Monday, January 12, 2009

Midwest Masters at Mt. LaCrosse

On January 10-11, I competed in my first USSA Masters ski race of the season with the Midwest Masters at Mt. LaCrosse, near La Crosse, Wisconsin. As usual, it was a humbling experience. The Midwest Masters series brings out some of the best adult competitors in the midwest. Many are ex-collegiate racers and most have more racing experience than me.

  • The Good: I nailed the exit for I-39 South at Cherry Valley. It was the best turn I made all weekend.
  • The Bad: Of the 6 runs that I finished, I'd rate 1 fair and the other 5 poor.
  • The Ugly: The 2 runs I DNF'ed (did not finish) - the very first SL (slalom) on Saturday and the very last GS (giant slalom) on Sunday.

The courses and conditions were very tough. All races started on Thunderation, a narrow blue square run with very modest pitch. Then a hard left-booter, an almost 90 degree right turn, takes racers over the lip of the headwall, which is very steep and pronounced on the skier's right and becomes gradually gentler moving to skier's left. Most transitions were blind and difficult to line up coming off the right angle turn. Past Chicago Metro Ski Council (CMSC) races on this hill took a tamer line on the skier's left, where the NASTAR course is usually set. For this weekend, all but the morning GS race (2 runs) were set on steep technical lines on the skier's right.

The weather was cold, but not frigid - between 10 and 20 degrees for most of the weekend. Most of the hill either faces north or is shaded from the sun by trees and rocky outcrops. Conditions were mostly icy and really tough to set an edge on the pitch. There were numerous funky terrain rolls and fall away turns after the headwall, which were more pronounced on the SL and afternoon GS sets (on the skier's right). The features made it very difficult to look ahead. Rather than scanning the next gate or two as one should, I found my focus too often on the terrain immediately in front of me. The best racers made it look easy, of course.

My first SL run of the morning race was a DNF that ended at the 10th gate - I slid sideways into the gate in a total mental lapse. I'll blame the fact that I hit the road later than I had hoped the night before and was a little "out of it" that morning. My next SL run was in super slow-mo. I just wanted to find the finish to give myself some confidence to build on for the afternoon race. My afternoon race was better, but still rather lackluster. I have let my conditioning drop too much for such a long hill. I'll have to try to get it back before my next two races at Marquette Mountain, which is also a long hill, but it is usually a tad easier to race well and find the finish there. A lot will depend on race day conditions.

My first GS run of the morning race was pretty slow. There was some blue safety netting right behind a blue gate just before the right turn onto the headwall. I inspected the course before the netting and outside gate were up. During the race, I failed to pick up the outside gate and was not sure if the turning gate was in fact the turning gate or the outside gate. I wedged for a moment and scrubbed a ton of speed. I improved about 1.5 seconds in the second run but still struggled with the hard turn and transition between the top section and the headwall.

The afternoon race was set on the more technical headwall transition on the skier's right. I was cautious and clumsy in the first run, but it was still probably the best run of the weekend that I actually finished. I was more confident on the second run and carried more speed from the headwall into the rolling finishing section. At times I caught some air and was bounced in a compression. A through gate helped build a little more speed, but two gates later I hit a rut at a point when my balance was a little off. I came out of my right ski and hit my head on the snow and my right shin on my dislodged ski. My goggles were torn from my face but the helmet did its job in protecting my head. I also didn't seriously hurt anything else. I just had a bruise and 2-inch cut on my shin. I picked up a bag of ice from the concession at the hill and some large bandages at a grocery store. I drove most of the way between La Crosse and Madison holding the ice on my leg. It is still quite sore several days later, but has been getting better each day. My upper body also felt like I was hit by a linebacker for the next few days. The worst part of it all was that the crash, which occurred about 6 gates from the finish, interrupted what was otherwise my best run of the weekend. I would have really liked to get a time on that one.

Mt. LaCrosse is just a tough hill. I have had some of my best and worst days racing there. I had a breakout race weekend there at the end of 2007, where I was promoted to the A class in the CMSC series (second from the top), but I've also crashed there about 4-6 times. I probably have more DNFs per start at Mt. LaCrosse than any other hill.

Here is a screen shot from my GPS computer that shows my speed (blue), elevation (green), and heart rate (red) during the GS crash run.

Profile of GS crash run.

My speed was generally building throughout the run, except for a slow down at the transition from the opening to the top of the headwall. The crash occurred 39 seconds into run, where my speed dropped abruptly from 36 mph to 6 mph (minimum speed recorded) in about 4 seconds. My heart rate recovered nicely after I stopped moving. The marker on graph and map shows the moment of impact.

NB: My GPS computer is designed for cycling and tends to understate the speed for skiing because it can only record at a maximum rate of one sample per second. Thus it tends to show a straighter path down the fall line than is actually skied. I tried uploading the data tracks to my motionbased account, but it distorted almost all of the statistics, showing some very high (and very low) speeds and grossly distorted elevation profiles. When I ski, I usually set the GPS computer to record only when my speed is above a certain threshold, usually 5-10 mph (depending on the speed of the chairlifts). I think the data and time scale get distorted by the motionbased software engine when this feature is used. It also get confused if the GPS signal is lost or just weak, which happens frequently because I tuck the device inside my coat or suit when I ski. For some reason, the PC application seems to know how to more accurately process the available data.

Race Results:


Ragfield said...

I have trouble when I get up to 10 mph or so on the downhills on my cross country skis. And that scares me. I can't imagine going upwards of 40 mph.

Scott said...

Hey, Rob. It depends on your confidence with your mode of transport. I've seen you fearlessly top 40 downhill on your bike, and asphalt leaves a nastier rash than ice and snow! I have Super G races the next 2 weekends and expect to top 50 mph and clear two (very minor) jumps each run - not nearly as sketchy as the pros flying up to 80 mph and jumping up to 80m on a downhill, but probably the closest I'll ever get. Around 45 or so, you can no longer hear skis on snow - just the wind rushing past the helmet earhole. Fun stuff! It can get a little scary though, especially if the course gets rutted.