March 3, 2006:
No, I'm not talking about my participation in the OR Randonnée Rally at Alpental on February 25th, but about the guys who weren't there . . . Chris Kroger (the winner at Alpental the last time it was held two years ago), Pete Swenson, Cary Smith, and Steve Romeo, along with Monique Merrill and Jeannie Wall, couldn't compete stateside because they were in Europe to participate in the World Ski Mountaineering Championships in Cuneo, Italy. Karen Kingsley, who was also named to the team, showed up at Alpental and won the Women's Race Division, beating all but two of the men in the process. Apparently she was unable to compete for the US because she is still a German citizen, but there's a chance you'll see her skiing for the US in the Whistler Olympics . . . Ski mountaineering icon Andrew McLean accompanied the team as a technical delegate and coach.
This is the first time the United States has fielded a team in the Worlds, which consists of four separate events: A two-man team event, an uphill only time-trial, an individual up-and-down race, and a sprint relay. The American skiers were planning on skiing all four of the events (the more rando-savvy Europeans had "specialists" for certain events), and turned in respectable results in the vertical and especially the team events, with Merrill/Wall coming in 10th and Swenson/Romeo and Smith/Kroger 22nd and 25th respectively. Outstanding for their first big Euro competition, I'd say. A link to the results is here.
Today's individual event was marred by two avalanches during the main competition, one of which caught about ten competitors. Fortunately there were no serious injuries (maybe a broken arm), but the incident forced the cancellation of the event . . . click here for a dramatic video of a second slide coming down only a few meters from a group of already buried racers. Hopefully they'll get tomorrow's relay event off without any further casualties!
Rumors about Randonnée being included as a demonstration (non-medal) event at the Whistler Olympics in 2010 have been circulating, but reportedly there is some disagreement between the UIAA and the IOC - the UIAA preferring a hardcore "Pierra Menta" type of event that shows the sport in it's purest form (read burly), and the IOC preferring a more "spectator-friendly" venue (read within the ski area). Seems like it shouldn't be too difficult to find challenging terrain for the event within hiking distance of the lifts at Whistler/Blackcomb, though. For those who are unfamiliar with the Pierra Menta, here's a video from the Millet website.
The relay event went off without a hitch, with the US Men's Team (the women didn't have the requisite 4 members) finishing in 9th place. An awesome effort for their first trip to the World Championships.
The 2006 Pierra Menta? No big surprise there, as Stéphane Brosse and Patrick Blanc won for the third time, taking three of the four stages in the process. These guys rule.
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© 2006 Gregory C. Louie