By Christine Benedetti
For some people, spending 10-plus hours in ski boots covering 24 miles and traversing more than 10,000 vertical feet is fun. In fact, it’s become so enjoyable in the Aspen Snowmass area that now more than 180 people participate in the annual Audi Power of Four Ski Mountaineering race. The eighth annual event — held on March 3 this year — starts in Snowmass Base Village and sends competitors over Buttermilk Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Aspen Mountain before descending into gondola plaza for a warm community welcome.

The Backstory

Ski mountaineering racing is the act of ascending hills on skis, using climbing skins (synthetic fur that prevents skis from sliding backward), and then skiing down. The sport has become extremely popular in the Aspen Snowmass area, where Aspen Skiing Co. offers liberal uphilling policies that encourage people to earn their turns before and after the chairlifts run (scroll to the bottom to learn more about the policy on each mountain).

On any given morning, a steady line of people can be found skinning up Aspen Mountain, Tiehack, Aspen Highlands or Snowmass Ski Area. This is when many people train for ski mountaineering races like the Power of Four.

Preparation

To get ready for the grueling race, athletes must spend a lot of time in their ski boots and on skis. In addition, some knowledge of backcountry skiing is recommended, along with required equipment including a beacon, shovel, probe, helmet, backpack, windshell and neck gaiter. Endurance is only part of the challenge; managing gear and nutrition (how much to eat, and when) properly is the other half.

Race Day

Racers start at Snowmass Base Village at 6am on Saturday, March 3, and climb up below Elk Camp Gondola and Elk Camp lift on over to the Brush Creek ridge to West Buttermilk. From there, they come down Tiehack, cross Maroon Creek Road, and ascend nearly 4,000 feet on Aspen Highlands, from the base to the top of Loge Peak and then up 12,392-foot Highland Bowl.

Skiers then come down the Bowl, skin out on the old traverse/cat track and ski down the back of Aspen Highlands using Congo Cutoff, a thigh-burning, wedge-skiing luge-like trail. They cross Castle Creek Road and climb the back of Aspen Mountain on the 5-mile Midnight Mine Road before reaching the Sundeck and coming down Aspen Mountain.

Power of Four Series

Besides the Power of Four, ski-mo racers can opt for the Power of Two, which starts at the base of Aspen Highlands at 8am, climbs the same route and ends at the bottom of Aspen Mountain.

In addition, Aspen Skiing Co. offers a Power of Four trail run with 10-, 25- and 50-kilometer distances — July 28-29, 2018 — and a Power of Four mountain bike race — July 28, 2018 — covering 33 miles and 10,000-plus vertical feet. Learn more below.

Published February 2018

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