Elson, Toth Ohler capture Darkside Skimo wins 

Course change necessary for ski-mountaineering event

click to flip through (2) PHOTOS BY TYLER MCGOWAN - COME TO THE DARKSIDE Participants in the first Darkside Skimo race are shown on April 6.
  • Photos by Tyler McGowan
  • COME TO THE DARKSIDE Participants in the first Darkside Skimo race are shown on April 6.
 

As national champions and fixtures in the global ski mountaineering scene, Darkside Skimo champions Nick Elson and Kylee Toth Ohler are used to adjusting on the fly.

The national team members, who emerged as the men's and women's champion, respectively, in the April 6 event on Blackcomb Mountain, said with the conditions present on race day, they were thrilled organizers found a way to make the race happen safely.

"That type of course wouldn't be our first preference because it had a net uphill as opposed to downhill, but it was great that Whistler has so much terrain that we could modify a course and still have a race even in high avalanche conditions," Toth Ohler said of the 13.3-kilometre course, which included more than 1,400 metres of elevation gain. "It would be awesome to come back and take on some more technical terrain, hopefully, if there's a race next year."

While Calgary's Toth Ohler cruised to the long-course women's win by nearly 14 minutes over Squamish Ski Mo Team's Katarina Kuba, Elson held off fellow Squamish resident Jessie McAuley by just 16 seconds for the win on the men's side.

"(The course) was a little less technical than I would have liked, but I've been putting in quite a few hours of training lately, so I was happy that my fitness was good enough, at least," he said.

Canmore's Tyson Smith was just over nine minutes back to take third.

Elson was thrilled to see the 18-year-old McAuley put up such a fight, especially considering he says the top end of the sport in Canada has "stagnated" and could use a shakeup.

"Jessie is a huge talent and he's improved a lot this year," he said. "I was able to open up a gap on the low-angle stuff and when we got into the technical skinning, I was actually losing time. It was closer than I would have liked."

Both Elson and Toth Ohler were thrilled to see skimo return to Whistler after a lengthy absence. Organizer Eric Carter ran a similar race in Squamish last year, but opted to move it north for 2019.

Elson hopes Whistler Blackcomb will take note of the race's success and find a way to allow for more uphill skiing on its terrain.

"I think it shows that there are a range of people interested. There's a whole backcountry community, people who are backcountry skiing who just want to learn some techniques to become more efficient in the mountains," Elson said. "On the other side, you have people coming from a more athletic or trail-running or biking backgrounds ... and are wanting to take that fitness into the mountains with some of the more technical aspects of manoeuvring."

Toth Ohler, meanwhile, said while this part of the country tends to get somewhat neglected on the national scene, she said that the 112-person sell-out made Darkside one of the best-attended races in the country.

"It was a long time overdue for the circuit. The community and ski-mo circuit is heavily Rockies-focused and there's a ton of awesome terrain and touring out your way (in the Sea to Sky corridor). Whistler is the premier resort in Canada so it's awesome that they allowed us to race there."

In addition to the regular division, there was a heavy metal category where racers used regular ski touring gear. Christian Veenstra of Vancouver and Olivia Vihant of Squamish took those victories, respectively.

In the short course event, Ron Klopfer of Vancouver and Kyle Kirkegaard from Whistler won the men's and women's contests, respectively.

In a release, Carter was grateful to volunteers and to Whistler Blackcomb's Ski Patrol for their help on race day. He's also hoping for improved weather conditions to truly ramp up the race for 2020.

"The big draw of holding a race like this at Whistler Blackcomb (WB) is that the terrain is spectacular, some of the best in the world," Carter said. "The other advantage is that with the incredible assistance of WB Ski Patrol we could still hold the event in adverse weather conditions in the subalpine. Next year, we'll definitely have our fingers crossed for clear weather and the chance to really showcase what these athletes can do in the formidable alpine terrain of Blackcomb."

Full results are available online at https://www.webscorer.com/race?raceid=175409.

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