Writer and former Skiing Magazine editor-in-chief Sam Bass is competing in the Audi Power of Four Ski Mountaineering Race in Aspen, Colorado, on February 25. He’ll be documenting the next seven weeks of training here in weekly articles.
I’m writing this on the morning bus to work, which means I’m probably not making use of my commute the way I should be. Time is tight — I shouldn’t be sitting on my ass. I should be running to work, or biking.
Over the next seven weeks, I’ll be documenting my preparation for the Audi Power of Four Ski Mountaineering Race, an endurance ski race in Aspen, Colorado. It’s a bruising endeavor that requires climbing uphill (no chairlifts!) and skiing downhill, linking all four Aspen Snowmass resorts (Aspen Snowmass, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands, and Aspen Mountain) together in a single 24-mile push, with 10,000 total feet ascending at Rocky Mountain altitudes.
I’ve done this race once before without adequate prep and it was, well, really difficult. To redeem myself this time around, I plan on diving into a fitness course between now and February 25. I’m starting with a decent aerobic base (thanks to a thrice-weekly lunch-run ritual) and working with trainer Connie Sciolino, owner and head coach at The Alpine Training Center in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado. Because my work schedule doesn’t allow for gym workouts, I’ll be doing a modified version of Sciolino’s remote-access skimo-training program.
So why am I subjecting myself to this? Two reasons.
One, I’m obsessed with trying to stay fit for the long haul. I’m a 41-year-bold married man with two middle-school kids and a job that involves a two-hour daily commute. After nearly drowning in a 2004 whitewater kayaking accident and then, in 2008, breaking my spine and suffering a brain injury in a ski accident, I realized that I needed to adopt wellness strategies that would help me be present and effective for the people who depend on me.
But I want — nay, need — to enjoy the journey, which brings me to reason two. For me, the intersection of fun and fitness is human-powered skiing. Climb uphill, ski down. A satisfying, low-impact, full-body outdoor workout on the ascent, followed by the thrill of descending on skis. It goes by many names — skinning, uphilling, alpine touring or AT, ski-mountaineering or skimo, backcountry, and randonnée skiing. No matter what you call it, I can’t imagine an aerobic pursuit that can beat it in terms of its combination of fitness and fun.
The logistics I mentioned — regular working guy with kids, a job, commute, mortgage — will make it tough for me to find the time to train, especially considering I live in a place that doesn't get regular snow. I live in Colorado, yes, but Boulder is essentially on the High Plains, and I don’t have time for regular trips into the Rockies where snow sticks around all winter. I'll have to be creative with my time and training.
I've got some hacks planned, including biking or e-biking my 35-mile commute, possibly mounting pneumatic-tire nordic rollerskis with alpine-touring bindings so I can ascend without snow on roads and trails near my house, setting up a ski-erg machine on my porch, occasionally escaping for early-morning skinning sessions at the closest ski area, Eldora Mountain Resort. I’ll keep track of my workout data using my SUUNTO watch and Movescount profile.
The Power of Four is done in pairs, and my partner is my friend Eric Henderson, a former Alaska big-mountain heli-skiing guide. He and I trained for and competed in the 40-mile Elk Mountains Grand Traverse together a few years ago and the race went well. We’re aiming for a similar experience in this year’s Power of Four. Of course we don’t expect to win — far from it. Our goal is to finish in eight hours (for perspective, the 2016 winners clocked in at 4:40 — an insanely fast time), feel strong while racing, and recover quickly.
As I write this, I’m three days into Coach Sciolino’s program, sore as hell and stumbling about in a way that reminds me of high-school football pre-season double sessions. But if I stick to her plan and proactively manage the balancing act of family, work, and fitness, I know I’ll find something approximating success.
I invite you to follow along as we prepare and take the training lessons we’ll learn to apply to your own challenge. Check back here or follow me on Twitter and Men’s Journal’s Instagram, discussing our training tactics, gear, and locations. Feel free to ask questions, make fun of us, tell us we’re astoundingly handsome and ambitious, or just shout out words of encouragement. We'll need it.