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Monday, January 22, 2018

4. Asitz Skitour Race – Vertical Kurz (400 HM, 2.5 km)

Vertical Skitour Racing (Source: International Ski Mountaineering Federation)
I had a panic attack in the gondola. Just a minor one, where my heart started racing and that feeling of helplessness swept over me.

With Luca (right) and Anton Palzer (Austrian ski touring king!) 
The race started at 6 pm, after the slopes were free of the daytime skiers, the course could be marked, and the sun set behind the mountains welcoming darkness over the valley. This last point was the instigator for the panic. It was so dark in the gondola that I could barely see the faces of the people sitting just feet in front of me. The tall evergreens zipping by were a blur and the ground below was indiscernible.

What if I get lost? What if my headlamp batteries die out? What if I can’t finish the race, have to stop, and freeze to death out here because no one can find me in this blackness?!?

Crossing the Finish
Luca was with me. My daughter’s 17-year-old boyfriend. He’d also never done a ski tour race before, let alone any other kind of race. I kind of dragged him into it. The poor guy didn’t know what kind of a crazy family he was getting involved with. I could almost read his mind as we were being drawn upwards into the unknown… What am I doing here?!? I just wanted to date the pretty girl!

We exited the gondola at the middle lift station, which was also the starting point of the race. We arrived 25 minutes before the start and there was no place inside to wait, so we walked out into the cold night, looked at up the luminous mountain and the treacherous incline we were about to attempt. It was really steep. Could my skins grip that? What if it’s icy? I’ll just keep sliding back down into the starting line, crossing it in the wrong direction! And damn, it’s cold out here!

Then I spied the bathrooms and I told Luca I was going to check and see if they were heated. They were. And that’s where I remained for the next 15 minutes. Another one of the racers was in there, a 20-something-year-old woman from a nearby village who was also doing this for the first time.

Ten minutes before the start I went outside and did some jumping around and stretching to warm up, then put on my skis and headed to the inevitable.

"Finished" in every sense of the word
…3…2…1 and at the signal we were up, up and away! Almost immediately my pulse was in the red zone. Despite the insane incline, my skis held firm to the snow. Most of the skiers were quickly ahead, but I was at my limit and simply progressed as fast as I could, concentrating on keeping a smooth stroke and focusing on the path in front of me.

After the initial steep ascent, there was a section with a gradual slope but my pulse never seemed to slow down. The light from my headlamp was adequate though and mercifully supplemented by the skiers behind me. A few officials were on the course with lights to guide our path every few hundred meters, so thankfully I never felt that I could potentially get lost.

Around a curve and the lights at the finish line way up on the top of the mountain were in sight! On that flatter section I was passed by a man who’d been right behind me the whole way, but as soon as we reached another steep ascent I overtook him again and that’s how it stayed. The last ascent up to the finish was amazingly precipitous, my heart rate was at a max but there was no slowing down for fear of sliding backwards, so I just powered on with everything I had left. I heard some cheers but kept my head down, afraid to fall off balance if I turned in any direction. Then just when the burn in my quads was too much to bear, after an intensely anaerobic thirty minutes, the flash of the photographer’s camera signaled the end. But the beginning of a new addiction.

Mountain chalet with post race party

Post Race Party

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