local John Gaston places first at US National Ski Mountaineering Championships |

John Gaston, 25, took first place at the US National Ski Mountaineering Championship last week in Jackson Hole, Wyo. The next day he woke up to start all over again in equally intense competition at Grand Targhee, where he won his second gold in just two days.

Gaston’s victories secured him a spot on the eight-member U.S. national team, which will compete in the International Ski Mountaineering Federation (ISMF) world championship in Pelvoux, France in February.

When Gaston entered the championship race, he had no expectation of a medal, he said. He was a newcomer to the sport and although he had a handful of victories under his belt, including Aspen Skiing Co.’s Power of Four race and America’s Uphill, he still followed the advice of his competitors. , did he declare.

On the morning of the championship race, it was minus 18 degrees. Gaston had boiled the water in his bottles in hopes they wouldn’t freeze in the middle of the two and a half hour race – another tip he had recently picked up. If the bottles were to freeze, which is common in these types of races, Gaston could risk becoming dehydrated in the middle of the competition.

The course that Gaston was about to undertake included five climbs and five descents for a total gain of about 8,000 feet of vertical drop. Due to the lack of snowfall in the area, most of the uphill butchering was not going to be on steep, groomed trails, but on icy, slippery bumps.

Barely two years ago, Gaston would never have been surprised in the lycra bodysuit he wore because of his style and his lack of knowledge of the sport. But with the need to be as efficient as possible between climbs and descents, the combination has proven to be invaluable. He had individualized pockets for the three skins he would use during the race and slots for the energy gel, which he also hoped not to freeze during the competition.

At the start of the race there was a crazy sprint on the first climb. Gaston stayed behind a few experienced riders during the first two climbs as they created a path over steep mogul runs. Mogul climbing was never one of Gaston’s strengths, despite the days he spent practicing mogul climbing in the Highlands, he said. He was better at gaining vertical feet quickly on groomed or groomed trails. Fortunately, the third ascent was made up of these, which allowed Gaston to jump to second place.

Shortly after, he took the lead, which he held until the last climb. His final climb consisted of steeper mogul races and he lost almost all of his two-minute lead. Fortunately, he was able to make up for lost time on the final descent.

One of the biggest changes in ski mountaineering races over the past year is that competitors need to be able to ski quickly downhill, Gaston said.

“Now you can’t just be quick on the climb and work your way down or slide down like before,” he said. “You have to be able to ski up and down and make really quick transitions. “

While most experienced ski mountaineering runners enter the sport after careers in trail and Nordic running, young Gaston grew up as an alpine skier before being introduced to ski mountaineering. He could ski quickly over a variety of terrain, including the rough, icy bumps he had just spent two hours climbing.

That’s exactly what Gaston did when he crossed the finish line at 2:30:09, which earned him his first national championship medal. Just 46 seconds later, Jason Dorais, a resident of Utah, rushed behind him to take the silver.

A growing sport

Gaston and his twin brother Pete are the owners of local company Strafe Outerwear, which has a showroom at the foot of the Highland ski area. The brothers founded Strafe in 2009 and it has grown steadily, landing in industry magazines. In Aspen, Strafe’s brightly colored overalls, sick bird jumpsuits and nomadic jackets are quickly becoming a symbol of the local young freestyle skiers who tear Ajax and the Highlands to pieces every day.

Although Strafe does not yet make lycra suits, Gaston spends most of his time in Strafe Outerwear while training for ski mountaineering races. The company has a new line of clothing specific for ski mountaineering underway which is due out in fall 2014, Gaston said.

In general, ski mountaineering has taken off over the past five years, both in terms of competitiveness and exposure, Gaston said. In the championship race, the top nine runners were within two minutes of each other at the two hour mark, which is unprecedented in long endurance races, and it shows just how the competition is getting intense, he said.

The equipment has become more advanced, he said. One day Gaston would like Strafe to design sports equipment and accessories, he said.

“The more I do this kind of racing, the more I try to find ways to create products that are capable of this level of activity but that would appeal to a younger audience,” he said.

Gaston acknowledged that some may view ski mountaineering as a strange sport, as most people would rather spend time descending a mountain than climbing it, he said.

“I like the principle behind it,” Gaston said. “He moves efficiently and quickly up and down big mountains and anyone can relate to that. If you’ve ever climbed a mountain and hit a peak, you can relate to this.

The Sunlight Ski Area, outside of Glenwood Springs, today hosts the final qualifying race – dubbed the “Heathen Challenge” – for the ISMF World Championship. Although he is already part of the team, Gaston is participating in the race.

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