Rene and I met for coffee at his small apartment above the Gare des Glacier, the place where I will live for most of the next 2 months. The space is unique is that it was build in the 1920’s as the first tram station for the Aiguille du Midi cable car. It was ready for the 1924 Olympics held in the valley. Since then it was decommissioned and the tram station relocated down the street about a mile. It fell into complete disrepair and was falling apart when Rene took on the task of renovating it. The tenancy is a bit complicated but part of it is rented out to chuckleheads like me.
Wow. After months of dreaming and a few more months of planning, scheming, pleading and, by the good grace of those involved, I’m finally on my way to the Alps. It didn’t really hit me until today in the Seattle airport. After flying in from Anchorage I walked up the stairs to the international gates, heard my name being called on the overhead and saddled up to the gate. I was expecting some sort of unfortunate news. It was over an hour until boarding so what else could it be, right? Nope. No problem. They just wanted to check me in. And as I walked away from the desk it suddenly hit me that I was about to fly a good ways around the globe to play for 2 months. Indulgent? Absolutely.
There's no hiding the fact that this winter has been somewhat grim in Alaska. We've been high and dry and occasionally oddly warm during the last couple of months. We knew the drought would end eventually and it did in grand fashion this past week. Not all the local ranges got snow, however, and, in my opinion, the Front Range and Western Chugach faired the best. I sampled both offerings this week.
My trip to Chamonix looms close now. I leave in 12 days. Hard to believe it's almost here. Along with the general planning for skiing and staying in the World's epicenter of ski alpinism, I thought I'd try to get into the Pierra Menta, the so-called Tour de France of skimo racing. Of course, I really haven't raced for nearly two years but I figure as long as I'm over there I should try to do this amazing race.
I got Nate Brown, the other member of the "B Team" to come on board. Getting into the race is no foregone conclusion. Aside from the obvious language barrier when communicating with race organizers, there're a few hoops to leap through, as well. While I consider the United States to be the most painfully litigeous nation on the planet with people suing over the stupidest shit, France, apparently, has similar worries. Not only did we cough up the 900 Euro for the team entry fee, we had to purchase rescue insurance ($450 through Global Rescue) and join a French ski club (110 Euro) to ensure we had the requisite liability insurance, too. Additionally, the PM is organized by a group responsible for a few other large format skimo races, collectively known as La Grande Course. It's 20 Euro just for the priviledge of considering your application.
But, hey, we figure you only go around once so why not? If you Google the event you'll see why it's a must-do for every skimo racer with the means to make it happen. The courses are long, mostly high in the mountains off piste and the competition fierce. Not that the B Team plans on racing too hard. We'll bring cameras and try to enjoy ourselves while still skiing reasonably fast. Some of the technical sections develop slow ques along ridges so anyone out of the top 30 teams is going to be one nostril breathing at times anyway.
The race takes place over 4 days and all stages start and finish in the same town. The price of admission includes a bed to sleep in and breakfast and dinner for the 4 days. Not bad. We're pretty excited to be totally immersed in a skimo orgy. I'll get there two weeks ahead of Nate so I should be able to get acclimatized a bit so I don't suffer up high. I'll also get to work on my downhill fitness since I don't get much of that at home, especially with our lean winter thus far.
Although I'm not racing these days, I couldn't help but equip myself appropriately for the event. I bought some Scarpa Alien 1.0 and a pair of this year's Hagan X-Race skis.
I need to equip my Plum Race 145 bindings with the little toe lever widget to make them IFSM legal.The guys at Plum have graciously offered to mount my skis when I get over there. I'm psyched to pay a visit to the factory and meet the crew. Stay tuned for some inside info on that scene. Should be interesting.
Some of my training has involved tooling around a hilly section of Nordic trail near my house. I go in the dark after work so I can avoid the stares and questions when I go skinning by on skimo gear. Most folks don't know quite what to make of it. The boots are kinda loud so it's hard to hide. But it's allowed me to get a feel for them anyway. I finally took them out for some real skiing last weekend with my Cho Oyu skis. I'd say it was not a great combo as the snow was punchy and those skis may have been a bit much to push around with race boots. The thing I noticed is that with the thin race liners, it was hard to feel like I had a tight fit around my skinny ankles. When I tightened the cuff cord enough to be snug, the act of throwing the lever became very hard and the cuff dug painfully into my ankle. Not good.
I started thinking out how I could improve the fit and performance. Two springs ago I put Intuition liners in my Dynafit TLT 5 Performance boots. I kep the old liners. I decided to see how those slightly more substantial liners would fit into the Aliens. I think it's the answer to both my issues and comes with a 53 gram penalty. Given our level of competitiveness, that's perfectly acceptible. The other thing this solves is the annoying difficulty I have getting in and out of the Scarpa sock liner. Without a tongue, it's a serious struggle and I find that levering against the sharp carbon cuff edge can result in near laceration of hands and fingers. Glad to be done with that.
I recommend this mod without reservation for those who need a better fit and more performance from their Aliens.
I've made no secret about our pathetic winter so far up here in Alaska. Mat (Anchorage Avalanche Center) and I've be making the best of things and skiing boiler plate and rare chalk where we can find it. But a odd little storm blew over the Kenai Mountains yesterday and left a lovely little gift of softness and sunshine that we enjoyed today. Oddly, most of the other mountains in South Central AK saw little to nothing.