Team America is present and accounted for – 12 boisterous Yankees that stick out like sore thumbs in this tiny town of Areches, tucked away deep in the French Alps where no one speaks any English and it’s perfectly normal to run around in a one-piece, skin tight ski suit and lime green boots all day.
We’ve come for the 24th annual Pierra Menta, an infamous, four-day randonee stage race, where 180 teams of two will skin up and ski down over 10,000 meters (32,000 feet) before the finish on Sunday. And, because Sari seems to love any kind of race that involves an obscure sport, loads of expensive gear, days of suffering and virtually no prize money, this was a race she couldn’t miss.
Sari is racing with her Nike teammate Monique Merrill (Mona), joining 4 other American teams who’ve made the trek here, plus one more team of American ex-pats who live in Chamonix. It’s an impressive showing for the US, where only a handful of people even know what a randonee race is.
Team America consists of:
Pete Swenson and Cary Smith
Monique Merrill and Sari Anderson
Jared Inouye and Brandon French
Jason McGowin and Brad LaRochelle
Nina Slitich and Lynsay Myer (from Chamonix)
Katie French and Ian Anderson (coaches/cheerleaders)
Sari and I arrived in Geneva on Monday morning after successfully completing an almost dry-eyed handoff of our 20-month-old daughter to my parents at the Dulles airport. In Geneva, we met the other American teams and planned our assault on Areches. It required two-trains, an overnight in Alberville (site of the ’92 winter Olympics) and a couple of taxis loaded the the gills for the final push to Areches.
The race starts tomorrow at 7am, much to the disappointment of Sari and Mona, who were excited about the originally planned 10 am start. Apparently, it snowed 80 cm above 2,500 meters here yesterday and the avalanche danger is pretty high. We watched a helicopter throw dozens of bombs around the surrounding peaks this afternoon. So, the race is starting early in the hopes that conditions stay firm and safe. Regardless, all racers are required to carry a beacon, shovel and probe, just in case.
After registration, we all met back up for dinner. According to the race organizers, tomorrow should be relatively short, about 3 hours for the top teams, with about 2500 meters (gulp) of total climbing. Team Captain Pete Swenson thinks it’s the downhills that’ll be the hardest part of the day. The snow conditions are likely to be super variable – soft at the top, to bulletproof in the middle, to slush at the bottom. Pete, who has raced in Europe a bunch, says that the Italians and the French are the teams to watch. Not only do they go up fast and transition quickly, but they’re experts at the high-speed ‘wedge’ technique on the downhills, which most Americans are too prideful to adopt. It should be interesting to watch.
Anyway, Katie and I are getting up early tomorrow in hopes of catching our team at the top of one of the climbs. I’m going to try and post photos and blog updates each night, so stay tuned and cheer on Team America!