Return to the Beast

Amazingly this was my third time doing the Berkshire east beast skimo race. I say amazingly because since near the end of my university time I have not really stayed in one place for any particular length of time to do the same race twice never mind three times. Equally when it comes to other types of racing I also love the excuse to do different races in part to see new places along the way. Skimo races I have found to be different though as the conditions each year can totally vary adding to the experience. First year I did the race one guy was racing in shorts and a t-shirt, second year we had enough snow to have a bit more of a backcountry experience and this year you can read about below.

Despite growing in popularity and the growing number of Skimo races on the east coast of the US, especially the night time series, skimo has yet caught up with the level of running races with events all over the place every weekend. The races themselves tend to be held in Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine. All of which are a decent drive from New Jersey. If you are closer to these areas then lucky you!! Apart from the physical challenge of the skimo races, the camaraderie at them is a real pull to keep coming back. You have a complete mix of guys and girls or all ages and abilities nailing it up and down the mountain. On top of this it is great winter training and there are a whole bunch of cyclists, runners, climbers and triathletes amongst, I’m sure many other sports who are getting in a solid base before the summer season. 

Skis at the ready

Skis at the ready

This year I was staying up north for a long weekend. So Friday night was spent making the dash north with many others who love the winter season. It was Martin Luther King weekend, so a long weekend for those that got it off. Our progress was slow, as our expected time of arrival o the GPS slowly ticked in the wrong direction. Following the guidance of the Skimo and backcountry touring workshop I went on and my evening preparation for a good pre-race meal was equally not going to plan. Pulling into a service station a choice of McDonald’s, pizza or quesadillas were the options. I opted for quesadillas hoping that it would be marginally healthier. I did however manage to get my pre-race hydration going well with no beer on the cards and plenty of water for the drive. By the time we got in for the evening it was a relatively quick turn around as my alarm went off in the early hours of the morning. Kicking off the day with coffee and pastries before driving to Berkshire east. Over breakfast I read through the pre-race notes on the snow conditions limiting our route to skiing and skinning up the piste. The boot packs were to be in amongst the forest, with the potential for some ice mixed in amongst the rocks and tree roots. The conditions had been relatively warm this year, despite the early and ridiculous large snowfall that kicked the season off back in November. After a relatively quick drive south, I pulled up into the carpark which the previous year had been packed as well as all white. I was welcomed to a far muddier car park. The slopes were still gleaming white and looking very inviting! 

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After over heating the previous year I finally transitioned to racing in pretty much what I would run in. Leggings, shorts and a cycling jersey. Cycling jerseys are pretty handy with the extra pockets in the back. I did however forget my water bottle and energy gels. On a sunny day this would have not been great but with overcast and cool enough conditions I thought it would just about be ok. 

The start line - photo courtesy of Mark Trahan

The start line - photo courtesy of Mark Trahan

Heading to the start line a bunch of us did a little warm up doing some very mini laps up the mountain. The count down began as racers greeted those they had not seen for a while and then we were off heading up the mountain. Very quickly the group spread out up the slope.  The initial skin up and ski down went pretty well. My first transition to boots from skiing down I don’t think could have been much slower without loosing a ski down the mountain as for some reason trying to get my boot out of my binding for one ski seemed almost impossible. After that hurdle I entered the woods. It was here I found along with all the other racers the ice that was sticking to the rocks and tree roots making for a challenging climb as each of us tried to pick our way up the mountain in a quick and relatively controlled or safe manner. Occasionally the sound of something sliding on the undergrowth followed by some expletives would sound out through the forest as another skier slipped. 

Above photo’s courtesy of Charlie Batman.

After the first lap, I knew how I felt and what the conditions were like I started to put my foot down making some steady inroads into those in front. Unfortunately a lot of these were completely annihilated by my slow transitions. Something to work on for future races. I was still lapped by the winner of the race but I felt this happened slightly later in the race than previous years which was a marginal success.

Hiking up into the woods

Hiking up into the woods

Crossing the finish line and I felt pretty good. Desperate for a drink but I felt i finished strong at least. 

This years race was by far my best performance. I didn’t get lost for a start so that was one big benefit and it was also not my first days skiing and ski touring of the season having managed to hit the slopes in December. I would definitely recommend skimo or randonne competitions. There a great way of getting into the mountains and staying fit during the winter months. 

Check out the links below if your at all tempted

East coast US & Canada



North America

Post race recovery chocolate milk, bakery stop and an evening beer inspired by Scotland. Couldnt have asked for much more!