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Vol. 1 No. 5

A Basin Comp

Couloir Extreme
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Whistler's annual Couloir Extreme race is described as "2500 vertical feet of thigh-burning hell". The course starts on top of Blackcomb's Couloir Extreme run, and snakes all the way down to the flats near the base of the Jersey Cream chair. One year, maybe next, Adam U is going to win. Not for money, but for the warm feeling he gets in his thighs!

Descender: Adam, tell us about the "extreme" course, will ya please?

Adam: The top section in the Couloir proper is the most exciting because that's where the four foot deep ruts, crud, moguls, and rocks are. If you fall up here, you could definitely slide for a while! The middle section consists of wide GS gates that run the flats along the bottom of Jersey Cream Bowl. This is tuck-land, and your legs definitely feel the burn by now. The last section is tighter GS gates that drop down "Blowdown" into the finish. This is just as difficult as the top section because even though the exposure is minimal, your legs are pretty much worthless and the pitch is pretty steep. You carry a lot of speed throughout the entire course and you have got to be on your toes the entire time.

Adam out of the gate at this year's race. Photo courtesy of www.coastphoto.com

D: How did you first hear about the Couloir Extreme Race, and what the heck ever possessed you to enter it?

Adam: I first heard about the Couloir race last year from Canadian National Team member Rob Neaga. He's raced in almost all of them since the beginning in 1988, and spoke highly of the adrenaline rush! I knew it would be a challenge, a lot of fun, and thought it would be the perfect thing to cap my competitive season. So I entered. It helped that I knew all the competitors in the tele category, and that the Couloir Extreme is one of my favorite runs on Blackcomb Mountain.

D: Did you talk with any tele skiers who had run the course on race day?

Adam: None of us found out how the rest of the pinners did until we got to the bottom and saw the unofficial times. Most of us inspected together so we bounced different strategies off each other. Last year I was the first pinner to go out of the starting gate, so I charged really hard as I had no idea how anyone else would do. This year I went last, so I was able to watch the first few guys and see how they did. Once it was my turn, I knew how aggressively I needed to ski the top section. I think next year I'll sign up late so I go last again! It's definitely an advantage.

D: Now that you've raced it twice, when are you going to win!?

Adam: Well, last year I was third, and this year I got second, so I'd have to say next year I'm going to win!

D: You race tele, what's cool about this event?

Adam: Even though this isn't a judged tele race and there are no jumps or skates, the Couloir race blows away all other tele races in the fun-factor. The course takes on so many different personalities and never lets up until you are in the finish area. The feeling I get when I'm in the start gate staring down the course is unlike any other I've had. Not even the dreaded World Cup Classic courses at Big Mountain are as scary! There are no gate judges, so it's up to your personal turn ethics to decide whether to make tele turns or parallel turns. Most folks tele the upper and lower sections, and parallel/tuck the middle. There's video playback at the awards, and the usual rule is that the person that gets the most "penalties" has to buy a round of drinks for the rest of the pinners.

D: Sounds like a core event. Who participates?

Adam: The race is open to alpiners, snowboarders, and pinners. There are pro and amateur categories for male and female alpiners and boarders, but only one "Open" category for pinners. Being up in the starting corral is both inspirational and intimidating. You can expect to see former and current World Cup athletes as well as that crazy guy that went flying off that cliff the other day and that girl that flew by you at Ludicrous Speed last week. Not everybody has a racing background, but they're all adrenaline junkies for sure! It's very cool that all disciplines are doing the same course, as you can watch the different styles of descent. It's probably the only time I'll be able to race the exact same course as Rob Boyd, Brian Stemmle, Chris Kent, Mark Fawcett, and Darren Chalmers!

D: How many freeheel skiers enter?

Adam: This year there were only six in the tele category, but that included a Canadian National Team member and an ex-Swiss National Team member, as well as some very strong locals. Currently there is no prize money for pinners, which keeps some from entering. Every other Pro category has quite a large purse involved. If there was a bit of a purse for us, I'm sure there would be a lot more pinners signing up! But even without prize money, it's still a ton of fun.

D: Who's the fastest?

Adam: The alpiners are definitely the fastest. The top pinners and the top boarders are usually pretty close. Most folks think we're crazy for racing on tele gear, but after watching some of the boarders sketch their way down the top section, I'd say we have an advantage over them! I think we can handle the ruts better than they can, as we're (hopefully) always facing down the fall-line. The top tele times are usually within 40 seconds of the top alpine time. I guess fixing your heel to the ski makes a bit of a difference after all!

Note: Mario didn't ski the Couloir Extreme.

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