SNOWBASIN As it was the inaugural XTerra Winter World Championship, many participants were unsure what to expect, what to plan for or how to strategize for the race.
When the winner, Brian Smith of Gunnison, Colo., crossed the finish line it turned out the difference between first and second was small about an inch in ski width and having hard edges on those skis.
Smith sailed over the final downhill portion of the grueling outdoor test of physical endurance and didn't pass Josiah Middaugh until there were only two gates or about 50 yards remaining in the race.
"It wasn't until that last descent that I thought I could catch him," Smith said. "When I saw him slipped and falling, I finally thought I could do it."
Middaugh had a commanding lead through the first three legs of the four-stage race. After posting the third fastest bike time and taking the lead early in the snowshoe, the Vail, Colo., athlete bolted out to a lead of more than two minutes after the trail run.
But Smith chose to bring a pair of randonnee or backcountry skis for the mountaineering portion of the race while Middaugh opted for nordic skis. And while Smith was able to make up ground at a decent pace on the 2,000 feet of uphill ski climbing, it wasn't until the final descent that he finally caught Middaugh, who slipped, fell and saw his lead disappear as his nordic skis were simply unable to maneuver around the slalom-style gates.
Smith's total time of 1 hour, 58 minutes and 29.92 seconds was only 1.29 seconds better than Middaugh's. France's Nicolas LeBrun had a tremendous ski portion of the race to close the gap on the leaders and finished third just 10.52 seconds back.
"I did everything I could," Middaugh said. "There was only so much I could do on the downhill and I tried to hold on as long as I could."
The finish provided an excited cap to the race and thrilled the dozens of supporters and spectators who lined the hill. It also gave Smith a sense of satisfaction for planning accordingly and taking home the bulk of the $10,000 purse.
"I've put a lot of money into this sport and do the things I love to do," he said. "But it's not just having the right equipment. You have to know how to use it."
Like Smith, Sari Anderson chose to use randonee skis and she also came away with the victory over a competitor whose equipment choice proved to be her downfall.
Anderson, who gave birth to her first child a daughter named Juniper just eight months ago, trailed Rebecca Dussault for most of the race. But her training over the past few months on skis proved to be the difference as she caught Dussault on the first climb in the ski race.
"I've been putting my baby in a trailer with skis on it and training with her," Anderson, from Glenwood Springs, Colo., said. "I had a good bike and the runs were good. But I had an awesome ski and caught her on the first climb."
Anderson's time of 2:29:47.70 gave her a comfortable margin of victory over Dussault who crossed the line at 2:31:43.98 after struggling with her skis and losing 5:40 to Anderson.
The event the first of its kind and something XTerra officials hope to make an annual race drawing hundreds of athletes from around the world featured a mountain bike race over loosely packed trails and a snowshoe race through powder. Add a 5k trail run and the 8k ski mountaineering finale and athletes were left gasping for breath as they crossed the finish line but thrilled with the type of competition they had just completed.
"I can't think of an event that I've done individually that's better than this," Anderson said. "I really surprised myself because I was worried about my training and what kind of condition I was in."
Snowbasin employee Drew Caselberry was the first Utahn to finish the race, placing ninth overall and was the second amateur finisher.
"It's good to come here, represent Ogden and come out on top," Casselberry said.Salt Lake City's Rachel Cieslewicz was the top local female finisher, crossing the line at 03:39:56.11 for 11th among the women.