Remember when road races used to be the only game in town? As a kid in high school, I remember checking out the local newspaper on Sundays to find the list of 5 milers that I might want to attempt. Of course, nowadays a steady jaunt through town on pavement seems just so…ordinary. Maybe you have felt the need for something a bit more challenging. The recent craze in various “mud runs” and obstacle course races such as the Tough Mudder and Spartan Race have offered a much needed additional dimension to racing that has whet the appetite of the endorphine staved masses. However, with hundreds, if not thousands of contestants being shoveled through the course in waves, it hardly feels like a wilderness experience, despite being covered in mud. If you want to take things a bit further and be truly challenged by the natural elements, then you may want to consider adventure racing. Popularized by the 1990’s hit television series Eco Challenge, adventure races feature multiple disciplines and last several hours to multiple days. Green Mountain Adventure Racing Association (GMARA) is a leading producer of adventure races in Vermont and runs events year-round including the Frigid Infliction, which features a host of winter disciplines, and is held at Bolton Valley Ski Resort. Chris Yager from GMARA took some time to explain the details of this winter race, and the sport of adventure racing in general.
Frigid Infliction Race Format
Like most adventure races, Frigid Infliction is a team event. Competitors can organize into teams of two or three, however, unlike some of the larger adventure races, the teams do not have to be co-ed. “We get a lot of two person male, and sometimes just as many two person female teams,” Yager explains. However, top athletes may want to compete in the three person co-ed division as the prize position is slightly better and also allows the team to qualify for the US Adventure Racing Association’s National Championship race.
Race disciplines include a mix of snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, post-holing (trekking through snow without skis or snowshoes), and a ropes event such as a Tyrolean traverse. Underlying all of this is adventure racing’s foundational discipline: navigation. “Overall, the navigation is the most challenging. Even the really good teams have to pay attention to where they are. At some point, most teams will make a mistake. It comes down to ‘how soon do you realize it and recover.’” Yager states that the orienteering in the Frigid Infliction is probably a bit less challenging compared to the summer events, but that teams will be traveling off trail and will likely be alone in the woods at some point during the race. “At each race, we have to decide how big to let it get. Currently, we have between 100-120 racers. In a race this short, we don’t want it to grow too much more, because we want people to spread out and be alone. With more people, you lose that element.” Event organizers conduct a navigation clinic the night before the race to help teams shake the cobwebs off of their compasses and brush up on their skills. There is also a gear check to make sure that all athletes have brought the mandatory items needed to complete the course. “This also helps us identify new teams that we may need to spend some time with to make sure that they’re safe on the course…folks that are opening their compasses from the packaging right then, or clearly don’t know how their gear works.”
The race begins at 5:00am and takes 10-12 hours to complete, practically a sprint in the adventure racing world. Some races take several days to complete. GMARA uses an accelerated cutoff system for this race, meaning that slower teams will be re-routed toward the finish line as they pass checkpoints in order to allow them to finish with the pack and experience the most exciting parts of the course. These two factors make Frigid Infliction an ideal introduction to adventure racing. However, first timers should bear in mind that in addition to the required hardware that racers will need to bring in order to compete, i.e. snowshoes, cross-country skis, compass, etc., a full set of backcountry clothing is also necessary. You may be able to get away with renting snowshoes and hacking your way through the brush, but if you try to do it in your alpine ski getup, then you could end up drenching yourself in sweat. If you do not already own the proper clothes, then factor that into the cost of winter racing.
One of the best parts of competing in any type of race is the post race party. Thankfully, Bolton Valley is well equipped to handle the needs of hungry, thirsty, and sore racers. Massages are available to wring out the lactic acid from overworked muscles, and a full meal is hosted by GMARA with a cash bar. Pictures from the day’s events are up while weary athletes trade stories over beers before calling it a night.
Aspiring adventure racers can get advice, gear recommendations, and even find training partners and teammates on the GMARA Facebook page, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of Green Mountain Adventure Racing Association