By Ted Mahon
"This is where it really hits home," says Dirk Bockelmann, of the Aspen-based guide shop Aspen Expeditions, as we make our way along the undulating ridge between the Snowmass and Buttermilk ski resorts marking the route as we go. Looking out in the distance, Pete Swenson, the race director of the Power of Four Ski Mountaineering Race, and I could see the summits of Aspen Highlands and Aspen Mountain, separated by two impressive, deep valleys. We both agree—tomorrow (Saturday, March 5) is going to be long day.
But Aspenites aren't known to shy away from challenges. If anything, they’re always looking for new ones. And in this town, with its reputation for excesses of all kinds, all signs are pointing to "instant classic" status of the new Power of Four race, set to start in the morning.
By its most basic description, it sounds at least curiously challenging—start at the Base Village in Snowmass and ski to Aspen. Learn more details, however, and it becomes a little daunting. And that’s because the route climbs to the top of all four Aspen/Snowmass ski areas and descends trademark classics along the way, which of course is some of the most challenging terrain that Aspen, if not Colorado, has to offer. If stats help complete your mental picture, it covers some 25 miles and gains between 11,000 and 12,000 vertical feet, and all at your standard ho-hum Rocky Mountain 10K elevation.
According to Swenson, as part of the growing Colorado Ski Mountaineering Cup (COSMIC) series, which now numbers nine different races around the state, the challenges of the course combined with Aspen's brand recognition could make the new event the premiere race of the series. He compared its potential to the famed Patrouille des Glaciers race between Zermatt and Verbier.
But for now, Swenson, Bockelmann and the Aspen Skiing Company just hope to get through tomorrow with a successful first year event. And I'll take the liberty of speaking for the 75 (a sell-out) teams-of-two registered to start tomorrow by saying we do too.