70km of skinning and 9700m of climbing spread over 4 days is the basic recipe for the Pierre menta ski alpinism race. As far as competitive ski touring goes the Pierra Menta is a biggie. This year was the 29th edition of the race with racers from France, Italy, switzerland, UK, Belgium, Greece, Denmark, USA, Australia, Czech Republic and Poland. 200 pairs race over the 4 stages for a small amount of prize money and quite a lot of cheese.
The race takes you to some amazing places without much time to look around and gets you to ski down some quite difficult terrain without much hesitation all in the spirit off competition. As the race entry includes all meals and accommodation for 4 days plus half an hour of recovery massage each day and half of the competitors are all in one building you do simply live the race for the duration.
I was partnered with Chris Barnes who I only met for the first time at the airport on the way to the race. I had been taken on as a last minute replacement as his original partner was no longer available. I hoped we wouldn’t be too mismatched as that’s not nice for anyone.
We arrived in the afternoon and went through the formalities of registration, kit check, accommodation and briefing. Met the other Brit teams of Jon Morgan & Ben Bardsley, Ben Tibbetts & Stuart Johnston and Gabbi Lees & Ursula Moore. Great to have an all female UK team in the race.
Day 1 was 2700m climbing with 4 bootpack sections. The weather was warm and the corn snow was pretty great for skiing on. Start was 7am. We tried to pace ourselves, thinking of all 4 days and our total lack of acclimatisation. It was pretty clear from early on that we would be making up the last part of the field, even with some towing done by Chris, but it was great to be in the event under any circumstances and we were not being bothered by the time cut offs. Even though we tried to pace ourselves I was still utterly spent and feeling sick by the finish. Rudely our accommodation was a 150m skin back up from the finish line, bloody extra 600m by the end of the race. Out of 181 male pairs who started we finished 162 on the day.
Day 1 course profile
Day 2 was big with 3000m of ascent and a long 30km to skin. Another warm day and another 7am start. Due to the lack of snow low down in the village the first proper climb of 1050m was 300m up the road before another 750m on snow. Overall the 4 courses were great, but perhaps day 2 was a little contrived however the snow on the descents more than made up for it. Gabbi and Ursula had to abandon on day 2 as Ursula had a hip injury, a real shame but they turned into top notch supporters. Jon & Ben and Ben & Stu were both doing well and ahead of us in the pack. On the 2nd day 176 male teams started and we finished 160th
Day 2 course profile
No real let up on Day 3 with 2600m of climbing. Pierra Menta saturday has a pretty set formula with the race visiting either the summit of the Grand Mont or the Anticime Du Grand Mont. On a good day thousands of people will be on the mountain to cheer on the race which now includes the juniors. The chairlift opens at 5am to begin moving the people and they don’t even charge for it. Now that’s getting behind a race. The weather wasn’t too good which moved the spectators lower down the mountain but the cowbells were still out in force. 170 teams started day 3 and we finished 146, so comparatively we were improving but lets not get carried away.
Boot pack day 3
Day 3 Profile
The final day is a short sprint by the standards of the race but after 3 days of hard racing, 1500m of climbing does not feel like a sprint. Quite a lot of snow had fallen on sat afternoon and evening so the climb through the woods was both atmospheric and tightly packed as everyone made one last effort to hold onto their hard earned positions. Even on this short course the skins were on and off a few times and one final bootpack to end the last climb. Our highest finish of 141st came of day 4 with our overall finish position of 153rd.
Early on day 4
The race ends with a meal down in the town with the usual prize giving and speeches by local dignitaries. It’s the 2nd time I’ve done the Pierra Menta and it’s absolutely fantastic. With the amount of skiing that I do each year and the amount of specific training I get in, I’m only just hanging in there with such a quality field but you just have to go for it. Luckily we now have Skimo Scotland
putting on races so you can get some experience and training, plus talk to people who have raced abroad so that it’s doesn’t seem quite as daunting. I’ll be at as many of their races as I can make next season with the wind gods hopefully being a bit kinder than they were this year. Thanks to Lyon Equipment for providing me some excellent La Sportiva RSR race skis and a superlight Petzl Sirocco Helmet
and Anatom for sorting me out with some Dynafit TLT boots.
Next season (Winter 14/15) Facewest will be selling a very small selection of skimo race kit. It’s very niche but with more people having a go in Scotland we thought it would be good to be able to get at least some kit in the UK. If you want some kit or advice then please give me a call.