Ski mountaineering event coming this weekend 

Competitors will be put to the test in North America's only exclusively backcountry race

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CARL KOHNSTAMM - ON COURSE The first-ever Squamish Ski Mountaineering Race, accessed from the Sea to Sky Gondola, is on tap this weekend.
  • Photo by Carl Kohnstamm
  • ON COURSE The first-ever Squamish Ski Mountaineering Race, accessed from the Sea to Sky Gondola, is on tap this weekend.

The Sea to Sky corridor will see a brand-new race providing plenty of intrigue in the backcountry this Saturday, March 10.

The Squamish Ski Mountaineering Race, organized by U.S. Ski Mountaineering Team member and Squamish resident Eric Carter, will be the only North American race of its kind held exclusively in the backcountry.

"That's a huge challenge, as we've been learning. Most of the races are held in ski areas and so they have the added benefit of avalanche control and ski patrol and those kinds of things in place. We're working without that," he said. "We're, a little bit, at the mercy of the weather, but we're working with a guide service and we've got some help with some volunteers from Squamish Search and Rescue, so that's how we're making do and hoping to make it happen."

Competitors will access the course from the Sea to Sky Gondola. Carter noted the route itself is subject to change based on weather conditions and a final version will be announced on the race's social media pages on Friday, March 9. Also, if there are any delays due to avalanche risk, the race will be postponed to Sunday, March 11.

Regardless of how the racers wind their way from start to finish, though, Carter said the course will provide an experience no other course can duplicate.

"It'll depend a bit on the actual course that we get to use based on the weather, but certainly unique to Squamish in that it feels like you're skiing around in a jungle in the trees," he said. "It'll be a lot of challenging skiing below the treeline, and the other cool thing is when you get above the treeline, you can be standing on a glacier, looking down at the ocean. It's pretty unique to a high area."

The competition is essentially ski touring, but in the form of a race. It will likely take racers roughly 30 to 45 minutes to reach the start line, and between 90 minutes and three hours to complete the course. The short course will include 900 to 1,000 metres of ascent while the long course will have between 1,300 and 1,500 m of ascent.

Carter has observed interest in ski mountaineering grow, noting the Canada Cup circuit, of which the Squamish race is a part, has expanded its offerings in recent years, though the bulk of races have been in Alberta and eastern B.C.

"It's been a long-standing sport in Europe, for sure. Especially in the United States but also in Canada, it's been growing," Carter said. "One of the reasons we wanted to have a race out here is so we didn't have to drive to the Rockies."

In a display of interest, the race has already sold out its 75 slots. Most of the competitors hail from the Sea to Sky corridor and Lower Mainland, but some Albertans, Washingtonians and Californians will make their way as well.

Two of the bigger names set to compete are Squamish resident and Canadian team member Nick Elson and Christian Veenstra, who completed the Garibaldi Park traverse in a single day last year.

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