Featured image by Phil Krening
The Power of Four. For some, it represents the pinnacle of ski mountaineering races in the state of Colorado. For many, it seems like a masochistic event that only people with a few screws loose would embark upon. In this instance, the race is a combination of both. And I’m going to compete with good friend and former FREESKIER staffer Nat Houston, beginning at 6 a.m. on March 2, 2019, at Snowmass Resort.
Now, a brutally long tandem ski-mo race—24 miles and over 10,000 vertical feet—probably doesn’t fit under most people’s definition of freeskiing. While that may be true, for me, training for the Power of Four is a great way to get the body and mind ready for spring peak-bagging season, which I do consider part of the fluid definition of freeskiing. A huge component of both the training and actual race day, will be the gear I have with me. These are the products that could make or break the race for me. Now, keep in mind, I’m not going with the lightest weight gear on the market for the race, but rather, products that are incredibly light, but will still benefit me when it’s time to descend down each of the four Aspen Snowmass mountains.
Registration for the Power of Four is open through February 25. Click here to register.
While backcountry travel is limited to a single section of the race, the Power of Four organizers require participants to carry a beacon, shovel and probe with them throughout the race. Better safe than sorry. That being said, it’s a common strategy to carry the lightest safety equipment possible during the race. The Alugator Light is Mammut’s lightest shovel, built with hardened, anodized aluminum and weighing in at 475 grams. As far as functionality goes, its T-shaped grip allows for efficient shoveling, a straight blade back is great for digging snow pits and snow anchor/sled rescue attachment holes make the Alugator Light a reliable tool for general backcountry travel.
Weighing in at 175 grams and boasting a collapsed length of 38 centimeters, Mammut’s Carbon Probe 240 is ideal for satisfying the safety equipment standards of the Power of Four while not weighing you down. Post-race, the probe’s 240-centimeter length will prove immensely useful for studying Colorado’s sometimes shallow intermountain snowpack—although this season’s may be deeper than usual.
The Barryvox S’ compact size and relatively low weight of 210 grams (with batteries) makes it appealing for ski-mo racers. In the field, users will enjoy the transceiver’s easy-to-use interface, while a receiving range of 70 meters, audible search guidance and a reverse direction function—preventing the user from getting turned around during rescue—all prove immensely valuable in search situations.
When choosing the ski I wanted to rely on for the Power of Four, I wanted something light enough to not tire me out after upwards of seven hours of uphill travel but could handle some of the intense downhill sections of Aspen Highlands and Aspen Mountain. The Salomon X/Alp is just that ski. It weighs in at 950 grams per plank, not the lightest in its category by any mark, but certainly light enough. Inside the ski, Salomon complements the lightweight karuba wood core with a carbon fiber and flax weave that really increases torsional rigidity and stability, while Koroyd in the tip ensures supreme dampening properties. Thoughtful features like a tapered tail for easy insertion into your pack’s ski carry and a deep tip notch that keeps your skins in place round out this ski mountaineering plank from Salomon.
I chose the TLT Superlite 2.0 binding because of its supreme blend of weight savings and safety capabilities. Dynafit’s lighter race-oriented bindings are certainly top-notch offerings, but the TLT Superlite falls right within my knee’s comfort zone thanks to a reliable fixed release in the toe and release value between 7 and 12. Besides, its weight of 175 grams per binding is still bonkers and will ensure I’m touring strong by the time I reach the Midnight Mine Road for my final ascent.
No, I will not be wearing spandex for the Power of Four. I’ll take comfort, protection and a bit of style over looking like a nerd for the sake of shedding some grams. No offense, fellow competitors, you do you. The Cooper Jacket is Flylow’s lightest offering yet and is built with air permeability in mind. The ultra-thin hard shell is made with The Perm, by Intuitive fabric that provides otherworldly stretch, waterproofing and air permeability—ensuring I’ll be comfortable when I’m sweating up a storm, but also protected if the fickle March weather in the Rockies turns for the worse. I’ll pair the Cooper with the Smyth Bib, also built with the same fabric.
Cody Townsend teamed up with Australian baselayer brand Le Bent—they make some of the softest, comfiest next-to-skin clothing I’ve ever tried—for the touring-specific Le Send sock. Townsend and Le Bent had three goals with the Le Send, to make it warmer, drier and more secure than other socks, thus improving alpine touring immensely. In general, touring boots have wider toe boxes, so Le Bent doubled up the thickness in the toe of the sock to toast up the area of the foot most prone to freezing up. To improve breathability and prevent sweat soaked fabric, Le Bent implemented a unique weave in the upper forefoot that allows vapor to escape and combined it with the brand’s signature Merino wool and rayon from bamboo blend, which also holds impeccable moisture-wicking properties. Finally, silicone strips were placed on the heel, helping to prevent your foot from moving around and causing blisters.
I’m a huge fan of the Scarpa F1. I’ve relied on it to bag big peaks in the Colorado Rocky Mountains as well as during mellow meadow skipping in the backcountry. I dig it because of how balanced it is. It’s not as light as many of the dedicated ski-mo race boots on the market—it weighs 1,260 grams versus the 590 grams of Scarpa’s Alien 3.0 boot—but it freaking rocks on the descent. It boasts a 95 flex rating, but a carbon insert over-injected into the shell helps sure up the stiffness—I’ve never had an issue.
The FREESKIER staff has been huge fans of the Wind Jacket since Oakley released it back in 2016. Besides its light weight, use of PRIZM contrast and color enhancing lenses and cool guy styling, the Wind Jacket’s oversized lens allows it to be relied upon on the downhill, much more than regular shades or glacier glasses. I’m betting on them giving me superhuman speed, both uphill and downhill.
The lightest helmet in Sweet Protection’s lineup, the Ascender MIPS is specifically made for the skiers who use skins, ice axes and/or climbing ropes to get to their lines. Built for ski-mountaineering pursuits, this helmet is light and ventilated enough to be comfortable on the ascent while the advanced hybrid shell, dual density liner and MIPS technology protect the brain from impacts like flying rocks or an unfortunate tomahawk. The Norway-based brand outdid themselves once again with this innovative product designed to go deep–or should we say high–into the mountains.
I’ve never had to focus on weight as much as I have while preparing for the Power of Four. Generally, I’m carrying quite a bit out with me into the backcountry, but for this ski-mo race, I want to carry the absolute bare minimum that I have to. The Mammut Spindrift 14 has a maximum capacity of 16 liters (thanks to an attachment that can hold a helmet or jacket), forcing me to carry only what I’ll absolutely need—shovel, probe, extra layer, backup climbing skins, water bottle and a smorgasbord of Honey Stinger Energy Gels. The Spindrift also comes complete with several thoughtful features, like a “wind shield jacket” that pulls out of the hip belt pocket for quick protection from the wind; a water bottle on the shoulder strap for easy hydration access; and a quick stowing ski carry attachment that’ll come in handy when getting ready to boot up the famed Highland Bowl during the Power of Four.
This baselayer from Smartwool, available in spring 2019, utilizes the brand’s lightweight Merino jersey fabric for supreme moisture-wicking capabilities, anti-stink properties and a bit of next-to-skin warmth. The hoody is also built with offset shoulder and side seams to prevent chafing when wearing a backpack—that’s great, as I’ll have one on all day during the race.
Made from Montana-grown Merino, Duckworth’s Men’s Vapor 3/4 Legging is ideal for comfort on the uphill. The long johns stop just above your boot cuff to prevent any bunching in your boot, they feature a full inner leg gusset that promotes mobility and the Merino build ensures your sweat is wicked away along with any stench that may come with huge uphill efforts.
These skins are developed by Pomoca specifically for uphill racing. According to Pomoca, the brand has found an increased glide length of up to 20 mm during testing. They’re also the lightest skin that the brand makes. In a ski-mo contest, those factors matter. Also a fun fact: Eric “Hoji” Hjorleifson swears by these skins, and will ski uphill with nothing else. How’s that for validation.
As is standard with any endurance race, stopping to have a bite to eat isn’t really in the cards. Energy gels provide a quick shot of calories, sugar and carbohydrates to keep you energized while you hang out in the pain cave. I love the Organic Energy Gels from Honey Stinger, made with organic tapioca syrup, organic honey, electrolytes and natural flavoring. I’m a big fan of the Mango Orange flavor.