Huge Result for Canadian Melanie Bernier at Pierra Menta Ski Mountaineering Race 2013

G3 athlete Melanie Bernier isn't one to toot her own horn. So just in case she down-plays it in this blog, G3 would like to give a HUGE congrats to Melanie for such a succsesful placing for a Canadian in this classic European ski mountaineering race. It's the most successful result for North American skiers in the event's history! Here is here recount of the event... (photo credit Grand Course)

It’s always so exciting to prepare for a stage race. While checking your gear and packing, you find yourself hoping for no broken bones and no equipment failure. As the tension and the excitement rise all at once, I always find myself smiling thinking about the pain, the emotions and great times ahead. This time around, we were feeling pretty light and joyful before leaving our quiet cabin to join the crowd in Areches, a very cute little town at the end of the Beaufortain Valley. Only when we arrived at the check-in room did we feel the frantic energy of 200 teams ready to give all they got.

From young fresh ski-mo racers, weekend warriors, father and son teams to world-class athletes, the crowd is always really diverse. To us, the Pierra Menta is pretty much the most amazing race of them all. Not only the whole town embraces the event, the athletes and the sports, but everyone really gets into it, spectating no regardless of the weather. The courses are always quite aesthetic even in high avalanche danger day after day.

Down to the stats now: 400 people (Senior Category), 4 days, 10 000 meters of positive gain and about 80-90 km in distance. That’s pretty much what we were up against! This year, the courses were a bit more conservative due to the fact that the area received over 70 cm of fresh snow 2 days before the event and the freezing level was forecasted to climb to 2500m!

Photo by Mark Smiley.

Day 1: While the sun was still sleeping, racers started to warm up and get excited. At 8 am sharp, a herd of skiers armed with carbon gear stepped on the start line. 100m climb, 100m descent and by the time we knew it, we were running on pavement for 500m and that’s when I registered that we were finally off to the start of 4 days of adventure. The course was taking the peloton over 5 climbs, 1 bootpack and about 2574m of climbing. We tried not to get too excited at the start and went for good consistent pace. We got passed by the Swiss team but passed the famous Italian team who won the Pierra Menta multiple times in the years pass and I have to say it felt pretty good. At the end, we crossed the finish line in 4th place.

Day 2: When the 4:30 am alarm went on, I was really starting to wonder why we love such a masochistic sport. While getting ready and finally waking up, I finally remembered the reason: to feel the unconditional love that we have for hanging out in the mountains. With that thought in mind, it was easier to put the ski boots back on at 6:15am to head to the race start. Legs feeling great and excitement to the max, we started day 2 (which is always the longest) with great ambitions. Unfortunately, I did not notice that my ski boot attachment became undone under my ski suit before the start. When it came time to do the first transition to ski down, my boot did not lock and so I had to ski pretty conservatively to join my teammate and not crash. After that first quick descent, the course was taking the racer across the town of Areches on foot. I had to stop and take the time to fix my boot so I was behind and had to pretty much sprint the whole “running section” to meet up with my partner Janelle….not a good way to start the race I tell you! Being now in the slower portion of the pack, it was a bit hard to make up time and pass people. We managed to double a few Euros and stayed with the Swiss team. That day, the scenery was outstanding and the spectators were noisy but so encouraging. By the end of the 2714m we finished the race in 4th place again.

Photo by Mark Smiley.

Day 3: As early as the previous day, we lined up again for another session of pleasant punishment. This time the first climb took the racer up a groomed run… and it was an American style climb meaning quite steep and sustained! I was happy to get that one done! Following was 900m of climbing in which the first 500m were 80 switchbacks. Turn and turn and turn. This year, due to the avalanche conditions, we could not climb the famous Grand Mont ridge but still, around 2000 people were at the Col de la Forclaz to cheer the racers. The noise, the energy, the screams and the vibes were simply out of this world. I felt so privileged to be part of such a great event! Still high from the emotions, at the end of the 2656m of racing, we finished in 4th place again only a few minutes behind the Swiss in 3rd place.

Day 4: Finally the shortest day, only 1600m, which was over and completed in just over 2 hours. Really after all of this, 2 hours or racing felt like a breeze. By the end of it all, it was all smiles at the finish line. Hugs, laughs and beers were flowing at 9am!Changed and refreshed, we found ourselves lining up outside the local bakery sipping espressos and eating pastries while people watching for a good hour. Sinking in the moment and letting the emotions coming down, we all smiled and laughed while sharing racing stories. At the award ceremony, both our Womens and Mens teams got to stand on the podium, which is pretty much what we have been dreaming of since we last attended the event in 2010. 4th for Janelle Smiley and myself and 15th for Andrew McNab and Reiner Thoni are the best results any North Americans ever had at the Pierra Menta.

Thanks to Janelle for the good times, strong emotions and the fun skiing! Congrats to the boys for such strong race! Ski you again Pierra Menta!

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