“So do you have any more ski mo races coming up?” I asked my friend at the last New England Rando Race at Bromley Mt in Vermont. Bromley was my old stomping grounds when I was 8 years old.
My friend said, “Oh, just The Inferno. “
” The Inferno? What’s that ?” I asked.
The present day Tuckerman Inferno adventure race started in 2000 as the annual fundraiser for the Friends of Tuckerman Ravine.While the classic the American Infernos started in 1933 were top to bottom ski races only; the current Tuckerman Inferno now includes a pentathlon event that is one of the most challenging adventure races in the country.
Individuals and relay teams of two or five people compete to see who will be the fastest to cover an approximately 36 mile course that starts in the Mount Washington Valley and finishes at the base of Tuckerman after climbing up and skiing down to Pinkham Notch. Individual champions are crowned Tuckerman and Tuckerwoman .
My Curiosity was peaked. What are the events?
While the classic American Infernos were top to bottom ski races only, the current Tuckerman Inferno now includes:
running 8.3 miles
kayaking 6 miles
biking 18 + miles with over 600 meters of climbing
hiking or skinning 3 miles+ with over 680 meters of climbing and
Lastly boot packing up a gully and skiing down to the base of the notch
Me: Humm…kayaking??? What kind of rapids?
friend: Class 2-3. The first year I flipped my boat and it was a wet, cold rest of the course.
Me: Ok, no way I thought. I am a multi-sport athlete, but kayaking. I have done some sea kayaking on a lake in Maine but never class 2-3 rapids.. I don’t think this one is for me.
Some time passed, maybe a week or so and I was still intrigued by the event. What a cool way to make your way up Mt Washington. I began to do some research and started to become more interested by the event as the history of the mountain begain to unfold.
The first known ascent of the mountain on skis was in 1913 was done by a group from the Dartmouth Outing Club. Ok, maybe I am in. I was not only a skier at Dartmouth, but also very active in the mountaineering club and Dartmouth Outing Club. I was even most recently written up in the book titled Passion for Skiing, a history of skiing and skiers who went to Dartmouth. They honored me as a world cup ski mountaineering athlete. Apparently Dartmouth was at the forefront in ski-mountaineering on Mt Washington for for 35 years
When I was a little girl I remember my grandfather, Franklin King Jr, a Harvard graduate in the late 1930’s, an active member of the Hochebridge Ski Club and a competitive skier himself was swept up in this boom of skiing in New Hampshure and at Tuckermans. Even back then, just like today, the bowl of the ravine was packed with hundreds, sometimes thousands of skiers. There were the Harvard-Dartmouth Slaloms in the 30’s, even Olympic tryouts were hosted there.
It was the Hochebridge Ski Club that proposed the first American Inferno, named after the famous Inferno race in Murren, Switzerland. It was really this race the caught the attention of many. The first one took place in 1933 from the Summit down to Pinkham Notch. The famous inferno record is held by Toni Mat of Austria, visting ski instructor in 1930. That year there were 45 racers. The Austrian raced from the summit down the Sherborn trail in 6m29sec cutting the record almost in half, pretty much shucshing the whole way down. There were many more Inferno’s in years to come, as well as the Ravine was and continued to be a haven for skiers in the springtime.
For those of you who have never been to New Hampshire, let’s not forget that Mt Washington is the highest mountain in the North East and also a unique ecosystem with some very severe weather, notably high winds. Many come to Mt Washington to train in severe weather. It has some amazing mountaineering as well and some of the best ski mountaineering in New England, real alpine terrain!
So, this Inferno race was beginning to sound even more enticing, much like a crazy race I did in Switzerland called the Terrific, only this one had swimming and mt biking and Nordic sking.
My last trip up to Tuckermans was in 1993, over 20 years ago, with some Dartmouth Mountaineering Club buddies. We were not setting any new routes in the mountain, but not unlike the Dartmouth skiers who headed up there in the 1930’s looking for some good skiing and adventure together as friends. I wonder who the first women to ski the Inferno race was? This would be something to find out.
So…It’s a little over a week away. I had been running pretty regulary, I had been on my bike a couple times (need to get out another time) I was re-assured that the kayak leg was not too bad. If you flip your boat, just swim to shore, get a dry change of clothes. Ok, I am in!
Michael, my husband, was reluctant, but always supportive to my crazy sports endeavors. I was going to go solo, with no support. I had good beta from my friend. Great! I thought! What a fun way to start the spring off and end the ski mo season! And some real ski mountaineering in New England!
So the race approached. I looked at logistics of how to get gear here and there. What would I need? I needed a boat? Rent one? How to transport it? After a brilliant suggestion from Michael, I called around and Bob from Saco Bound was a lifesaver and just took the stress out of transporting a borrowed kayak 3hrs+ on a borrowed vehicle. We can size it for you, deliver it and pick it up. They were awesome and I highly recommend them. They even helped me wrestle it on the back of the vehicle.
So…off we go.! I was getting excited. The weekend happened to mark the 2 year history of my historic gold medal win in Tromso, Norway. I was feeling a little nostalgic about not being in Tromso, a place that is simply very special. It was one year ago that I had won another gold in the sprint event but also decided to relocated with my family back to New England after 12 years in the Alps. Each day I miss the mountains and my friends, but each new day I try to find new places to play and faces to meet. Our values for our family are deep in creating a life filled with health, happiness and sports in the mountains and we will do that where ever we may find ourselves in the world.Thanks to the small but passionate New England ski mo group I was able to find this next adventure in a small place on the map, Mt Washington, with a big skiing history in New England. People always say if you learn to ski in New England, you can ski anything and I fully support this statement.
The 2014 Mt Washington Tuckerman’s Inferno Race Report:
I will start off by saying that doing the course Solo, all five events w/ no support was a little bit of a logistical puzzle. To top it off my dear friend, with whom I was supposed to stay with Friday evening, became sick a dog and kindly forewarned me as an athlete that I may not want to stay chez elle. I ran into some other fellow Inferno Solo-ists who said try the Swiss Chalet Inn. I figured that was kind of fitting, as I used to live in Switzerland in a Chalet and was nostalgic for Swiss Chalet Charm. (FYI- It was simple and clean but no Swiss Alpine charm)
The evening before we collected our numbers at the Flatbread Pizza (which is excellent Pizza BTW if you are in town!) They also have the famous Tuckerman Ravine Ale which was a great celebration post race. Do you know how many mountains in the world have a beer named after them? I can think of about 3 (Sierra Nevada, Mt Blanc 4886, Tuckermans) What else is out there for microbrews in the mountains?
Fast forward to the evening of sorting various gear bags for various places. Change of clothes in the bike bag in case I took a swim. More bottles of Hammer Heed and 1 bottle of Perpetuum. I was ready to catch some z’s/ The alarm rang not too long later at 4:45 am.
What do you eat for breakfast for such a long event? I was figuring 4h30-5 hours I would be out, pushing myself the hardest on the run and the skimo section and I was right on the money with a time of 4h28. A quick breakfast of an IsaLean Pro shake which did the trick for me so early. I am loving my Isagenix as an athlete. Really clean eating for your body. If you are interested in finding out more get in touch with me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I like something simple in the mornings, with good amount of calories and energy but not too hard on the stomach. The Isalean Pro Shake with some IsaVeggies and IsaFruit did the trick. Its packed with lots of powerful nutrients. Then the key was fueling early and often. I did not fuel in the kayak because I was so nervous but I did at every transition and on the bike and during the skin. I did have a small flask of Heed on the run as well. I also shoved a few gels into my body every 30 min or so. It did get hot so hydration and endurolytes were key to avoid the cramps, especially firing so many muscles that are not used to firing!
I dropped my bike off at the transition zone and then headed up to the notch to leave my car and catch a ride with some friends back. I jogged around to warm up at the top of Pinkham Notch in the AMC parking lot but my friend was not showing and I needed to get down to the start so I did not miss it. I luckily ran into some other rando racers, also Dartmouth grads which we discovered soon after and they kindly gave me a lift. My friend ended up being 7 minutes late to the start but he still one the overall Tuckerman division.
Lucklily we made it in the nic of time. The gun went off at 7am on the dot! All systems go! I was glad to have that warm up in as the run started off fast and soon climbed up a steep hill. I was about 3rd in the field in the run up the hill, careful not too blast out too fast like I normally do. I knew that come the downhill I would get into Fly mode in my Hoka One One’s (check out the 2014 models) ! I flew in my Stinson Tarmac’s. They were also great for the transitions with the pull laces. I had run mostly on dirt roads but the pavement did not seem to be too bad. I came into the run in 2nd, behind woman in a team event. There were tons of families and folks cheering on the side or from their cars. Fun to see kids out there too cheering on dads and moms. I missed my kiddos but thought of them and those thoughts helped me keep going.
The kayak transition went fairly smoothly. I was glad there were folks at the put in helping you get in the water and even more glad that there were safely people all a long the river course.I am still waiting for the killer photo of me in the boat charging the rapids to actually document this historical event.
I really had no idea about kayaking and this was considered class 2/3 water. Saco Bound really picked out the perfect boat for me and my level. I wanted a balance between speed and stability. I had a pretty fast kayak time, I hit the rapids, paddled hard, as per the advise of my friend, tried to keep the boat straight pray I would not flip. It felt a little like downhill skiing or mt biking. You have to really look ahead at the water and see where you are going. I survived. My arms were a little spent, but I enjoyed the challenge and most importantly I did not flip or swim (Many boats did that day!) I was thoroughly impressed at the variety of boats out there. The guy on the paddle board was quite something to watch! My heartrate during the kayak section was high I think because I was so nervous for it. There were at least 3-4 tricky sections.
I made a smooth transition to the bike, changed to my bike attire, grabbed food and set off. I had been riding I think on 3 rides so far so I wanted to spin in my small gear as much as I could to avoid my legs from flaming up. It was an 18+ mile bike ride, about 28 km and over 600 meters of climbing. I did not feel like I had the bike power yet for the season. At that point I was still holding the lead for the solo women’s ind. group until about ¾ the way up the road to the notch the I was passed and quickly dropped by the girl in 2rd.
I kept my pace and pushed on, arriving at my truck and making a swift transition into my rando gear on the back, remembering to fuel with some Heed and gels. Off I went through the parking lot and various swarms of Tuckerman’s crowds to the trail head. It was a 5km skin up 670 meters (about 3miles) I put my skis on right away and was off and skinning.
I am not sure the percentage of racers that hiked vs skinning, but I know that I sure saved time and efficiency in my own transitions. It was a pleasant skin, but I was pushing hard to catch up to the girl in front as she seemed to have about 5min on me since the bike. I did not pass her until the transition zone from the hike/ to the boot pack up into Hillmans Highway (a rare chance due to great snow conditions!)
I felt really strong on the boot pack. It was long and technical, both things I love in skimountaineering. Finally being up in the bowl I felt like I was in my element in the mountains. I was in awe at the amount of skiing and mountaineering around. I looked left at the GS course with about 30 gates set up on Hillmans highway and was super excited for the descent.
The ascent of Hillman’s Highway was a boot pack of 426 meters or 1400 feet. Then we descend down the steep pitch of Hillmans, linking up to the Sherborn Ski Trail, which is another 569 meters (1870 feet and 2,5 miles of skiing) Here is a very cool interactive map of the ski trails on Tucks
The snow was softening up by this point (about 10:30/11) There were plenty of public skiers around which made for an added challenge to get around on the track. Remember that thousands of people flock to Tuck’s in the spring time to ski and just be present.
The descent down Hillman’s was really fun! The GS course was a nice, flowing course in a steep pitch and the Sherborn Ski Trail was quite something. The snow was so soft, I tried as best I could to ski in the shade on the edge but still was grabbing. I forgot to wax my skis and put in more of a spring structure!
I was really excited to find out later in the evening at the awards that I had the fastest overall ski time (men and women) which included going up the bootpack and the ski down!
That is where skimo comes in! Its exciting to think about the future of possibilties of ski mountaineerin races on Mt Washington and to bring back this historical type of races to the area.
After looking a my MovesCount file I covered 56km (about 35 miles) on foot, bike, kayak, and ski up and down and about 1800 meters, (almost 6000 feet of climbing)
This would be a perfect, alpine environment to host a technical ski mountaininering international race one day. I look forward to that coversation very soon with various people involved, including Johnathon Sheftz, the organizer of the NE Rando Race Series and Peter Nelson, Exective director of Friends of Tuckerman Ravine.
What a great ambience the evening was, with great energy and enthusiasm for the mountains!
Parlor Skis were a main sponsor of the event.
Parlor Skis are beautiful, handmade skis, custom fit to your liking. This pair was made especially for the event. Be sure to check out their amazing design and craftsmanship. These guys have a passion for skis and skiing. My 10 year old just finished up an independent study on ski making and we spent the morning with Mark from Parlor, talking skis and skiing! My 10 year old finished his pair and is ready for business as well!
Here is some great Press on the event from the Conway Daily Sun. Be sure to check this article out too! There are some great photos!
It was a great way to kick off the Spring adventures and make some connections with skiing history in New England. Be sure to check it out next year! It is not to be missed! And stay tuned for a potential ski mountaineering race on Mt Washington which should be very fun!
A huge shout out to the Friends of Tuckermans Ravine for all their hard work to put this event on. It was also great to meet so many new faces passionate about the mountains and being outdoors! And another huge shout out to my hubby who made this all possible by giving me a saturday off and taking such good care of the kiddos. They are both keen to try Tuck’s so perhaps we will head up soon as a family. My son just finished an intensive study on making skis and made his own pair!
Thank you to my sponsors who help make getting out enjoying the mountains and sports all possible. If you are not familiar with any of these awesome brands be sure to check them out. SkiTrab skis, Plum bindings, Swix Poles, Texner Suits, (click on the Texner link to see Nina in action) Camelbak hydration systems, Hammer Nutrition, Oakley, Pomoca skins, Khul clothing, Hoka One One running shoes
Happy Easter and Happy Spring! Be sure to get out and enjoy some great adventures soon! (This morning, after thinking Spring was here, I woke up to 2 inches of fresh snow and below freezing temps.)
Click in link for more INFERNO 2014 photos:
RESULTS: Click for Tuckerman and Women results
Here is a page shot of the full results. It’s interesting to see the team times vs indiv times: