There are certain traditions in skiing that everyone must experience: first chair on a powder day with 100 of your best friends; last chair on an average day with nothing but a sunset; storm skiing in the trees; and a trip far from home. And then there’s the bump off, a skiing birthright too often gets lost in the shuffle of today’s GoPro fat-ski fest. Just you, your friends, a chairlift, and a nasty bump line. Or, as Greg Stump so eloquently put it, a “Fistful of Moguls.”
On Sunday, April 7, this time-honored tradition of skiing bumps returns en masse to Heavenly, California, with the 10th annual running of the Gunbarrel 25. Glen Plake, who grew up skiing on Tahoe’s South Shore, will be there to host, as he does every year. He expects around 150 skiers to compete. The first to do 25 laps on the bumped-out Gunbarrel or East Bowl (collectively known as the Face), is crowned champion. That’s 25 laps on 1,600-vertical feet of straight fall-line moguls. There’s also a winner in the Ironman category for the skier who does the most laps total. South Lake local Tyler Bradford won both categories last year, skiing 25 laps in 2 hours, 47 minutes, and finishing the day with 53 laps. [Ed’s note: Holy shit!]
But while the GB25 is an ass-kicker, there’s more to it. Like all bump skiing, it’s the social aspect that draws people to the Face. “The interaction of all different levels of skiing is something that I wanted to bring to this race,” says Plake. “I’m proud to say you have six hours to finish your 25 runs. We’ll have 7-year-olds and 70-year-olds competing on the same track as the winners.”
Plake’s inspiration for the event came partly from a motocross race in Nevada—the Virginia City Grand Prix—where hundreds of bikers race around a dirt track, all at different times. So it’s complete chaos. “You’ll be four hours into this thing, with motorcycles everywhere, you have no idea what place you’re in, and we’re laughing our heads off. I thought, ‘Why don’t we have any events like this in skiing?’
“With the Gunbarrel, it’s kind of the same thing. You’re out there thinking you’re doing pretty good and then the leader passes you,” Plake says. “And that’s the best part of the day.”
With most of the Sierras at the end of a low-tide season, Plake and other event organizers will be assessing the course this weekend to make the call on where to stake the route. The top of Gunbarrel is melted out, and there are patches of ugly on neighboring East Bowl. But Plake says the show must go on. “It’ll go down the Face. It might have to flip back and forth from Gunbarrel to East Bowl, and maybe you have to take your skis off, I don’t know,” he says. “But we’re skiers. We’ll make it work.”
Either way, it’ll be mogul skiing as it’s intended to be: you, your friends, a chairlift, and a nasty bump line.
For more info, click-in to skiheavenly.com/gb25.