasty, I told her, and she got my point. I stepped aside and let her on through. She actually had a dog in this fight, anyway.

The pitch eased as we gained the ridge and rolled along. Some more switch backs and a short downhill led to another climbing section before a 400 meter descent to the final climb. The descending was challenging in the deep snow which, by the time we got there, was pushed up in to moguls the size of VW Bugs. Our legs were screaming after three days of huge efforts.

Just before the top of the last climb we gained a short ridgeline being lashed by wind and blowing snow. Everyone was chilled as we ripped skins for the final time. There was a sense of relief knowing that this was it. Before we could celebrate, however, we had to descend all the way down to the finish over 1,000 meters below. This was the most demanding skiing of the race with huge bumps and technical rollovers.

Regardless, we made progress and soon found the groomer to the finish. Nate and I stopped and simply smiled in satisfaction at having completed something that, three days prior, we weren’t sure we would. But fate smiled on us, Nate recovered and we raced well, trading pace with each other over the days like we knew we would when I first suggested we race in France.

After a quick shower, some food and rest, we vacated our room and drove down the hill to the local high school gymnasium for the awards event. The amazing organization was once again on display as a group of volunteers served up a hot meal for at least 600 skiers. We left before the actual awards, choosing to beat the traffic and get on our way instead.

Final Thoughts

The Pierra Menta was everything I expected and more. I knew the crowds would be big on the third day but I was surprised by the emotion I felt skiing by all those crazy fans. It was physically demanding but not overwhelming. With all that can go sideways in an event as hard on equipment and body as this one, we had a pretty good run.

Racing the PM is like being a recreational bike rider and getting to do the Tour de France. The nature of ski mountaineering racing allows regular guys like me to race in the same event as the worlds best. We face the same course and nearly the same conditions each day. It’s hard to believe that I started watching videos of the Pierra Menta in 2007 and finally found myself at the finish line Sunday. It seemed like a long road to get there and I left Areches-Beaufort with a deep sense of satisfaction and a feeling that, well, I’m a lucky guy.

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Reader Comments (9)

Just got caught up on the Euro action.
It looks and sounds amazing!!!!
Thanks for sharing the fun.
And if you happen to come across a pair of those race jeans in a 32 waist, I'm all in (:

March 24, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdbass

That's funny you mention the jeans, Dave. Crazy Idea (Italian, of course) makes those things for men. They're a little less acid washed but definitely stylish. Not really my speed but Nate really wants a pair. They cost 110 Euros.

March 25, 2014 | Registered CommenterBrian

Congratulations for your great service on Pierra Menta. And congratulations for your race. Thank you.

March 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterFabio Menino

Hi Fabio,

Are you part of the race organization? If so, the PM is the best endurance event I've ever done. Simply great courses, fantastic competition and, best of all, amazing organization and volunteer support. Bravo!

March 25, 2014 | Registered CommenterBrian

Hey Briian
Thanks again for a super blog. I really appreciate being able to read about this stuff.Thank Nate for me for hanging in there and letting me read about the whole PM.
You guys rock.

March 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBill B

Hey Brian, good to meet you and Nate on the course.
Enjoy the rest of your time in Cham and remember if the snow melts out too much that there is plenty of skiing to be had up in northern Norway.

March 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKaj

Hey Kaj,

Good meeting you as well. It's a small world we live in when you and I can meet like that. Great sharing the days with you. We'll likely cross paths again. Stay in touch.

March 27, 2014 | Registered CommenterBrian

Awesome race reports. Thanks for sharing--I love the Wasatch Skimo suits being represented at the PM.


March 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLayne

Hi Layne,

Yeah, we thought it pretty cool, too, rocking those colors in Europe. Probably should've sewn some little flag on the sleeve so the fans knew. On the other hand, maybe it's better they thought we were Canadian.

April 1, 2014 | Registered CommenterBrian

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