On February 21, 2017 I attended my second skimo race of the season, this one in Fernie. Also, this was my first overnight trip away from my kids. I didn’t know what to expect from this race. I’ve only skied Fernie once before the Lizard Skinner race and I really haven’t been downhill or backcountry skiing since I got pregnant with my daughter in 2012. Before having kids, I was happy skiing blue runs and the odd black run. I was never a person to push my boundaries that much with skiing, just enjoyed spending nice happy days in the mountains on easy runs.
So, heading to Fernie I was pretty worried and didn’t really know what to expect. It was my first time doing a Skimo race other than the COP Vert180 in Calgary. I drove to Fernie on the Friday morning before the race to give me time to explore the mountain, ski the downhill sections and decide what I’d do on Saturday. My options were to just do the ascent and bow out after I got to the top, or to do the whole race knowing that the descents would probably scare the pants off me. I decided to sign up for a lesson when I got to the hill Friday afternoon to learn how to ski Saturday’s course. Standing at the top of the first descent, I looked down the run and tried to figure out what the heck I was going to do. But, something in me has changed over the past 3 years. I am no longer letting fear overcome me or dictate what I will or will not do, so I pointed my skis over the edge and slowly picked my way down that steep section of hill. I also knew there was a second descent that would need to be done during the race, but I figured it couldn’t it be harder than the steep sketchy downhill I just skied. Well, my instructor helped me find the second run, and it turned out to be an icy, mogul filled, relatively narrow run with alder branches sticking up all over it. The first section of this run was doable, I just went to the internal mantra “over, over turn” which I learned when I was about 3 years old and learning to ski. However, the last short section was steep and icy. I fell, got caught on alder shrubs and was a total mess.
Sitting back in my hotel room that night I was eating Oreos and pizza, because how else would an athlete fuel the night before a big race, and I just wanted to drive home. Over and over in my mind I just kept repeating, “what are you doing?” “why are you doing this?”. I couldn’t help thinking I should be home, snuggled up with my 1 year old little moose and not preparing for something that I obviously should not be doing.
On race morning I woke up fully intending to ski the ascent, call it a work out and not do the whole race. The skimo community was great and as we were getting ready, and I was given some fantastic tips by a few members of the national team. I got ready, did a bit of a warm up, but not too much as lord knows I need all the energy I can muster just to finish the race. Being a complete newbie to this whole race thing, I let everyone else know it as well by taping my number on upside down (008 became 800) and I also had to carry my avalanche shovel on the outside of my pack (apparently, a no no) as I realized that morning that it wouldn’t fit into my fantastic little lightweight skimo pack I’d received for Christmas. I set myself up at the back of the pack at the start line, with all the split boarders and people wearing heavy touring gear. The race started and everyone bolted off into a little ski run shuffle. I was at the back thinking “wait a sec, why are all these people running, it’s not a sprint”, but I soon learned that you need to get that little run in otherwise you get totally left behind, which I was. I plodded along in my ultra-light skis and boots, thinking I should be closer to the front, or at least ahead of all those wearing heavy gear, but I wasn’t. I ski up at what we call in my family “ranger pace”. It’s the pace at which you could trek for days and not get tired. I did manage to pass some people on the uphill section and just kept pushing, hoping my idea that I could slowly reel people in at my steady pace would work. And my strategy would have worked better if the race was 8 hours, but it’s not. For the top people, it’s less than 2 hours. I was happy having passed a few people and plugging away, until I got to an icy knoll and slipped and fell (this is on the ascent, I fell going uphill). It was so icy I couldn’t get straightened out to start skinning up again, so after flailing around for a while trying to figure out what to do, I took off one ski and walked up until I got to a flat spot and could get re-adjusted and start skinning again. At this point all those people who I had passed had passed me once again. I did a great transition to the boot pack section, put my skis back on and decided to ski to the top of the descent and just check it out. I’d make my decision at that point if I was going to try it or not.
It was just me on my own at the top of that black run in Fernie. I had to decide for myself, am I going to be the athlete and the person I’ve always wanted to be, or am I going to turn back and not really pursue this sport. After staring down that hill for several minutes, being passed by people and lapped by elite racers, I dropped into the run. What is the worst that can happen? I fall? That’s ok, I’d just get back up. I side slipped a lot of the run, feeling a little guilty as I was messing it up for those that would come behind me. I think it probably took me at least 15 minutes to get down that one section of the race, but I did it, and I was going to keep on going. I got to the second ascent section and I was feeling good. I was happy to start climbing again. I gained on people, I have no idea how, I passed people! I got to the second bootpack section and hiked up to the top of the second descent. I knew it was going to totally suck, but at this point there’s no way I wasn’t going to get down that hill and finish my race. The top and the mid-section of my run went well, then the bottom section came and it was steep. I later told my husband the theme song to my race would be the sound of side scraping ice on skis. I got part way down and totally stuck, I couldn’t go forwards, backwards or turn due to the alder branches and ice. So, I took off my skis. It was icy enough that I had to walk backwards down the hill kicking my boots into the ice several times a step until I got to the bottom. Quite a show for the ski patrol guy at the bottom I’m sure. I felt like a fool, but I got to the bottom, put on my skis and got to the finish line. I knew I was last, but I finished it, on my own.
I’d trained on my own for a race where I didn’t know what to expect and I got through it. I finished it, and I know the next one will be better and so will the one after that. I didn’t lose this race, I won it, because I pushed past fear of leaving my family for the first time just to get there. I started the race instead of just skiing for the day, pushing past the fear of being last to cross the finish. And, at the top of the descents I pushed past the fear and internal voice that was telling me I couldn’t do it. I am on the road to becoming a trail runner and skimo racer. This is my beginning. I can’t wait to see where I end up.