Randonnee Rally puts backcountry up front 

It takes a lot of gear and experience to make it in the backcountry, as well as some very specific skills.

Several generations ago the Europeans recognized those skills enough to make backcountry touring an Olympic sport in the early years of the Winter Games, but it fell by the wayside. Although contests still take place in Europe, the sport was largely forgotten in North America until Life-Link/Dynafit brought it back in 2000 with the inaugural Randonnee Rally Race Series in the U.S. Now the sport is being evaluated once again for inclusion in the Olympics.

The event first to come to Whistler was in 2003, part of a larger five-race series. It will be back for a third year this Saturday, Jan. 8, as the Arc’teryx Rally.

Previous competitions on Whistler Mountain have attracted backcountry enthusiasts from across the country, as well as skiers from the U.S. and Europe. For the past two years the defending champion has been Craig Hill of Revelstoke.

There are both recreational and competitive categories for men and women, with the main difference being distance – the competitive category includes about 5,000 vertical feet of gain and the course is expected to take roughly two hours, while the recreational categories have half the vertical and should be completed in about an hour.

Another difference is in the prize money, with the top competitive racers getting the biggest share of the purse. There will also be prizes for the winners in different age categories.

Competitors need to bring full touring gear, including avalanche rescue equipment, and will be inspected before the race begins.

Once on the course, racers will follow a series of markers up, down and around Whistler Mountain.

The top racers usually work together at the start, sharing the job of breaking trail on the uphill sections. The downhill sections are contested as well, but sometimes the difference is who can take off and put on their climbing skins the fastest.

The full competition route is: Roundhouse Lodge to Ridge Run, down to the T-Bars, up T-Bar line and Little Whistler to the Harmony Chair; traverse to the top of Piccolo, follow the ridgeline to the top of Flute, and down the west shoulder of Flute Bowl, back up to Lesser Flute, and back down to the meadows before climbing back to the top of Boundary Bowl and taking Burnt Stew Road to the bottom of Harvey’s; up Harvey’s to the top of Boomer Bowl, and down through the Gunbarrels to the finish line at the Harmony Chair.

The recreational route is similar as far as the top of Piccolo, but skips the Flute area and heads from Piccolo down to Burnt Stew Trail and the final climb up Harvey’s.

There is still time to enter online at www.life-link.com. All participating athletes will load the gondola at 7:15 a.m. for an 8 a.m. start.

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