Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! (11 days to go!)

Okay, so it isn't actually snowing in Squaw Valley right now...I think. The forecast for the next 10 days shows lows in the 40s with highs sneaking just above 60 degrees. It has been, however, one of the snowiest, if not the snowiest, seasons on record. The ski resort was open on Memorial Day, and rumors are that it'll reopen for the Fourth of July. I found this link to a rotation of Squaw Valley webcams that provides a live view of current conditions. It looks just like summer, doesn't it?

One of the runners I met over Memorial Day grew up at Squaw, and he sent me a text over the weekend that advised that I should hold my final training runs on loose sand, since the snow was still pretty bad. I'm not sure where I'd find a beach big enough in St. Louis, so I'll just have to hope for the best. The organizers of the Tevis Cup, the horse race that served as sort of the inspiration for Western States over thirty years ago, have already announced that they've postponed their event from its July scheduled date to an October start. And despite speculation that a similar postponement was in the works, WS race director Greg Soderlund took to the media to squash those rumors last week.

I awoke this morning to the following update, one that promised that the race will go on, though we may not know exactly where it will go until we report on Friday morning for the pre-race check-in. I've been taught to only worry about those things I can control, rather than those I cannot, so this news has done little to damper my spirits. In fact, a slow, snow-packed start may be just what I need to prevent myself from going out too fast and suffering a slow, painful march to the finish a day later.

Here's the latest:

Snow situation. Currently most of the first 30 miles of the course is still covered by snow. It is very likely that we will use a "snow course" route. The exact route is yet to be determined as the conditions are very dynamic.

Crew access may be limited or eliminated at Robinson Flat, Duncan Canyon and Dusty Corners.

A final decision will be announced about five days prior to the race. There was additional snowfall above 6000 feet during much of the month of May, and the current snow content at Squaw Valley is twice what it was at this point last year.

Even with the snow course, you can expect most of the first 20 miles of the course to be covered with snow. The snow will slow you down. Most runners find it reasonably easy to run in snow on a flat surface, but very little of the snow-covered part of the course is flat. On the downhill sections, a glissading technique is fairly easy to master, landing on your heels leaning back a bit more than normal. On the uphill sections most will be walking; so this, too, presents little difficulty. Where things get tricky is running on a contour, where the trail traverses a hillside and there is a noticeable slope from right to left. It is often difficult to maintain your balance on a slippery surface here, where the snow is chopped up from the runners ahead of you or if it is icy on the surface from a sub-freezing night, which is fairly likely at the highest elevations.

Shoes with an aggressive outer tread will help keep you upright. Most trail shoes have this feature. Nonetheless, you might expect to do a bit of slipping and sliding and even to lose your feet occasionally.

Be careful to avoid the snow immediately next to trees. Trees conduct heat into the ground and often melt the snow below the surface. If you step there, you might break through the surface and sink all the way up to your hip (this is called 'post-holing') -- a most unpleasant experience.

Please note that the use of crampons, sheet metal screws, or removable traction devices such as YakTrax or Kahtoola, is strictly prohibited.

It is very likely that the snow will cause all runners to lose a bit of time, maybe by as much as 60 minutes. Our advice is to relax, be conservative, and don't be overly concerned about pacing early in the day. You'll have plenty of time later to worry about pacing and split times. A conservative approach through the snow will save your energy for a strong second half. Race veterans often say that the race starts at Foresthill. Heed their advice!

Our plan at this time is to post the course decision on the WS website on Monday, June 20, but with rapidly changing conditions we may not know the final course until the Friday briefing on June 24.

Crew access may be limited or eliminated at Robinson Flat, Duncan Canyon and Dusty Corners. The final decision will be announced at the Friday briefing.

The WS Trail Team has been intensely working on the trail through the high country for the past several weekends and will hit the trail again this Friday, Saturday and Sunday with possible trail work extending into next week. We would like nothing more than to see normal trail conditions, but we take what the mountain gives us. Please keep in mind that all the trail work is provided by volunteers.

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