6am. The noise of the piste basher has just woken me up as I lie here in Ivors campervan for the first major skimo race of the calendar.
Don't type skimo into a search engine - it is not what the urban dictionary might lead you to believe... Skimo is the abbreviation for ski mountaineering racing, more elegantly called ski alpinisme by the French.
So I find myself in Areches, sleepy cheese producing village (Beaufort) 40 minutes up the road from Albertville. Areches is the spiritual home of skimo and from this tiny place have a considerable number of champion skimo racers. It is also the venue for the annual iconic 4 day race, the Pierra Menta, which takes place in March each year. On this occasion I am here to compete in (...well, OK participate in - the word compete implies being near the front...) the French Championships.
This will be an elite international race with several past, future and present world champions present, such as Kilian Jornet. He is a 25 year old Catalan who is simultaneously rewriting the rule book for several different sports - skimo, ultrarunning and now speed alpinism eg Cormayeur to the summit of Mt Blanc via the Innominata ridge and down Chamonix in 6 and a half hours! He will be hotly pursued by many other training machines in Lycra but I think he will beat them all. He idly boasts on his blog that he skinned uphill cumulatively 4700m on Wednesday before breakfast and that he typically does 16 - 23,000m per week.
For many this is a crucial race. I regard it as watching a master class by others and as training. One of the best forms of training is racing itself. So for me this will be a hard training spell. 4 races in 8 days coming up. Two are solo, one is a relay with Jon Bracey, one is a team race with Es Tresidder.
So what am I training for? Training to come back here in March for the Pierra Menta with Ben Bardsley, training for the World Championships in February in Puy St Vincent, training for the British Championships I am organising on Easter Sunday near Grenoble. The BMC for the first time are helping with funding race entries so you, yes YOU, can enter the British Champs skimo race for free! Watch this space.
Right- time to get some cereal down, stash the gels in the skin suit and pick up the dossard...
9pm. Back in Chamonix with Ivor and Leanne finishing off a massive spag bol. I was wrong- even Kilian was beaten to 3rd place by 2 hotshot French guys. Maybe that 4700m training day was too much even for him! We had a great time - punishingly hard work, relentless climbing, variabe snow, treacherous obstacles - trees, rocks, huge bumps, ice, crust, powder. Kaleidoscopic blur of white images, fuelled on adrenaline, fear and competition. First proper race of the year - more please! Winding down watching Shane McConkey, Doug Coombs and Seth Morrison in "Steep". Who ever said sport was addictive?![gallery link="file"]