Courtesy of the Canmore Leader - By Daniel Austin
As a sport, ski mountaineering’s got a long history. In Europe, races will regularly attract hundreds of racers. And while the sport’s presence on the North American scene isn’t quite as developed, many of Canada’s top mountaineering racers showed up at the Lake Louise Ski Area on April 2 for the first rendition of the Ken Jones classic.
Organizers David Dornian, who is the chair of the Ski Mountaineering Competition Canada, said the race had participants skiing over 5,000 feet of vertical gain and loss through terrain that is normally not open.
“It’s an established ski racing format that’s most popular in Europe, but it’s really coming along in North America,” Dornian said. “Essentially, it’s on alpine touring gear. You need downhill capable skis with bindings where the heals can release and you can pivot on the toe so you can ski or walk uphill.”
This year’s race had around 20 participants, many of whom have only recently returned from competing in Europe as part of the national team. The inaugural race’s winner was Reiner Thoni, who also won this year’s Sunshine 5000.
“It was a great race today. They did a great job setting up an amazing course and it really brought you into some high peaks and down some nice chutes with really good skiing,” Thoni said. “There’s about eight of us who train for the Canadian team here and we pretty much know where we are, but it was still a competitive race.”
Both Thoni and Dornian gave credit to Lake Louise ski patrollers for having the course ready in spite of the winter storm conditions that hit the area the night before. Dornian said he thought the patrollers embraced the challenge of preparing a backcountry course where they might not normally get to.
“The patrol people and the events people really bent over backwards,” he said. “I think they used it as a bit of an excuse to get out into the backcountry. They did work above and beyond the call of duty.”
This year’s race didn’t draw as many competitors as other North American races. Dornian said this was in part because the event was added to Lake Louise’s events calendar quite late in the season. With plans already in place to bring the race back next year he expects it to grow substantially.
“These events, in theory, can get as big as you want them to be’” Dornian said. “Some of the traditional ones will attract 1,000 people in Western Europe. It’ll be something like the Melisa’s running race, with people of all skill levels where it’s just part of their annual schedule.”
Melanie Bernier came first overall in the women’s race, and also finished second in the overall standings.
Click here to visit the Canmore Leader's website.