Out of the frying pan into the fire

Sun Peaks athletes seek redemption at Saudan Couloir Ski Race Extreme

Kozevnikov, Schmid, Muirhead and Wilson each competed in the “world’s hardest ski race” in early April. Photo supplied

Sun Peaks’ 2018 Top to Bottoms champion Mattias Schmid has a new title to brag about, silver medalist at the Saudan Couloir Race Extreme. The competition, which took place at Whistler Blackcomb during the World Ski & Snowboard Festival on April 12, is regarded as the hardest ski race in the world.

This year marked the second time Schmid took part in the legendary competition, but the first time he’s placed in his age category.

Race day conditions were perfect. With clear visibility and hard snow competitors jumped right into the competition as race organizers skipped a training day to take advantage of the weather window. Schmid said the atmosphere at the top of the course was electric nervous energy amongst the competitors.

“Especially with no training day a lot of people just showed up, and it’s out of the frying pan into the fire.”

After one inspection run the competitors faced the 2,500 vertical metres of the couloir, taking on average two to four minutes to complete with athletes staggered one minute in between each start.

“In racing it’s not just who’s the best skier. It’s who can ski the best on race day, who can get past the nerves, who can focus, who put the time in to get their skis right, get their equipment dialed during the season. There’s so many factors that lead to a good ski race,” said Schmid.

Schmid said he entered to compete and was able to make up enough speed to pass the competitor ahead of him and finished 35 seconds ahead.

The couloir’s 2,500 vertical makes it one of the most terrifying slopes in the world. Photo submitted

“That was pretty sketchy. You have to yell at the guy as your skiing and be like ‘on your right,’ and you have to ski past a guy in a race course,” he said.

Once at the bottom of the course he realized his time was incorrect and protested his finish. Upon review Schmid was awarded the silver medal in the Amateur Ski Men 35-39 division. Elated to receive his medal, he said his strategy for the competition was to look ahead and ski confidently.

“You got to believe that you can maneuver your way down a really steep GS course,” said Schmid. “It’s not just steep, it’s also really rough because a lot of people have skied it.”
“The first 11 gates that are in the couloir, I skied those safely, it wasn’t full charge … once you’re out of that hairy area you can really start to charge and turn it up.”

Once out of the couloir Schmid had to focus on his fitness level and had to gauge when to “mash the gas pedal and when to back off.”

“That’s, I think, probably more dangerous than the couloir…how tired you are at the bottom when you’re trying to ski fast, that’s probably the most difficult thing.”

Schmid said he would like to compete again in the future. Photo submitted

Schmid wasn’t the only Sun Peaks athlete competing in the race. He was joined by Alice Muirhead, Kelly Kozevnikov and Peter Wilson. The four trained and travelled to the competition together, practising at home on OSV on a course specially set for them by Sun Peaks Alpine Club’s program director Wade Rettie.

Supporting each other on race day, Schmid said all his fellow competitors made it down with Muirhead placing sixth in her age category and Wilson finishing 33rd. Kozevnikov was disqualified due to a crash at the fifth gate but still managed to finish the course.

Noting Wilson also competed in the race last year, Schmid called this year’s race a redemption year for him because he missed the last gate in the 2018 competition.

“I think his only goal this year was to finish. For him, achievement unlocked. He set a goal to finish what’s considered the hardest ski race in the world,” said Schmid.

Already looking ahead to next year, Schmid said he’ll enter the competition as long as he’s able.