Can you imagine building an OCR event where the temperatures rarely reached -10 degrees and the windchill touched -55? Most of us don’t even leave the house under those conditions but this is just what Bill Wolfe and his badass crew had to deal with in the week leading up to the fourth annual Abominable Snow Race.
With a couple rounds of snow sandwiched between the historic lows, these hearty troopers built obstacles and marked trails for a 4-mile race with an option for an extra 2.6-mile loop for the really demented racer, during conditions that caused school for my children to be closed the entire week. Not to mention the fact that the race moved from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin to Devil’s Head Ski Resort, Wisconsin, meaning that prep would take that much longer on the virgin location. This marked the third venue change in the four years of the event as ASR constantly looks to upgrade the location to bring out the best of the winter racing experience. Devil’s Head boasted some awesome scenery including a frozen waterfall along a course with over 3,000 feet of elevation change. Now, you might not have noticed all the majestic views as 6 inches of fresh powder made racers to pay close attention to their footing, and the snow covered up all the tree roots and rocks underneath and fog added an extra layer of mystery as race time temps rose up to the balmy high 20’s. But all things considered, how could you miss the best winter OCR in the nation?
The start of the ASR caused a lump to form in the throat of most racers. After Coach Pain gave his iconic pep talk the race began with racers running straight up the ski slope into the fog, which caused you not to be able to see where the climb actually ended. Foreboding, ominous, and lurking right there in front of you. The initial ascent was going to be draining and you knew you were going to be in for a long day. As you made your way up and the top finally came into view you felt a wave of relief, but that was short lived as the trail flattened out for all of 20 yards and then continued going up at a less steep angle through what became a one-lane track through the wooded landscape. Along this trail transition, I noticed my first set of racers sitting off to the side as the initial climb had just taken too much out of them.
The footing here, and all throughout the course, was treacherous, making the sledding tough. Pardon the pun, I simply had to work that in. The obstacles started coming into play near the top of the initial climb, the first being an inverted wall climb followed up by a set of high hurdles. Also tucked into this section of the race was the ASR Apex obstacle. This was the toughest challenge on the course judging by the number of elite bands sitting on the ground. Apex required an athlete to traverse across three steep sections of A-frames separated by about a foot. An athlete had to cross using only the thin ropes suspended from the top and whatever stability their feet on the severely angled wood provided. This was a grip strength killer and I found trying to keep your snow packed shoes on the boards almost impossible.
Racers now faced a tough section of trail running as the course made its way slightly down the mountain and through the forest. The over, under, and through walls were tucked in along this section of the course that managed to be wider than 2 feet. A low crawl through the fresh powder froze racers to the core and I personally never felt warm again that day until I changed clothes afterward in my Jeep.
More seemingly endless trekking through deep snow followed that up as the constant climbs and descents started taking a toll on a racer’s legs. This led to a 9-foot wall which also marked the point where the short and long course separated. I picked the longer section as I promised ASR bossman Bill Wolfe a comprehensive race recap and immediately regretted it as I started running along another long stretch of deep ass snow. This section of the trail turned out to be a little flatter than before which was most welcome, but you still couldn’t open up and run do to the deep snow pack. A short Wreckbag carry was situated here along with a bucket carry filled with ice. This bucket carry was much shorter than the previous years carry which seemed to last forever. One last 4-foot wall led into the last low crawl of the race on our way down to the festival area. I looked at my watch watching the distance go by slowly as I entered basecamp. If you had picked the short course then your race was almost over, and I seriously considered just ending it right there as my legs were toast. But I summoned up some internal strength and hit the Z wall which led athletes back out onto the final loop. There I found myself on another steep climb almost immediately. Cursing myself about the choice I just made I found myself trekking up and down steep ravines, as the pace became little more than a walk. Luckily this was the section of the course that held the best views, the frozen waterfall being the sight most racers talked about after the race. This was also perhaps, the most physically draining as the climbs were steep and the footholds small. ASR was nice enough to throw a cargo net down for the last climb up though, that is if you wanted to stick your already frozen hands down into the snow to grab the net.
The festival area itself presented some interesting new challenges, as after athletes climbed over a slip wall ASR had built a cargo crossing over the starting corral. This led to my favorite obstacle of the day. The ASR build crew constructed a long wooden traverse suspended about 7-feet off the ground and covered it with long sections of cargo net. The object being an athlete had to traverse this expanse by crawling upside down using only the net to hold on to. Athletes finally got to get up to speed during the last obstacle of the day. After picking up an inflated inner tube, racers made one final climb up a hill, hopped on their tube and flew back down the hill to the finish line! Now, there were things missing from the race that were either included on the race map or had been included in previous races. The sled pull, tire drag, monkey bars, and winter weaver to name a few but considering the unprecedented weather leading up to the race, I think a round of applause are in order.
Never before in OCR has a crew had to set up a race in these conditions. Personally, I felt the terrain alone made this race extremely tough, so missing a few obstacles didn’t bother me at all. The only concern I heard from people completing the race was the lack of water along the route, I sucked down 3 bottles of water myself upon completion of the race. I don’t feel it would have been possible to add water stations to the course due to the temperatures as almost every water delivery system would have been frozen solid. Besides, veteran racers should have already known to bring hydration… cough… cough… I forgot.
The mountain ski patrol was situated around the course at various locations to ensure the safety of racers along with a few members of the ASR staff who zipped around on snowmobiles. I offer a question to you as my final thought on the race. You’ve become pretty good at climbing over walls and carrying heavy things around when the temperature is 80 degrees, but have you tested yourself when the thermometer dips below freezing? If not, what’s keeping you from joining Yeti Nation?
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