The Silitch Family

Adventures in the Alps and Beyond

Monday, March 30, 2009

Austrian Adventures: Dachstein Extreme- Individual World Cup

Michael convinced me to go to the Dachstein Extreme-the last of the individual ISMF world cup in the Dachstein region of Austria.

The proposed course was favorable to my skills: downhill start, 1000 meters of fixed line in a technical via ferrata and overall 900 more meters of downhill than the uphill. It was a chance to see a new area in Europe; we had visited Austria once before our children were born seeing Vienna and also relatives of Michael’s in Sierendorf. This trip would be our first time away without our children in 1 ½ years and first time we had left them without family.

The estimated journey time with Via Michelin was 8 hrs going north through Switzerland and Germany or south through Italy. We opted to go through Italy and it took about 10hrs with stops. Italy was a good choice as it felt like real spring there, a treat coming from the snow and down sweaters of Chamonix. The trees were budding and the fruit trees were blooming. We cherished the warmth in t-shirts at the Italian rest stops as we stopped to fuel up on hot Panini’s and 1 Euro cappuccinos. The only draw back to the Italian route was the amount of through truckers on the west-east highway but this could have easily been the same on the northern route. The return trip home was more favorable as trucks are forbidden to travel on Sundays.

The village hosting the race was Schladming/ Ramsau both home to World Cup alpine and Nordic events. There are 10 different ski areas surrounding the big open valley- an incredible amount of skiing terrain- No wonder the Austrians are so strong in Alpine skiing. The town of Shladming lies at about 700 meters and you could literally ski to the parking lot. We stayed at a lovely little pension/ guest house- simple with a nice family touch. The Swiss team also stayed there. It was fun to get to know them a little more.

At the briefing we were informed it had been snowing steadily on and off for the last 6 weeks, hence the proposed course was changed and we were not going to go up on the Dachstein glacier (the glacier hosts summer skiing both alpine and cross-country) They would have needed 3 good days to equipe the 1000 meters of fixed line necessary to secure the course. Despite the change, the organizers and guides put up an excellent course with beautiful Dachstein scenery as a backdrop. We were lucky with a brilliant weather window on Saturday. The weather was warm, - around 10-14 degrees and it warmed up as the course went on.

The race attracted the top athletes from Europe as well as others from Poland, Slovakia and even Canada. It was fun to be a part of the last world cup and watch the final ceremony for the Individual world cup.

After the race Michael and I finally had a chance to relax a bit and enjoy the surroundings of the Austrian countryside. We visited an Austrian Haflinger farm with many new born foals. We tried Austrian schnitzel and even found a great organic café for a lunch.

All in all, a great get-away for the two of us- a chance to see another part of Europe. As always, we were happy to get home to the boys!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Skiing with my Boys

We have a house full of boys who all love to ski.

This week I was lucky to ski with all three boys on 3 separate occasions in this beautiful outdoor playground in which we live.
The French schools went on strike along with the rest of the public services in the nation of France, so Birken (just turned 5) and I went skiing. We had a bluebird day at La Tour and profited from a great lunch at the Cabane d'Alpage.

Anders- (just turned 3)and I had a chance to get out together on another bluebird day. We have had a streak of incredable weather here in the Alps. Unfortunately as I write this the spring rain has arrived.

It is not often that Michael and I get to go out and do a tour together. Some couples do a "date night"- We opted for a "date-tour" and headed up the Col de Passon in the Argentiere Glacier. It had some good elevation gains, a nice boot pack up a couloir and a long descent down a glacier. We had a great bluebird day as you can see from the photos!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Pierra Menta 2009- 1st World Cup Team Event

The Pierra Menta: The french would say that this event is when hundreds of people come to the Areche Beaufort region to put skins on their skiis and endure 4 hard days of endurance racing. Others would call this event the "Tour de France" of ski mountaineering. This year marked the 24th year of the Pierra Menta. The event normally attracts many teams from other nations, but this year was particular as it was the first year as a World Cup ski mountaineering team event. The race was exceptionally well organized with over 200 volunteers.

The days began at dawn- dawn comes early in the Areche Beaufort region-known for some of the best cheese in France but also the birth place of some of the best ski alpinisme. Usually about 5 am: up, breakfast, gear on and head out to the start for an easy warmup of about 45 minutes (the warm up always included the trusty "femme funnel" pit stop in the woods. ( For those of you ladies out there who are still stuggling with peeing with your harness or race suit on- this has to be the best invention out there. (It is also great for moms who have little girls who need to pee in a pinch)

The starts always went off with a very fast bang. We tried to just hold our own amounst the 160 other teams without breaking a pole or loosing a ski. Each day got progressively harder and longer. To check out each stage of the race look at:
Day 1: 2508m climbing over 20km Long
Day 2: 2785 m climbing over 32km LONG DAY
Day 3: 2550 m climbing over 21km long and technical day
Day 4: 1731 m climbing over 14 km not as long
Many teams apply to race in the Pierra Menta; this year there was about 170 mens teams accepted and only 13 womens teams, opposed to 21 teams last year. All 13 womens teams were strong.
Check out the link for the results of each stage and the total results.

The weather was superb! Sunshine each day, my kind of skiing. ( When it is super windy and cold I am reminded why I don't go on long high altitude expeditions anymore.) The one challenge of this race was the heat! It was our job to stay hydrated and fueled for each day. The stages lasted between 3 and 5 hrs each days so it was important to eat every 30 minutes to stay fueled for the maximum time. I found it hard to force down gels by the end. But for sure my fuel of choice is Power Gels. (Thanks to Michael , a power bar sponsored athlete) They seem to go down a bit easier than the others. And also thanks to Michael who came saturday and was a real force to have on course. Great to see him- he seemed to be everywhere.

And also thanks to Yuki, Manu and Daniel of our newly formed Club de Ski Alpinisme de Chamonix. our new site! And Vincent-great vid coverage on you tube.

What is most impressive about this race is the spectators that come out to cheer. Each day when the racers wake up to start, spectators also wake at dawn to skin up to higher parts of the course.

One of our favorite fans was a man who worked for the Pierra Menta organization who played his harmonica when we went by. He always played, "When the Saints came marching in" or other American Patriotic tunes. That surely gave us a smile each time we passed.
Speaking of smiles, lyndsay and I were crowned Miss Pierra Menta, an award selected by a commitee of journalists and a jury for the woman's team who embodied the spirit of the Pierra Menta, with good sportswomanship and smiles throughout the four days. Hopefully more womens teams will compete next year!

It was great to have the USA Ski Mountaineering team racing at the Pierra Menta this year and fun getting to know the athletes who are helping the sport grow in the US. There were 3 mens teams: Pete Swenson, head of United States Ski Mountaineering Association and father of the COSMIC ski series in Colorado with his team mate Cary Smith from Jackson (Cary has an impressive comeback story). Jared Inouye and Brandon French, Jason McGowin and Brad LaRochelle and the other US women's team Monique Merrill and Sari Anderson Mona and Sari are two exceptional endurance athletes who compete for team NIKE. We look forward to more races together in the future.

Last year after completing this race, I said I would not do it again, but some how when the time came to sign up, I forgot how hard and long the days were and only remembered the amazing things that this race gave me and my family. One of the best moments this year was coming into the finishing stadium on the last day and seeing my three boys and giving them all a big hug: Michael, Birken and Anders.

So, I better not say now, if I will be back for the Pierra Menta next year.

For more photos check out the slide show below:

Monday, March 2, 2009

3 World Cup Ski Mountaineering team events coming up!

Here is what is coming up for World Cup events in ski mountaineering for Nina and Lyndsay in the next few weeks.

On thursday March 5th, we head to the Sella region of Italy for the famous SELLARONDA SKIMARATHON skimountaineering World Cup. This year it will be it's 15th edition. The race starts at 6pm from the village of Arabba, and passes through Canazei, Selva and Corvara over 4 mountain passes. 42 kms total with 2700 meters of elevation gain. We will be equipped with Petzl headlamps to light our path .

The following week (march 12-15) we head out to the Beaufort region of France, not too far from where we live in Chamonix, for the famous French Pierra Menta. This year we will have more of an idea of what to expect; 10,000 meters of ascent over 4 days. You can do the math. You are pretty much cooked after each day and all one can do to prepare for the next day is recover as well as possible with food, hydration, stretching, massage and rest. One might compare it to the Tour de France in ski mountaineering. A few mens and womens teams from the US will be coming over to race which should be super fun!

The final team world cup event of the season is the Tour du Rutor-Extreme. Lyndsay and I did this race 2 years ago when it was just a one day event and had a great experience. It was one of our first longer races and also very techincal with some great decsents both being strong skills of ours. We hung in there with the top French and Italians and even make it on the podium with a ranking of 9th place. This year, being a world cup event, they have made it a 3 day stage race a bit like the Pierra Menta gaining over 6000 meters of ascent in 3 days.

Lastly we will head to the Trofeo Mezalama April 19th. This is not a World Cup event but it is a very international and world famous event. It is done in teams of 3 and travels at high altitude, across glaciers and climbs a 4000 meter peak. There is a lot of interesting information on this race and its history. Check out their website for more photos and information.