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Winner to defend title at Whistler’s second Randonnee Rally

Sport just emerging in North America but ‘it’s nothing the average Whistlerite couldn’t do’ Sometimes no matter how well you prepare for an event, things just don’t pan out the way you planned.

Sport just emerging in North America but ‘it’s nothing the average Whistlerite couldn’t do’

Sometimes no matter how well you prepare for an event, things just don’t pan out the way you planned.

Just ask Greg Hill, the 28-year-old Revelstoke native who competed in his first Randonnee Rally in Whistler last year.

Hill ski tours roughly 150 days of the year so he’s no stranger to the concept of randonnée, which takes competitors up steep slopes and down fast descents over some sweeping terrain.

But, unlike a day ski touring with friends, randonnée pits you against some stiff competition to see who can do it the fastest.

Whistler’s event last year, which was the first of its kind in Canada, took competitors up the Headwall Windrow in front of the Roundhouse, down to the bottom of the T-bars, over to Sun Bowl, down to the bottom of Burnt Stew Basin and then out to Flute. There were a few more ups and downs along the way.

"I took off like a bat out of hell, just killed myself on the first climb and then I was dead, literally just beaten," Hill recalled.

"I don’t know what I was thinking."

His problems didn’t end there. Though he burst through to the front at the very beginning, Hill’s skins stopped working on his second ascent. He had to watch, in growing dismay, competitors pass him as he put on a spare set of skins. Then he was off again.

Later on he was one of a handful of competitors who were in the forefront vying for first place. And then he lost another skin and had to double back to pick it up.

After all that touring a punishing boot-pack awaited Hill and the others for the final ascent.

"You’ve done all this ski touring and all of a sudden you have to strap your skis on your backpack and boot-pack up this thing," he said.

Despite all those obstacles, Hill managed to overtake the favoured Jeff Banks on the final descent and was first across the finish line. He had climbed roughly 1,515 metres and sped down some big descents in one hour and 30 minutes.

"It was dreamt of but it was unexpected," he said of his win.

"It’s a serious challenge. You definitely have to dig deep."

But for the recreational competitors it’s not quite as serious. Some, like Whistler-Blackcomb’s Public Relations and Communications Manager Christopher Nicolson, see the Randonnee Rally as a fun event.

"The recreational division certainly wasn’t anything the average Whistlerite couldn’t do," said Nicolson.

"The average Whistlerite is quite fit. They ride in the summer and they ski in the winter... You just pace yourself."

He remembers that the event became quite social in the recreation division as he helped one competitor in light cross country skis get into Sun Bowl.

"It was interesting because there was a bunch of people that were more Nordic types rather than downhill types so you had this cat and mouse kind of thing," said Nicolson.

The Nordic types breezed through the uphill only to be overtaken again on the downhill, and vice versa he said.

This is Hill’s dilemma for the next Randonnee Rally, being held this Saturday on Whistler Mountain, where he will be defending his title.

Last year he had big skis which helped him break away from the pack on the downhill sections, but they were also heavier for the uphill sections.

"There’s probably a lot of time that can be won on the down but the energy saved on the up with the light skis... it’s a little bit of a conundrum."

In less than three months Hill will go to Spain to represent Canada in the Randonnee World Cup. Whistler’s competition will be a good training session. Even so, he doesn’t think his chances are good in Europe where the sport is very popular with established national teams and programs with coaches.

But there is growing interest in North America, particularly with the Life-Line/Dynafit Randonnee Race Series, which will bring five events to North American this year. Whistler’s Randonnee Rally will kick off the series.

"It’s definitely in its infancy right now but I think it’s kind of interesting," said Hill.

"It’s very varied and it challenges the athlete and it’s not just about a down or an up. It’s about everything. My Whistler race (last year) was a full on epic!"

The second annual Whistler Randonnee Rally will take place on Saturday, Jan. 10. Athletes will upload on the gondola at 7:15 a.m.

The race meeting and bib pick up will take place on Friday, Jan. 9 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Telus Conference Centre.

Race entry fee is $50. Recreational division entry fee is $40.

Competitors should have the necessary ski touring gear, and will be checked for avalanche transceivers, shovels and probes at the start line. Racers must also ascend by use of climbing skins.