By: Cary Smith
While driving to Togwotee Mountain Lodge on Saturday morning for the 8th(?) Annual Togwotee Winter Classic our eyes were glued to the outside thermometer in Paul's truck. We were expecting to be seeing numbers like 16° or 18°, but it had settled at 2° when we parked. At least it was windy.
As racers scrambled to adjust their layering system and figure a way to keep their drink mix warm, Adam the race director was putting the finishing touches on the course. Oh wait, he didn't touch the course. This is a true backcountry race where everyone is encouraged to bring a map and pay attention to the trail markers. Luckily, there are only four turns so it's pretty easy to navigate.
About 40 racers lined up for either the 25 or 35 mile race. It's pretty casual so if you're not feeling great at the course split you can decide right then and there to do the shorter race. In more than one instance, a racer was pinning it to stay with a competitor only to watch them stay straight and bypass the extra 10 miles. The lesson here is, know your rabbit.
The first 7ish miles follow the Continental Divide snowmobile trail east from the lodge. Remember that wind? Yea, straight in our faces for the better part of an hour. Even though the snow was firm, tactics played a huge role as sucking a wheel was way easier-and way warmer. Wheel sucking is a dangerous game on snow, though. The racer in front is constantly looking for the firmest snow and is likely to swerve at any given moment, so you'd better watch your wheel overlap.
Once we made the turn out of the wind, things got better in a hurry. One long climb to the course split then a ripping descent down into a cool canyon brought the racers to a series of wicked little climbs that wouldn't bother a snowmobile but caused great pain in the legs and lungs of anyone on a bike. Again, these hills were quickly forgotten as the course wound its way down a beautiful valley on firm snow aided by, you guessed it, a nuking wind, this time in our favor.
Just as you're about out of gears, the trail slowly starts climbing back uphill and toward the finish line at the lodge. Several long switchbacks brought the 35 mile course back to rejoin the 25 then it was a fun, rolling climb to the finish. Well, almost.
With about a mile to go, with the smell of the barn overpowering even my sweat-soaked kit, the course took a hard left hand turn onto the nastiest set of whoop-de-dos I've ever seen. Soft, deep and pointy, these whoops sucked the life out of my legs and crushed my spirit. Luckily, they didn't last all the way to the finish and I was able to regain my smile as I saw the sign marking 1/4 mile to the lodge and the "Fat Tire Togwotee Burger" awaiting me.