randonee

Gliding to the finish after the ups and downs of Randonee racing.

Editor's Note: The Ramshead Randonee is a fledgling event on Mount Hood that is exhausting, exhilarating and a little bit insane: a race up steep slopes normally accessed by chairlift, and then straight down, rewarding fitness, courage and strategy. It is also a fundraiser for the Northwest Avalanche Center, a worthy organization that does a fine job of reporting on alpine conditions for the mountain community. Mt. Hood freeride coach, ski mountaineer and entrepreneur Ben McKinley competed in the 2016 Ramshead Randonee at Mt. Hood Meadows, and he files this report:

This was an awesome event. It was warm and windy up top - that was the day when they had 50-mile-an-hour winds on top of Cascade. Fortunately we were protected from the wind down where we were. It was really warm and the snow softened up pretty quickly. Also, they tried to avoid grooming so there wasn't any groomed track on the course. They wanted to give it more of a backcountry feel. So we dealt with some dirty sun-cup, some challenging snow. But it was great fun.

The route took us up Stadium (up in in purple, down is in red - ed.) where they race, so looker's right, and then swung left under the chairlift above the big rock at Ram's Head, then around the cat track and up to the top of Stadium chair. Then we went down Lady Slipper and continued down toward Hood River Meadows, which was closed, so there were no traffic issues. And then right before Hood River Meadows drops down into that steep part we cut into the trees and headed back up to Shooting Star.

From there we dropped down Titan, which is quite steep and is normally a mogul field. After we skied that pitch we climbed right back up it to the top of Heather chair, and then skied down along the cat track to Mt. Hood Express. From there we took a left and skied down Ramshead in some challenging untracked snow, which was really funky and kind of harrowing at speed with lightweight gear, and then swung down and finished.

Altogether the course was about 1500 feet of vertical, and the fastest time was around 33 minutes. It was a good course and the competition was strong. The lead group was quite fast, and they never took off their skins. So it wasn't very fast skiing down, but you saved a lot of transition time. I ended up finishing fifth overall and second in my class, so I was pretty stoked about that.

The race itself is a rush. You go out there and red-line it for 30, 40 minutes, and then afterwards everybody celebrates and drinks beer and shares stories, and there's a lot of camaraderie. It's definitely a bit painful, going up, staying close to the people ahead of you and trying to keep the people behind you from closing the gap. But then on those downhills it's amazing how quickly your body recovers.

There wasn't a lot of participation (23 competitors) but it was a really fun group, and the awards ceremony was a blast. The Mountain Shop had all sorts of great gear to give away. Plus it's a fundraiser for the Northwest Avalanche Center, so you really can't go wrong there. That partnership alone should really help to drive participation in the future, because if you're a backcountry user you know about the good work those guys do.

There was some talk after the race about how to boost participation. Maybe they will try to find sponsors for a Rando series next year, at complimentary venues around Mount Hood. There's definitely a lot of interest in backcountry skiing, and that could eventually work for Rando racing locally. It's just a matter of getting a word out that hey, this is fun, and it's a legitimate option for folks who aren't so focused on hard-core training and competition. Because the level of the top competitors is really quite high. We just need more people willing to come out and give it a shot.

Ben McKinley (pictured with his daughter Lauren) is a hardcore Dad Sherpa, CEO of Cascade Web Development in Portland and freeride coach with Multnomah Athletic Club.

Full results of the 2016 Ramshead Randonee can be found here. The event is sponsored and organized by the Mountain Shop.

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