Wasatch Powder Keg showcases growing sport
Combining uphill climbs with downhill skiing, ski mountaineering is a sport on the rise in the United States. In a place like Summit County, where many residents take their fitness seriously, ski mountaineering is even more popular.
This year, Brighton Resort will host the 13th annual Wasatch Powder Keg, a three-day event that draws nearly 400 racers. It will be the fifth year in a row Brighton has hosted the race.
Each of the three days will feature a different event, according to Wasatch Powder Keg President and Race Director Chad Brackelsberg.
"This will be our third year as a three-day race," he said. "Saturday is the big day, where we had about 180 racers last year. Friday is a sprint race. Saturday is the individual race and Sunday is the technical team race."
Brackelsberg said the most common issue he runs into while organizing the event is explaining what ski mountaineering is to people who have never heard of it.
"That’s the biggest problem we have," he said. "The first response from a lot of people is, ‘What the heck is that?’ It combines backcountry skiing with some mountaineering skills and puts it into a race format. It’s just such an efficient way to travel through the mountains."
Saturday’s race features five climbs and five descents. A typical race has athletes climbing between 5,000 and 7,000 feet on their skis. In between the climbs and descents are some ridge traverses, which sometimes involve skiers removing their skis and hiking, depending on conditions.
"A lot of the ridge courses will be scrambling through the rocks, thanks to the warm weather," Brackelsberg said.
In addition to the Powder Keg, there are several weeknight events in the area for ski mountaineers, Brackelsberg said, which provide great opportunities for the sport to grow and for new people to give it a shot.
"About four years ago, we started a weeknight series," he said. "It’s expanded from the Wasatch front to Ogden to Logan. There are about 18 races in Utah through the winter. And we’re working hard with Park City Mountain Resort to expand to Park City sometime in the near future."
Brackelsberg likened ski mountaineering, which is up for consideration for the 2022 Winter Olympics, to another extreme sport that has gained popularity recently.
"It’s seeing the same sort of growth ultra running saw five to 10 years ago," he said. "It seems like it grows 20 to 30 percent every year."
At Outdoor Retailer this year, Brackelsberg said he heard a lot of talk from ultra runners and other distance athletes discussing training regimens and equipment. He said ski mountaineering is a great way for endurance athletes to stay in shape during the long winter months.
"One of the biggest buzzwords there was ‘fitness touring,’" he said. "We use this as our winter training to stay in shape for the summer. It’s a great, fun activity to get some exercise and be part of a growing community."
For more information on the Wasatch Powder Keg, or to register for the weekend’s races, visit http://www.wasatchpowderkeg.com .
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