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!

Catamount Trail Skimo Camp

Thank you Aaron Rice for letting me use your photos in this post. On a complete side note he is an awesome guy who climbed and skied 2.5 million feet in a year. Check him out at

I’m a bit behind writing up about this but back in December I found out about the Catamount Trail Association who not only organised a skimo and backcountry ski camp but also hold a number of ski touring days. There is still plenty of snow out on the trails and trips going on this season. If you are interested in ski touring, backcountry skiing or even for the summer there are options for various tours and routes to check out.

Anyway we headed up late on a friday night. It’s safe to say between work taking slightly longer than expected, as did the drive we arrived and got to sleep a bit after midnight. An ideal bedtime prior to a 5 am wake up to get over to the ski area for a morning tour up the mountain. I rose the next morning trying to be as quiet as possible before Laura my wife kindly drove me over to the venue before heading back for some much needed sleep. The excitement of the day a head certainly helped overcome the tiredness of minimal sleep. As did a spot of a sugar rush as I grabbed a cereal bar to eat on the drive over. 

After a quick briefing in the morning twilight with the other skiers and a few split boarders before we got underway in the blue light of the morning. Although it was just light enough a few people opted probably more sensibly to bring out a head torch as beams of light cut across the trail as we started to hike up. It felt great being out on the skis for the first time of the season. I had unfortunately not been able to make the most of THE snow dump that happened back in November. Many of the skiers regaled tales of some of the best snow and powder days they had seen in seasons. Despite the crisp cold conditions we all soon heated up as we picked up pace heading on up the mountain at Bolton Valley. Having never been there it was a great spot to see with some dedicated uphill trail routes to skin up. This was the warm up of the day and for me a great re-introduction into ski touring, everything kind of felt a bit familiar yet rusty. We headed up past a mountain hut that you can stay in overnight during the winter which looked like an awesome spot for another day! The trail took us further up the mountain weaving between trees and over frozen streams as the sun began to rise. It was a cloudy morning unfortunately, so there was to be no golden sunrise. Rather an overcast blue grey glow. The group slowly spread out up the mountain as micro groups found their rhythm heading up the trail. 

Starting off in the morning twilight

Starting off in the morning twilight

Reaching the top and it was time to strip the skins from the base of our skis and ski down. Helmets on, skins off and we were flying down the mountain side. Having mainly done skimo races where you don’t necessarily take in how everyone else is performing their transitions it was great to start seeing the varying levels of efficiency and proficiency at the top. As we got closer to the base we began passing a number of other ski tourers heading up for their own first lines of the day. Arriving back at base camp we came through the doors of the classroom area to a row of donuts and coffee. Despite the earlier breakfast in the car the caffeine and sugar hit was exactly what was required. This was not to be the breakfast of athletes or champions I expect but it was certainly a welcome treat. 

It was then time for class.

The day was broken down into 2 sections, the morning for some indoor teaching, Here there were a couple of options. Essentially 2 sessions were more focussed on an intro to ski touring and backcountry. Then another 2 which were orientated on performance and race perspective within a ski touring setting. A lot of the principles are completely transferrable to a backcountry setting. I opted for the two focussed on performance. 

First up was transitions. Regardless of the mountain being able to switch from boot packing, skinning or skiing in any combination as quickly as possible it’s hugely beneficial. In a race it allows you to not loose precious and non valued adding time. When you are not in a race it is safer and allows you to stay warm as you keep moving. For those that might like to take photographs, grab a quick summit bite to eat or something this time saving buys you some additional time whilst your mates are faffing to get ready. 

The biggest and most memorable point I came away with was the mantra of boots, bindings then skins. And always doing it in that order. That in itself has made my transitions more organised, deliberate and smoother. 

There were also some tricks of the trade for removing skins as quickly as possible. Below are some examples of some great transitions.

The second part of the morning was more into discussing training and nutrition as part of your training or race day program. There is loads of nutrition advice out on the web and with there being so much I often find the information contradicts one another when it comes to which is the best diet to perform on. Regardless of diets during any activity staying fuelled and hydrated is key and this came through in the presentation also. I haven’t always been that great with specific evening and pre-race nutrition regimes but when I have eaten properly the night before, drank a load of water or sports drink the morning of and then continued to fuel through the race. Unsurprisingly I have felt and performed better.  This presentation was quite fitting though as my evening meal had been grabbed on the go and wasn’t exactly nutritious while breakfast had been a cereal bar, coffee and a couple of donuts. 

If you are interested here are some resources (i am not affiliated with them nor an expert, if its something you would be interested in me doing more about nutrition then let me know!)

The afternoon was spent testing out equipment and putting into practise what we had been discussing in the morning around up hill technique and transitions. Having the day structured like this so we could hear about how to do it in the warmth and partly see some demonstrations before practising outside was fantastic for really practising good technique. I managed to borrow some Salomon s-lab skis. The comparison to my all mountain skis with a particularly heavy touring setup made a huge difference. I also learnt some key points. Such as them not having brakes to save weight. It is great but when transitioning on a slope you need to keep hold of your skis. In the event of running after them grabbing new skis by the edge is equally not a great plan. I ended up cutting a finger which was a pain but fine. It however then bled everywhere and on everything I touched. The conditions were really quite warm on the day so I had opted to not wear gloves the whole time. So if in doubt always try to wear gloves even if they are incredibly lightweight ones. And always hold onto your skis!

We finished up for the day with a raffle and some epic prizes! I cam away with some gloves and managed along the way to pick up some second hand skimo skis. Missing bindings but I will come onto them later.

All in all I would highly recommend this workshop. I will definitely be checking it out next season. You cant ask much more than to meet a load of super friendly ski touring buddies along with learning some tips and tricks.

Thanks Aaron Rice for letting me use your photos!!

Thanks Aaron Rice for letting me use your photos!!