What’s it like to race the Power of Four, a 24-mile, 10,000-plus-vertical-feet mountaineering race on skis? Last year’s top women’s team, Jessie Young and Nikki LaRochelle, give us the breakdown.
Nikki LaRochelle, Jessie Young and Ryder Taam, Young’s 1-year-old son.
9PM “I eat something simple and go to bed early. There’s also a lot of preparation, so we put our bags together. It includes three pairs of skins, and extra layers and lots of energy gels. I also make sure to stay super hydrated in the week leading up to the race,” says Young.
“Max (Jessie’s husband) is one of the most meticulous people doing ski mountaineering racing when it comes to gear preparation. He helps us with gear details like waxing our skins and spraying our pole baskets with nonstick snow spray. He truly thinks of everything. I got to sleep in baby Ryder’s [Max and Jessie’s 1-year-old son] room, which probably helped me in some way through osmosis as Ryder will likely go to the Olympics if he so chooses,” says LaRochelle.
4AM “Alarm goes off. I eat a hefty bowl of oatmeal and drink more water. This is when I put on my Leukotape. It’s an adhesive tape that you can put on hot spots, like my heels, to make sure I don’t get any blisters. It saves us throughout the whole skinning season,” says Young.
“Jessie and I both put on many layers of Leukotape. With a race this long, taking preventative measures with your feet is critical. Jessie’s mom comes over to watch Ryder; my mom will do this too for some races to watch my daughter. We literally couldn’t race without these wonderful grandmas!” says LaRochelle.
5AM “We drive over to Snowmass [the start] and have a prep-time strategy talk. This is where we talk about things like where to refuel, dealing with different speeds and strengths of your team. The team aspect is so unique to ski mountaineering, and if you don’t think about it as a team and just as two individuals competing together, then that’s not really a team,” says Young.
“I’m not sure Jessie would want to include this but she was pumping in the car! She is absolutely amazing racing with such a small kid that she is breastfeeding. We have to do a lot of last-minute organizing of gear—skins, food, gloves, etc.,” says LaRochelle.
6AM “The gun goes off and we’re racing. I try to think of the race in parts instead of a whole big day. So the first part is up Snowmass and the traverse over to Tiehack,” says Young.
“I’m already off the back trying to keep up with Jessie. Jessie ends up towing me the entire first climb (and ultimately part of the second and all of the third Highlands climb). She probably weighs 20 to 30 less pounds than me, so I find this to be comical. I had to be conscious of my own level of exertion. I remember trying to stay at Jessie’s pace, but realized that it wasn’t sustainable for me for a five- to six-hour race, so I back off and let Jessie tow me. This dynamic is so important with team racing. You really have to be thoughtful about decisions to ensure you will be fastest as a team,” says LaRochelle.
6:45AM “We peel off our first pair of skins at the top of Snowmass and tuck them in between our chest and Strafe race suits. This helps to keep them warm and dry them,” says Young.
“The traverse is one of my favorite parts of the whole course,” says LaRochelle.
8AM “I mostly eat energy gels along the course. It doesn’t seem like I can get much more down. We only carry two collapsible water bottles and refill those at the aid stations, one of which is at the bottom of Aspen Highlands,” says Young.
“Definitely in a race this long I also eat solid food, typically some type of energy bar. I make a point to eat early in the race even when I don’t feel hungry and approximately every hour or so and to drink as well,” says LaRochelle.
9:15AM “It was such a good powder day! We got to the top of Highlands right when the lifts opened, so we were with all the other lift skiers at the same time. My legs were burning by the time we got to the bottom of Temerity,” says Young.
“The Highlands descent nearly killed me because there was so much powder. I remember passing two really strong men’s teams on this descent. My quads felt like they were going to explode. This was when I was taking a little bit of time to contemplate Jessie’s pain tolerance, which I’ve concluded is markedly high,” says LaRochelle.
10AM “The highlight in the refueling was at the bottom of Midnight Mine where spectators often have some goodies to hand out to racers. It was here I put down a few Oreos!” says LaRochelle.
“We skinned up Midnight Mine, and I felt pretty bad at this point. This is where partnerships become important because Nikki helped to push me up. We passed a friend from Crested Butte, and he cheered and gave us a bunch of support and that helped,” says Young.
“Midnight Mine is such a mental battle. It’s the last climb, and it’s really low angle and about 5 miles, which feels like an eternity. Finally Jessie’s pace was more manageable for me, which was the first time in the entire race. We did what we could do on this climb, which was push as best we could. I remember handing Jessie a special homemade cookie I had saved for our darkest moment, but Jessie had to spit it out because she was so nauseous. I still haven’t forgiven her for this!” says LaRochelle.
11:42:38AM “We cross the finish line. First place! We were off to the World Ski Mountaineering Championships in Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland, next weekend, so this was a great test,” says Young.
“First place and ninth overall! It feels good to be racing around really strong men. This race was the highlight of my 2019 season. It’s so difficult and so rewarding,” says LaRochelle.
The 2020 Power of Four is Feb. 29., aspensnowmass.com
Photography by: Jeremy Swanson/courtesy of Aspen Skiing Co. & courtesy of Jessie Young