By Amanda Eggert EBS Staff Writer
BIG SKY – Shedhorn Skimo race co-directors and longtime climbing partners, Noah Ronczkowski and Casey Heerdt, imagined Lone Mountain without ski lifts when they designed the course.
They asked themselves, ‘What mountains would we want to climb? What ridges would we want to ski?’
The answer is a daunting piece of geography in both horizontal and vertical dimensions: Shedhorn’s course stretches across 18 miles and climbs 9,000 vertical feet. To complete the race, skiers must navigate technical terrain, climbing and descending Lone Mountain not once, but twice. And most competitors manage the downhill on short, skinny skis better suited to speedy ascents than stable descents.
Particularly firm snow in the morning and sunny, slushy conditions in the afternoon presented some small challenges during the April 9 race, but on balance, Shedhorn went off without a hitch its second year. Apart from some blisters, no injuries were reported.
Heerdt said he received positive feedback from competitors. “A lot of the racers say it’s one of the more challenging races in North America,” he said. “They thought it was a really well-planned, well-thought-out race.”
Although it’s shorter, Shedhorn covers much of the same ground as the Rut 50K ultramarathon, a mountain climbing and descending sufferfest that’s gaining international notoriety in the high-altitude, endurance-sports circuit.
“[When I entered Shedhorn}, I didn’t really know what to expect,” said racer Eric Carter, who’s working toward a Ph.D. in exercise physiology from the University of British Columbia. “A lot of races are pretty mellow, so this is pretty different.”
Four years ago, Carter decided to combine two favorite pursuits – climbing and Nordic skiing – and dove into skimo, short for ski mountaineering.
The shift in focus has paid off: Carter, 28, is now the top American in the International Ski Mountaineering Federation’s rankings, and races for the U.S. National Ski Mountaineering Team.
He added $2,000 to his racing spoils when he won the Shedhorn by a not-small margin.
With a time of 3:52:12, Carter finished the race more than eight minutes ahead of second place, Teague Holmes, and improved upon 2015 Shedhorn winner Tom Goth’s time by two minutes and 25 seconds.
During the first ascent, Carter was right on Goth’s heels, but while descending the Big Couloir, Goth’s ski boot reportedly broke, forcing him to bow out.
“We were together and after [Goth dropped out], I skied by myself and sweated for a while,” said Carter, who entered 37 ski mountaineering races when he lived in Europe last winter. “And that was that. It’s sunny here.” Currently, Carter lives in Squamish, B.C., “ where it’s still winter,” he says.
Meredith Edwards finished first in the women’s division and sixth overall with a time of 4:58:04. In total, 36 people registered for the race, 24 showed up on race day, and four did not finish due to blisters, exhaustion, or gear issues.
In the days leading up to the race, Roczkowski and Heerdt –both avalanche techs with Big Sky Ski Patrol’s Snow Safety Department – climbed, skied, skinned and boot packed up the entirety of the course. Starting Tuesday before the race, ski patrollers and a handful of volunteers set the skin tracks and boot packs.
Five Big Sky ski patrollers entered the race, including Nathan Opp, who snagged fourth place. Heerdt estimates about half of the 2016 racers live in the area.
As far as next year’s plans go, Heerdt and Ronczkowski hope to attract a broader pool of racers. They’re also scheming ways to make Shedhorn a little more hairy: they’re toying with the idea of adding a rappelling segment.