2018 Powder Keg Recap

The 2018 Wasatch Powder Keg USSMA National Championships wrapped up Sunday afternoon, ending three great days of racing in the Wasatch!  While every year is a test of endurance for both racers and race directors, this year Mother Nature was especially difficult; with the lean snowpack our team of race directors spent weeks scouting and planning how to hold a race with unusually low snow.  After we had set much of the course and finalized our plans, Old Man winter crashed the party and delivered some much needed snow to Utah.  Our inner powder hound screamed with joy, but this was tempered by impending dread for the added work to hold a race.  But, with a lot of very early mornings and late nights, the event went off without a hitch, and we were even treated to bluebird powder for Sundays team race!

The weekend kicked off Friday evening with the sprint race.  The event started with a time trial to seed heats, followed by semifinals and finals.  Arguably the highlight of the weekend was sending all of the Viking racers (under 14) out for a final heat- seeing 12 kids who are the future of the sport duke it out was truly a sight to behold!  The top spots for the sprint went to Tom Goth (Men), Gemma Arro (Women), Henry Boyd (Junior), Finnegan Remias (Male Cadet), Victoria Olsen (Female Cadet), John Olson (Male Viking) and Ada Fendler (Female Viking).   With the exception of open women, each top finisher is also the 2018 Sprint National Champion.  For open women, Sarah Cookler is the 2018 Sprint National Champion.

Soon after the sprint race finished, the team was out again breaking trail for Saturday’s individual race.  The morning broke cold and windy, but the racing was truly red hot.  Racers faced some grueling climbs, bootpack sections through chest deep trenches, and even some great skiing, covering 6,200 feet of climbing while traversing through Brighton Ski Resort and the Wasatch backcountry.  The top spots were taken by John Gaston (Men), Gemma Arro (Women), Txomin Ortiz De Zarate (Junior), Grey Wilde (Heavy Metal Men), Liz Rocco (Heavy Metal Women), Benjamin Perrin (Rec Men), Regan Nelson (Rec Women), Max Bonenberger (Cadet Men), Grace Staberg (Cadet Women), John Olson (Viking Men), and Ada Fendler (Viking Women).  The 2018 National champions are John Gaston, Janelle Smiley, Henry Boyd, Max Bonenberger, and Grace Staburg.

The forecast Saturday night was foreboding, with 8-16” of snow in the cards.  The Powder keg team started out at 5:30 am to break trail while the racers were stuck at the bottom of Big Cottonwood Canyon due to a road closure. This gave the organizers a much needed additional 2 hours to get the skin track and booters broken.  Fortunately, the storm broke before race start and we were treated to a beautiful bluebird Utah day!  The teams course this year was entirely new, thanks to the brilliant course design of Eric Bunce, and featured an entirely backcountry race after a short climb out of Brighton Ski resort.  The race began with a striking ascent up Mt Millicent, followed by some perfect low density Utah skiing as racers traversed through Wolverine bowl, up and over Pioneer Peak into Snake Creek canyon, ascended Clayton peak via a very long booting section, then down into Hidden Canyon.  From Hidden canyon racers ascended to peak 10,420 before skiing down into the Lackawaxen area for their final climb back to Clayton peak before one last leg testing descent down Hidden Canyon.  As a final treat, racers ran across the road, skinned through the Brighton meadow, ran across the road again, and skinned to the finish line.  The top spot for men went to the always competitive team of John Gaston and Max Taam, while Caroline Gleich and Kathryn Bowman took the podium for women.  On the coed side, Janelle Smiley and Matthew Paul edged out Race Director Eric Bunce and Gemma Arro for the win.

This race would not be possible without the tremendous support of our sponsors.  First and foremost, Brighton Ski Resort, who graciously accommodate us, and have really been a major supporting force for ski mountaineering racing in Utah.  In particular, a special thank you to the men and women of Brighton Ski patrol who not only kept everyone safe, but also worked above and beyond to ensure we were able to run our event Sunday despite delay and snow.  La Sportiva was our presenting sponsor.  Additionally, thank you to Outdoor Research for their awesome race shirts, Kuhl and Scarpa for their podium prizes, Bridgedale for their great ski socks, Voile, CAMP USA, 1st Endurance, Ultimate Direction, Ortovox, Dynafit, Julbo, Skimo.co, and Brynje for their podium prizes and swag bag items, Epic beer for the best post-race recovery beverages, and Life Flight for keeping us safe!  Finally, thank you to the more than 50 volunteers that came out to man check stations, check racers in, and make this race possible- without you this race would not be possible.

Here are the official race results.



About brackec

The Powder Keg is a test of speed, strength, and endurance for any backcountry skier. The race will have captivating views of Heber Valley, Mt Nebo, Mt Timpanogos, and the Cottonwood Canyons. The race division will cover 11 miles and have 6 climbs for a little over 6,000’ of climbing. The Recreational division will cover 6.5 miles and have 4 climbs for 3,500’ of climbing. Within each the race division there will be categories for Race and Heavy Metal. There will be a BBQ, awards ceremony, and raffle following the race at the Milly Chalet.
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