Monday, May 14, 2012

Skiing 150 Days

What an incredible thing -- to ski 150 days in one season.  My mind whirls.  I can't even imagine such unobtainable happiness, and fortunately, I don't have to try to imagine: Travis Rector has sent us his awesome story of just exactly what it was like.  Grab a glass of wine and enjoy ...

Today marks a personal milestone in one of the most epic ski seasons in Alaska history.  Today was my 150th day of skiing this season, a record which vastly outstrips last season's 114 days on snow.  And there's easily another week or two of skiing- more if you're willing to hike a bit in the mountains.  At the start of the year, I had no ambition for such a record.  Instead, my goal for the season was to complete the Vasaloppet in Sweden, and other skiing and racing opportunities were sacrificed for that singular purpose.  But after completing 90km (on what turned out to be my 90th day of the season), I found myself shot physically and emotionally, not to mention financially.  After returning home, for a while skiing was tiring and frankly not that much fun.  I floundered in March, usually the nicest month of skiing.  I needed a new goal.

As you may have heard, we had a record snowfall of 134" in Anchorage this season, eclipsing the previous record set in 1954.  Not only did we get a lot of snow, it came early and often.  This meant a continuous opportunity to ski since October 18th.  In Anchorage, we are blessed with over 100km of groomed ski trails in and around the city, making skiing in the winter as easy for us as going out for a noontime run is for folks in the rest of the United States.  After the Vasaloppet, I realized I was close to 100 days and it was still early March.  The record snowfall meant skiing in town would likely last through April.  Last season my friend Shannon skied 150 times (not days, as he counts two-a-days as separate notches on his top sheet).  Despite my exhaustion, the record snowfall meant this was my best shot of matching that record.  So starting on March 23rd, I set the goal of skiing every day, without missing a beat.  The focus now wasn't on L4 intervals, distance, etc. but on keeping it up, day after day.

Because of the deep snowpack, logistically it hasn't been hard.  The hard part has been motivating myself for something that could easily start to feel like a chore.  Fortunately, spring skiing in Alaska is usually a delight; and this year has been no different.  Throughout April we were blessed with warm (but not TOO warm) temps, meaning easy cruises on some days wearing little more than red klister and a T-shirt.  The groomers of the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage kept us going on excellent conditions until the end.  The last "reasonable" day of skiing in town was May 2nd.  April also means the start of crust skiing in the backcountry, where the thrill of exploration keeps you going and eager for more.  Spring is a whole new season and a new attitude.

Today's ski pretty much encapsulated the entire season- about an inch of fresh snow on top of crust below.  High winds made for a tedious climb up, but an effortless return was the reward.  After 94 days of classic skiing and 56 days of skate, it is hard to identify specific highs and lows.  The season has been filled with strained muscles, several times being chased by moose, a broken ski, a boot that exploded, zipping off the trail during intervals in whiteout conditions, several three-hour-long double-pole sessions, a five-hour ski over which it snowed 6" , a respirator frozen to my face while skiing in -20 degrees, skiing in powder so deep you couldn't see your boots, using V20 and KR70 and everything else in between, spotting a lynx, skiing 3k in 55 minutes with 15,000 of my closest friends, and, most importantly, the camaraderie of my friends and teammates as we moved towards our personal goals together.  Most of all, I've enjoyed the integration of skiing into my daily life- it has become as natural as walking.  Sometimes mundane, sometimes frustrating, often spectacular, and never taken for granted.

It’s hard to imagine that I will exceed 150 days of skiing again, but who knows?  Over 200 days have elapsed since October 18th, so my number of days on snow could have been even larger.  And my friend Shannon is now past 180 times this season.  There's always another level to which we strive.

Travis Rector photos

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