The XTERRA National Championships were at Snowbasin (triathlon Saturday, trail-running Sunday). The triathlon consists of a one mile swim in Pineview Reservoir, then an 18-mile MTB ride from the reservoir to the ski resort, climbing 3,000 feet, and finishing up with a seven mile trail run. We got up there early and it was 41 F: the water would have been warmer than the air, making a comfortable swim but a cold transition from swim to bike and a chilly first few minutes on the MTB until the blood started pumping.
Currie and Middaugh leaving T2
We positioned ourselves along the fence at the second transition where we could watch the pros bike in and change into their running shoes. Transition times can be very important and fumbling with shoelaces is a big time suck; everyone had their gear laid out very precisely. We knew when the race leaders were approaching because the helicopter filming for the [later] television broadcast hovered overhead. Shortly thereafter, American Josiah Middaugh and Kiwi Braden Currie came charging in, hanging their bikes on the T2 racks, slipping on their running shoes and then heading back out onto the course. Middaugh actually struggled a little with his shoes and Currie was in front as they left T2. Some time later, local girl Emma Garrard was the first pro woman in and out of T2. Although race radio had been reporting a close race on the MTB climb, she was all alone in transition and would never have a challenger on the run.
Josiah Middaugh just seconds from the finish line
After watching more athletes in T2, we moved to the finish chute. The trail run seemed to be largely on what H and I have ridden when we've MTBed at Snowbasin: Needles trail to Snowbasin trail to Green Pond trail and back to Needles. We could see them approaching the finish, coming across the lower ski trails, ducking back into the woods and then coming back out under the gondola towers. Josiah Middaugh was out in front, beating Braden Currie by more than thirty seconds. Emma Garrard won for the women, with the second place pro coming in nearly five minutes later.
Emma Garrard approaching the finish
We watched a bunch of the athletes finish and then, when the T2 cutoff was enforced, we changed into our hiking gear and headed out onto the trails ourselves. We followed Needles for a while, then stayed with the access road when Needles dove off into the woods, only to rejoin our dirt road later. We were climbing steadily and relentlessly but it was never super-steep, even when the dirt road died out and we started climbing up the switchbacks.
Shadow from the cool metal cut-out trail signs
The Needles trail had taken us east, way away from the center of the ski resort. We consulted the trail map and took the Diamond trail (very switchback-y and an unbelievable amount of deer sign (hoof prints/poops)) which cut off a fair amount of the distance we would have done if we'd stuck with the Needles trail. We did rejoin Needles for the last climb up to the eponymous Needles Lodge, coming across a family who had taken the gondola up and who were very impressed that we'd hiked up from the bottom.
We checked to see what time the last gondola ride down was and realized we had plenty of time to climb up the cirque to the ridgeline. There were lots of other people doing the same thing - although all of them had ridden the gondola up - and it was a bit of a shock, having to share the trail after having had it to ourselves for the last two hours. It only took us twelve minutes to crest the ridge where the views were spectacular: the Great Salt Lake and Ogden laid out to the west and Pineview Reservoir and the rolling hills of Morgan County to the east.
Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake
After coming down off the cirque, we hopped on the gondola for a quick and easy descent (we ended up climbing 2,400 feet around six miles, and the gondola ride was approximately two miles down). We were pretty hungry by then and since we were so close to Huntsville, we cruised on over to the Shooting Star Saloon. We hadn't been there in ages and we certainly have never been there at dinnertime on a Saturday: it was pretty busy with both locals (I talked with a cowboy who had been bringing cattle in from the hills and was still wearing his spurs) and tourists (there was a group of Finns who were buying t-shirts, putting money in the jukebox and flirting with the bartender).
This place is one of a kind
Our burgers were delicious and we inhaled them, washing them down with a very nice Sockeye session IPA. It was going on a long day at this point and we headed home as the sun crept towards the horizon. We finally got home after 11.5 hours out, wind-blown and a little sunburned (me, anyway), but fully pleased with the very nice day we'd had.