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Alpine touring contest is a Canadian first

Randonnee Rally part of Big Mountain Experience weekend The backcountry is a tranquil place, and ski touring is typically viewed as a relaxing pastime.

Randonnee Rally part of Big Mountain Experience weekend

The backcountry is a tranquil place, and ski touring is typically viewed as a relaxing pastime. Skin a little, ski a little powder, and enjoy some time away from the hustle and bustle of the ski hill.

And then there’s the Life-Link/Dynafit Randonnee Rally. The clock is ticking, and some hustling and bustling is required if you want to be competitive – the last thing you want to do is relax.

The Randonnee Rally, which is being held for the first time in Canada on Jan. 11 as part of the Big Mountain Experience weekend, is essentially a ski touring race that tests endurance up, down and around a high alpine course that includes glaciers, bowls and other features.

"Whistler-Blackcomb believes this event is a perfect fit and partnership. It draws on the mountain’s strengths and highlights its unique characteristics – glaciers, alpine bowls, and North America’s greatest terrain and vertical," said Christopher Nicolson, manager of communications for Whistler-Blackcomb.

There will be Rally courses for both amateur and professional-level skiers.

Both courses are on Whistler Mountain, and begin at the Roundhouse.

According to event manager Christie Watts of Life-Link, the Randonnee Rally Race Series is in its third year, starting with a single event at Jackson Hole. Since that first event, the number of participants has grown to over 100 people.

Although this is the first time the event has been in Canada, she said a group of about 25 Canadians from the Lower Mainland area competed in the Seattle, Washington, events last season.

While many of the skiers are racing, the majority of participants are typically backcountry enthusiasts who view the Rally as a fun event.

"The rec people are super-mellow who view this as a gathering of backcountry people. As a whole, skiers tour with their friends, they have their own routes, their own stashes. This is a good way to get together with other members of their community, and enjoy a day of skiing. It’s a fun event," said Watts.

"The competitive skiers are actually pretty mellow too, but they can move pretty fast when they want to.

"It’s actually an up and coming sport. The Olympic committee will be in Whistler checking it out, and is looking into adding the sport to the Olympics in the future. It was actually in the first few Winter Olympics, but it got dropped for whatever reason. It’s really popular in Europe still, and it’s a pretty exciting race with all the climbing and skiing."

Life-Link held the first event in 2000, and hopes to put the event in a strong enough position to stand on its own as a regular tour.

The professional level course on Whistler Mountain starts at the Roundhouse, goes up the Headwall Windrow (plus 90 metres); down to the bottom of the T-Bars (minus 180 metres); up to the top of the T-Bars (+220m); down to the top of Boomer (-55m), up to the top of Sun Bowl (+205m), down to the bottom of Burnt Stew Basin (-385m), up Piccolo via Feltchers (+300), down Flute Basin (-380m), up to the top of Flute (+370m), down Flute Basin (-370m), up to the top of Harvey’s (+330m) and down to the Harmony Express chair (-355m). The total elevation gained is 1,515 metres (4,949.2 feet). The top racers will complete the course in about two hours.

The amateur course follows the Professional Course as far as the top of Sun Bowl, then heads down to the bottom of Burnt Stew Trail (-395m), up to the top of Harvey’s (+330m), and down to the Harmony Express Chair.

The total elevation gained is 855 metres (2,771.6 feet).

You can race the Rally alone or as part of a team of two. The first skier cannot cross a checkpoint unless the partner is there.

While the amateur category is expected to attract mainly local skiers, the professional category will include skiers who will participate in the larger Randonnee Rally 2003 Race Series, which has five stops on the calendar this season, starting with the event on Whistler Mountain. Other events will be held at Crested Butte, Montana, Alpental at Snoqualmie Pass, Washington, Stevens Pass, Washington, and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming.

More than $10,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded on the tour this year.

The Randonnee Rally is a North American version of popular alpine touring races that have been held in Europe for more than 50 years.

To sign up for the Whistler event, call Whistler-Blackcomb Guest Relations at 1-800-443-8620, visit Life-Line online at , or visit Guest Relations in person. Can-Ski Glacier Shop will also offer pre-registration from 8 a.m. to noon on Dec. 10.

All athletes are required to check in at 6 p.m. at the Whistler-Blackcomb Guest Relations centre in the village, and a competitor’s meeting will follow at 7 p.m.

The cost is $60 to register for the event.

Competitors should have the necessary ski touring gear, and will be checked for avalanche transceivers, shovels and probes at the start line.

The race gets underway at 8:15 a.m. on Saturday.

For more information, visit the Life-Link Web site at , or Whistler-Blackcomb at