With Spring upon us and the ski racing at an end, our club coaches gave us a simple road map for the end-of-season mental and physical recovery. They said “You've all achieved a high level of physical fitness during the past training year. In the coming weeks, we want to balance total recovery from a long season with maintenance of your significant fitness gains… Get outside and ski, run, bike, hike, climb, surf, and cross-train frequently. Just get out and have some fun.” Say no more.
So, with a comfortable break for the past 2 weeks (after the last race of the year in Sun Valley), I thought it would be nice to test the waters – no better way than to attempt a 100k ski. It was an item on my list and I am fit, so let’s go. This was quite the ambitious goal though, as my previous long was well over 2 years ago at 45k. The plan was set – I reached out to friends to rally the troops for the event, but alas, I had no takers. Everyone was busy. I was determined to try, so I went to my trusty steed for assistance – the old man. He was in and the goal was established: Ski 100k, or as long as you possibly can. But keep it fun.
We thought about this adventure and agreed that it wasn’t one of our smarter decisions – which is why we had to go for it. We decided on Saturday am – no school, no work, no problem. And it was a perfect birthday present for me, having just turned 17 three days prior. On Friday evening, we waxed the skis, went through our gear and strapped on a feed bag. The forecast was calling for sunny and 50 degrees on the mountain, so we knew this could be trouble. Ideally, we would have attempted this ski a couple weeks back under more favorable conditions, but we pushed ahead.
The biggest concern of the day for us, however, wasn’t as much the changing snow as much as the undulating terrain. See, Mt. Bachelor isn’t flat. It consists of 56k of groomed trails within the resort, with little flat runs that are appealing for a 100k type of day. With that in mind, we also investigated the supporting network of trails around the Deschutes National Forest. We concluded that IF the snowmobile network was recently groomed and in decent shape, that would provide us with a nice alternative to just staying within the Nordic resort area. This would be a game time decision.
Upon waking on Saturday morning, we got the dog walked, packed the car, ate a solid meal and hit the road. Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort is the primary training ground for MBSEF (our local Nordic Club) and there is plenty of snow to last through Memorial Day at this point, so there was never any doubt as to where our day would start. The lodge is approximately 30 minutes from our house, and we were at the mountain gearing up by 7:30 am. After unpacking and setting up our ‘pit-stop’ in Emil’s Clearing, our day began at an altitude of 6,350 ft and 28 degrees. Play-time.
With the sun peaking above the mountain tops, our adventure began. We instantly made a beeline out of the resort, across the Cascade Crest Highway (which is closed in the winter) and straight over to Dutchman’s Flat Sno-Park. This is where the snowmobile enthusiasts congregate daily for their exploration. As we approached the parking lot, it was full of AT skiers and snowmobilers ready to embark, so for a brief moment, it didn’t look good for us. But that was all about to change. After passing the lot, we came upon ‘Trail 5’, heading east. We have AT skied across Trail 5 in the past on our way up Tumalo for back country enjoyment, but have never, ever set a pair of Nordic skis on these snowmobile trails in the past. I think it’s a respect thing to be honest. Snowmobiles have their trails and we have ours. We do crust cruise in many parts of the Deschutes National Forest, however, have never ventured down this particular way before. That will change moving forward as this trail was absolute Gold.
Pure Corduroy. Wow. This trail was definitely groomed overnight and was in pristine condition for us to enjoy. Trail 5 took us 5k down east to Trail 6, where we turned north for the next 10k+ of modest climbs and a couple of headwalls. Trail 6 took us all the way up to the base of Moon Mountain and Trail 8. At this point, we had to decide – do we work our way back for a pit stop or do we bang a right and head 20k out to Three Creeks and Tam McArthur Rim. It was tempting, however with all of our food back at the camp, it was a simple decision.
At the base of Moon Mountain and Broken Top, we had completed our first, mostly uphill, 20k in a sane 1:46. We kept our pace steady and continued to experience some of the best conditions of the year. We were feeling great and very optimistic about our remaining distance. Also, we’ve now reached an intersection where we have skied in the past, so we knew that the next 8k+ was rolling to downhill back for a break.
The descent back to Bachelor did not disappoint and after 2:15, we were back at camp for a little rest. We had just skied 30k of awesome, fast skiing, which really felt like nothing. Free speed from fast, icy snow. We hit camp and settled in for 10-15 minutes to re-fuel and evaluate the layers. The skis were good, and the snow felt fast, but you could tell that things were changing.
Segment 2 started around 10:15 am and we had decided to stay within the Nordic groomed area until the midway point. As we started back off, we came across a couple of my teammates, which was a great change of pace. Seriously – it was great to ski with some friends and the fresh sets of legs seemed to have energized us a bit. The next 20k was spent with Anton and Henry, as we made our way along the uppers and lowers within Mt. Bachelors network of trails. With each passing kilometer though, the Cascade clouds were giving way to more and more sun which also soon gave way to trails turning soft.
Upon our return back to camp at 50k, we realized we had reached a milestone. My furthest ski up to this point had been approximately 45k in Silver Star two years prior. As for my Dad, he barely completed a 50k ski in a blizzard five years prior. From this moment on however, every stride would set a new personal record. I continued to feel great, but my father was starting to feel the effects of being 51 and 180 lbs on soft snow. At this point, the conditions were far from ideal, but we were committed.
We were somewhat prepared for the changing conditions based on the time of year and forecasts, so that was good. I came with a couple pairs of skis, including my Solomon white base skis which absolutely saved my life. My father only has his Fischer Speed Max, so we also had a couple different types of Solda and Swix Uni roll-on glide wax. To start segment 3, I switched to my white base skis and my father did his first glide application with the Swix Uni. From the moment we left camp, things had changed. My change of skis were great, and my fathers were not. After a couple of km, I knew that we had to separate in an attempt to accomplish the hopeful 100k. I would soldier on solo, while my father would ski around in support of me for the rest of the day. I was still optimistic whilst he had doubts for himself.
Needless to say, the next couple of hours were torture. In 52-degree heat, at 6,400 ft, on rolling, slushy snow is tough. To be skiing by yourself at 65km is mentally and physically indescribable. Sure, I saw my father (and also one of my coaches, Bill) periodically for support, but it’s difficult for me to explain the toll that it took on me at this age. I have never been exposed to this type of agony up to this point. By this time, my father had also switched to the Solda wax, which provided a lot more glide for his skis, so he continued to trudge along. At this point, we were on two different set paths, but we were able to reconnect at base camp when I hit 75k. I can do this.
We agreed that Segment 4 would start with me going back into the ‘lowers’ for a couple of loops for an additional 15k and then we would evaluate from there. I would start off first and my father would connect with me somewhere down on the trails to check in. I too had put some Solda wax on my white bases, ate a sandwich, a banana, drank a flat coke/water mix and I was off. I think my father took a quick and necessary power nap. The next 15k hurt, but I was absolutely 100% going to check this box. One k turned into 5k, which turned into 10 and 15. I started to cramp pretty badly at around 85k and realized that I was out of water at the farthest possible point away from our pit stop. I wasn’t sure if I could go much further without liquids; there he was – the old man with his water belt at full capacity. Amen. After a quick water break, we once again split up and agreed to meet back at camp in another 4-5k.
Upon returning to camp, this was the home stretch. I was at sitting at 92k and had a couple of loops in mind to get me to my goal. My father said that he was concerned that someone would steal our stuff, so he was committed to stay at base camp for security purposes; when we were literally the only people at the mountain at 5pm, "security purposes only". That seemed a bit odd considering we have been here all day, but I was too delusional to argue. I was off for my first lap of Zig Zag. This is where things started to go south. I started to cramp very badly at around 95k, so I turned around to fuel some more. I came back to camp, took in some more liquids, a couple of SaltStick electrolytes and one last banana. Each time that I left camp, my father also left camp and continued to slog along as well. It’s quite unique how mentally and physically things were difficult for us at different points in the day. I progressively got worse as the day went by, whereas my father felt his worst between 50-60k and started to feel a bit better with time (and rest).
Overall, this was a huge accomplishment for me, and I am so glad that we continued to fight throughout the day, with the changing conditions and the stressors of skiing alone. The first 50k was pretty easy, however the next 50k was a unique experience – not only for the time on skis, or the distances that I have never done, but the mental fortitude which it required while I skied alone. In the first 2.5 hours of the day, we saw not one human being as we traversed around Tumalo Mountain. In the last 2 hours of the day, I saw not one person on the Bachelor trails outside of my Dad for not more than 10 minutes combined. That said, my father stopped the watch at 86.6k in 6:46 (with 3 hrs of breaks in-between). He can’t walk today, but he should survive.
As for me? I finished with 100.8k in 8:13 (with no auto pause) with over 6,400 ft of ascent. If I could estimate out my actual skiing time on the day, I would say that it was somewhere around 7:30-7:35 timeframe. We started off somewhat conservatively and I got a bit more confident and faster as my day wore on (up until around 90k). But I did it. This is a day that I will never forget. I am not sure if I will ever want or be able to accomplish this ever again, but I did it. And with that, my Pandemic Ski Season has come to an end. Bucket List completed. Check.