Eastern Ski-O Championships

I bet you didn't know I was an elite ski orienteering athlete.

Well, I didn't either. It turns out that to be an elite American ski orienteer, you don't need much. The criteria are as follows:

1) Have a friend who does ski orienteering and can loan you a map holder.
2) Be good enough at skiing to go somewhat fast, but bad enough to have an aversion to "real" races.
3) Be under 50.

That's all there is to it. Notice that "ability to read a map" wasn't on that list!

Alex and I headed up to Gunstock Saturday morning for the long distance and sprint races at the Eastern Ski-O Champs. I was still reeling from a depressingly small number of beers the night before, but hey, at least I can get drunk efficiently. I realized things were going to be a little rough when I drank a pint of water and a 32oz Gatorade on the way... and still didn't have to go to the bathroom. At all.

After a few prerace instructions from Alex, mainly centering around how to put the goofy map holder on, it was time to go. The course was about 19 controls over 15k of skiing, depending on how smart you were, and my body wasn't actually very interested in skiing 15k.

I definitely went at the slowest "race pace" I've ever achieved. I'm a skier, not an orienteer, so you might think that I was looking forward to the skiing parts, but you would be wrong. There were a couple of 2k segments we had to do, which was more than enough time to realize exactly how terrible I felt.

The map reading part was kind of fun, though. One of the things I didn't quite realize about ski-O is that, properly done, you almost always have to make a decision between 2 routes for every control. So I routinely found myself paralyzed by indecision, having never skied at Gunstock, spending 5 seconds stopped staring at the map trying to decide which route was faster.

Couple this with my utter inability to punch my control card (lobster mitts + swix pro straps = zero dexterity) and I definitely burned minutes out there by being an orienteering novice. But that's how it should be, in your first orienteering race, right?

Luckily the event is 90% skiing, 10% orienteering, so I was still able to come in second, just over a minute out of first. Other than being generally inefficient about everything O-related (stopping to read the map instead of reading while skiing, taking forever to punch my cards), I only made one really stupid route choice.

Given that I was racing a 20k the next day (against skiers, not orienteers!) I was planning on leaving after the first race, but I was implicitly signed up for the sprint and was still hanging around when they put up the start order for that. So I felt kind of bad cutting and running at that point (there's like 20 people, total, at this thing) and I was starting to feel the competitive juices overcome the hangover.

To seal the deal, Alex predicted that I couldn't win the sprint since it required more orienteering and less skiing (9 controls in about 3.5k). Now I had to race.

I started nearly last, but this time I used an advanced technique called "looking more than one control ahead." No longer was I standing for 5 seconds at each control trying to find the next one on the map. Plus, I had switched to thinner gloves, so I was a card-punching machine. Experience helps!

Sprint! Punch! Sprint! Punch! Sprint! Die, punch card, die! The only hiccup came when I assumed the guy I was overtaking was a better orienteer than me (a logical assumption, right?). He probably is a better orienteer than me, but in this case he was going down the wrong trail, and I wasted 15 seconds following him before figuring it out. Oh well. Fueled by a lunch of Oreos, and getting a brief rest every minute or so, I was feeling a thousand times better than the morning's ordeal. I finished in 11:06, making me the Sprint Champion by a scant two seconds and also beating Alex by nearly a minute and a half, which was my true goal for the day.

So Ski-O was goofy but pretty fun, especially once I was less hungover. If you're a skier looking to try something different that you'll be surprisingly good at, give it a shot sometime.


This does sound like fun. I'm still waiting to see what one of these "map holders" looks like. I like all the nutrition tips you include, too. Very helpful.
Alex said…
ok, so, maybe tone down the last shred of dignity thing. Elite ski-orienteers are just as fit as elite skiers, and they have to be fully engaged mentally as well, which makes the race ever tougher. There is also more map-reading involved than you seem to think, especially at an area with some trail density.

ok I'm done being offended now.
Colin R said…
Perhaps the dignity joke doesn't come across right. Mainly, skiing around in full spandex with a map holder gets you some funny looks from the tourists.

If dignity was a problem for me, I'd have to give up cycling, too.

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