Summit duo win Power of Four ski mountaineering race in Aspen and join local colleagues on the podium

Summit County residents Jill Seager, left, and Kate Zander are on the podium after winning the women’s division of the 10th annual Audi Power of Four ski mountaineering race on Saturday in Aspen. To the right is Jessie Young of Aspen, who finished second with Summit County local Nikki LaRochelle.
Austin Colbert / The Aspen Times

ASPEN – After running for miles and thousands of feet of elevation gain on Saturday, six of the world’s best female ski mountaineers found themselves together in one precarious place: atop the iconic 12,382-foot summit of the Highland Bowl.

Hours after the start of the 25-mile, 11,600-foot, 11,600-foot Audi Power of Four ski-mountaineering race, the party of six – including Summit County residents Nikki LaRochelle, Jill Seager, Grace Staberg and Kate Zander – reached the top of the Highland Bowl in essentially a tie. From there, they each removed their racing skins and fell, plunging into the next phase of the race: thousands of feet of steep, heart-wrenching ski slope in the middle of one of the most awe-inspiring skimo competitions. and the most knotty in the country.

“It’s something to say for the level of competition in terms of all of us being there together,” said Seager, a resident of Silverthorne.

In Highland Bowl, it was Seager and Zander’s team – nicknamed “Girls on the Run” – that distanced themselves from defending champions LaRochelle of Breckenridge and Jessie Young of Aspen as well as Staberg of Silverthorne and his partner Lindsay. Carbondale plant.

Seager and Zander first skied to the bottom of the bowl and followed up with a fast and furious ski on what they described as a “lugey” and “spicy” part of the downhill part of the race known as the name “Congo”. Zander said a race organizer told him the night before that he was still clearing downed trees in Congo.

After leaving Congo with a lead they felt confident in, Seager and Zander made it through the final climb of the race, nearly 3,000 feet of climbing terrain known as the “Midnight Mine” to the top. from the Aspen Mountain resort before speeding the terrain into bounds.

“The first mile and a half from Midnight Mine was ice cream – frozen crud,” Zander said. “Then it was good snow towards the top. Super variable but could have been a lot worse.

By the time they reached Ajax’s base in downtown Aspen – 6 hours, 3 minutes and 24.37 seconds after their debut – the Summit County duo not only won the Women’s Power team title. of Four, he also won the 2020 US Ski Mountaineering Association Women’s Award. Team championship, because Saturday’s race doubled the association’s team title event.

“Going down the Highland Bowl was the pinnacle of the race,” Seager said. “. Then the Congo is just this very narrow type trail, and Kate and I somehow managed to hold the descent recklessly. And really the turning point of this race where we were able to separate ourselves from the rest of the peloton was the final climb. At Midnight Mine, Kate and I switched to our super short, fast running skins and we just looked at each other and said, “We’ve got to go.”

Although Girls on the Run finished about seven minutes ahead of LaRochelle and Young (6:10: 06.87) and Staberg and Plant (6:14: 33.58), at this late stage of the race they were still scared. to look over their shoulders. . The duo said that throughout the race, just when they thought they had created a gap between themselves and defending champions LaRochelle and Young, they turned around and LaRochelle and Young were in transition, preparing for the phase. next just behind Seager and Sandre.

“We’re all friends and also really competitive people,” Zander said. “It could have been anyone’s day. It depends on a multitude of factors, and I think all of them have worked our way. Plus, the courage and determination at the end – I really wanted a national championship. “

That said, it was almost a race that didn’t happen, in terms of Seager and Zander teaming up. For years, the two outstanding Summit County athletes have competed against each other in local ski mountaineering series, such as the Rise and Shine Rando series at Arapahoe Basin Ski Resort and the Breck Ascent at Breckenridge Ski Resort. . But Zander, a mother of two young children, says the hardest part of the ski mountaineering race for an athlete-mom like her is often just getting to the start line. Busy raising her kids, helping coach the Summit High School Nordic Ski Team and other responsibilities, Zander said “no” to Seager’s requests to team up the first few times.

In the end, Zander decided to join. A Summit High graduate and a member of the 2019 U.S. National Ski Mountaineering Team that competed at the International Ski Mountaineering Federation’s world championships in Switzerland, Zander said the duo’s towing strategy was at times a teamwork that contributed to the victory.

“I said to Jill at one point, if we don’t break anything – ourselves or our skis – I think we’ll do fine,” Zander said. “It was one of those days: if you have a mechanical (problem), you went out. The reason I keep doing it is such a technical sport. You always expect to have a good technical race, and it was almost perfect.

Other top Summit County finalists at the Power of Four include national champion Tim Faia of Breckenridge, who, along with Dirk Friel of Boulder, won the masters race (45 and over) in 6:20: 49.37. In the senior mixed race, Summit High’s Elsa Bates senior teamed up with Elliott Bates to take second place with a time of 6: 35: 01.37. And in the senior men’s race, Ross Herr of Silverthorne teamed up with Eric Poore of Boulder for a third place (5: 34: 32.87).