Taming Winter Blue
Braving two feet of fresh snow, roaring winds and unfamiliar terrain, 14 teams lined up to start the first-ever Tahoe Winter Blue adventure race on Saturday.Organized by Todd Jackson and his Tahoe-based adventure racing company, Seventh Wave Productions, the Winter Blue utilized backcountry terrain near Sawtooth Ridge within the boundaries of the Northstar-at-Tahoe ski resort.Although the racers were delayed by the storm system that was still dumping fresh snow on the area Saturday, eight teams – including Team Bad News made up of myself and fellow Sierra Sun reporter David Bunker – managed to find all six checkpoints on the approximately three-mile course, which Jackson had shortened due to safety concerns.”I’m really happy with the way it turned out in that people made it there and we had kind of a diverse crowd,” Jackson said after the race. “People were trying different kinds of gear, trying to figure out what would be the best gear to use in an event like that.”Organizers had to shorten the course because of winds. Jackson noted that the Backside Express Chair had to be shut down at one point because of the gusts.
“I think as it turned out it was a pretty good distance. It was a pretty trying day just to be out on the mountain and there was a lot of time needed just to get from A to B,” he said.The competitors agreed.”I thought the race was great,” said Ross McMahan of Team Atlas Snowshoe, who took second place overall with teammate Adam Chase. “I thought the course was a good course and unfortunately the weather wasn’t cooperating. It would have been nice if it could have been a longer course.”Coming in first overall and also taking the title in the Winter Blue Backcountry Cup – a race within a race that had teams representing different resorts and shops in the area squaring off against each other – was Team Northstar-at-Tahoe made up of Northstar’s Patrol Director Dan Warren and Patroller Grant Guise.According to Guise, the decision to do the race was made at the very last minute due to the weather and the fresh snow.
“We actually weren’t going to do [the race] on the morning of, because we had to go and do a little bit of [avalanche] control work, but we finished that early enough that we could go out and do it,” he said.Guise explained the strategy that led them to victory in a time of one hour 44 minutes, with Team Atlas Snowshoe a mere five minutes behind.”It was pretty hideous because there was probably a foot or two feet of new snow, so it was pretty hard going, especially at first.” Guise said. “It made it difficult because any time you’d try setting your own track you’d just get three or four other teams following you while you’re doing all the hard work … so you kind of had to step aside and let them do some of the work for a bit to even it out.”While Guise and Warren chose alpine touring and telemark skis as their equipment of choice, and McMahan and Chase were on snowshoes, many competitors, including Bunker and myself, chose a relatively new and untested – at least in adventure racing scenarios – means of navigating the descents of the course – Airboards.Kind of like an inflatable bodyboard for the snow, an Airboard is a sturdy sled-like contraption made of a synthetic material with nylon reinforcements, handles on top and grooves on the bottom that allow for more directional control than an average sled.
Surprisingly, out of the 28 competitors who started the race, seven of us were using Airboard for the descents, with snowshoes on for the flat and uphill sections of the course. And while the boards certainly did not provide as much control in the trees as skis or snowshoes would have, the airboarders were definitely making the most out of the opportunity to ride in fresh snow.Even a 45 minute slog up the wrong hill, looking for a checkpoint that turned out to be on a neighboring rise turned out to be worthwhile because the slide back down through fresh powder was so much fun.And when, after two hours and 58 minutes, Bunker and I finished the course – the last team to officially reach all of the checkpoints – we did get one more run down Mt. Pluto to the mid-mountain Lodge at Big Springs. So with Airboards in hand, snowboards on our feet, and 18 inches of fresh powder all the way down, we both had to agree that it had been a good day of racing.For more information on the Tahoe Winter Blue adventure race see http://www.bigblueadventure.com.