By Jessianne Wright EBS Contributor
BIG SKY – Designed to put technical mountaineering and skiing skills to the test, the fourth annual Shedhorn Skimo Race returns to Big Sky Resort on March 17, with the addition of a shorter event.
Staged atop Lone Mountain, the race attracts some of the best skiing and mountaineering athletes from across the U.S., and challenges fit locals to showcase their endurance skill set.
Short for ski mountaineering, the Skimo is sanctioned by the United States Ski Mountaineering Association and co-organized by the Colorado-based Cosmic Ski Mountaineering Series.
“It’s a fairly difficult race,” said Noah Ronczkowski, who dreamed up the event in 2015 with longtime climbing partner and fellow avalanche technician for Big Sky Ski Patrol’s Snow Safety Department, Casey Heerdt.
Ronczkowski said the race was inspired in part by Justin Griffin, a Bozeman climber who died on Nov. 14, 2015, while descending a new route on Nepal’s 21,463-foot Mt. Taboche just after he volunteered his efforts to build the Khumbu Climbing Center in Phortse.
“He is inspiration to go hard in the mountains,” Ronczkowski said, adding that the
35-year-old Griffin was a good friend to the Bozeman-area skiing and climbing community.
After the race’s debut, which was an invitation-only event, the Shedhorn Skimo quickly gained popularity as a challenging open race. On Feb. 25, over 30 individuals had already registered to compete in one of two races: the longer Shedhorn, or the shorter Pronghorn. Event organizers also expect to see athletes stop to compete on their way to the North American Championships at Lake Louise Ski Resort in Alberta, Canada, March 23-25.
Ronczkowski said he and Heerdt wanted to design a race that emulated the experience of skiing in the backcountry. The courses’ ascents and descents were selected to showcase some of Lone Mountain’s most scenic routes, those skiers would want to take if Lone Mountain didn’t have ski lifts.
“Lone Mountain is an aesthetic, it’s a ski mountaineering dream,” Ronczkowski said. “It’s true steep skiing.”
Due to the unpredictability of conditions, the exact course will be announced the morning of the race. Shedhorn competitors can expect a 16- to 18-mile course with 8,600 to 9,500 feet of elevation gain at altitudes ranging between 7,200 and 11,166 feet, and not one, but two ascents and descents of Lone Mountain.
Athletes will test their skills on four alpine climbs and ski descents with exposure to cliffs and along avalanche paths, knife-edge ridges, and bootpacks—or kick-in steps while ascending—up 50-plus degree terrain. Four aid stations will be set up along the route, and competitors will start in waves every five minutes.
New this year is the shorter, more approachable Pronghorn Race—the course will be about 7.5 miles, with 4,000 to 4,600 feet of elevation gain.
British Columbia skier Eric Carter took first in the men’s race in 2016, finishing in 3 hours and 52 minutes. Carter, who grew up in Minnesota, is among the top Americans in the International Ski Mountaineering Federation.
“[When I entered Shedhorn], I didn’t really know what to expect,” Carter said during an interview with EBS after the 2016 race. “A lot of races are pretty mellow, so this is pretty different.”
Also in 2016, Inge Perkins of Bozeman took second in the women’s category. On Oct. 7, 2017, an avalanche on Imp Peak in the southern Madison Range claimed the life of the 23-year-old.
An event with a gear requirement list, Skimo competitors will be asked to prove their proficiency with crampons, ice axes and skins. Other requirements include a standardized beacon, shovel and probe. Further requirements will be announced prior to the race, dependent upon the course and race-day conditions.
Although a fast-paced race, spectators are encouraged. Big Sky Resort will be open to the public during the race, and Ronczkowski said spectators at the Bowl should have a good view of competitors climbing the ridge and skiing the Big Couloir.
By the two-hour mark, onlookers should be able to spot some of the fastest competitors making a descent while some of the slower competitors will be making their way to the top. The finish line for both races will be at the base area.
The Shedhorn Race begins at 8 a.m. March 17, followed by an 8:15 start time for the Pronghorn Race. A pre-race meeting will be held the night before. For more information about the Skimo race or to register, visit cosmicski.com/event/shedhorn. Contact Noah Ronczkowski at email@example.com for more information.