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Braving the cold for an uphill climb

Winter Wild Spokesperson Robin Allenburke gets everyone revved up for the early morning race up Gunstock Mountain on Saturday. Bob Martin. (click for larger version)
March 20, 2017
GILFORD — Temperatures were in the single digits as the sun was coming up over Gunstock Mountain on Saturday, but that didn't stop 84 athletes from taking to the hill for a unique uphill race called Winter Wild.

Coming away with the top time of the day was 49-year-old Jim Boule of Campton, who was running for Acidotic Racing and finished with a time of 20:25. He barely edged out Vincent Lyon, 28, of Dover who had a time of 20:49. The third best time of the day was Eric Harbeck, 27, of Lebanon, who was running for Team AMP.

"I love the early mornings, hanging out with my team, meeting new people, runners and skiers," Boule said, adding that this is his sixth year participating in Winter Wild. "It's 7 a.m. and the sun is shining. How can you beat a day like today? Beautiful sunrise. It is eight degrees. It's really nice."

Boule said it was the first time he ran the course and Gunstock and he was happy with being the top finisher. He runs other mountain races in the summer, as well, which he said has helped him in all facets of racing.

Winter Wild is described as "an uphill series with a twist," where racers finish at the bottom of the mountain. There were some who ran in running shoes, but others who took to the course in skis with skins, snowshoes or shoes with micro spikes.

The courses vary depending on the mountain. Gunstock's course was 3.25 miles long with a 1,300 vertical incline. It went up the trail called "Recoil" to the summit of the mountain, and then back down "Gunsmoke" to "Gunpowder," and then to "Sidearm," which led to the finish line.

Event spokesperson Robin Allenburke explained that the idea of uphill skiing was created in Colorado, and she said that type of racing would involve skiing uphill and then taking a chairlift down. Then Chad Denning came along and revamped things to involve racing both uphill and downhill. The event is now in its eighth year. Allenburke said Denning unfortunately passed away two years earlier.

"Chad was an inspirational guy," said Allenburke. "He was all about the outdoors and adventure. He wanted to get people outside to enjoy what we have here."

Allenburke added that racers must come down the same way they went up. This means those with skis can hit the slopes on the way down.

"Chad added the twist of running or skiing back down," said Allenburke. "If you go up in backcountry skis, you come down in backcountry skis. If you go up in snowshoes, you go down in snowshoes."

After Denning passed away, the event was taken over by Brandon Baker and his wife Jackie who are part of Team Amp. She said he wanted to keep Denning's spirit alive.

This year's Winter Wild series began on Jan. 14 and ended at Gunstock on Sunday, 10 events later. She said it was amazing to see how many enthusiastic athletes came out to brave the cold temperatures in the early mornings. The previous event at Waterville Valley made Gunstock's single digits seem like nothing, as racers were climbing the hill in -33 degree weather with the wind chill. Generally there are more than 100 racers who participate.

The race involved people coming in from all over New England, and one who came in from Pennsylvania. There were people of all ages, ranging from 5 to 70-years-old.

Allenburke said that the intention for the event is to be both competitive and happy while having fun in the outdoors. Baker agreed, and said the event is one of the things where people participate once and they are hooked. He said it is a hard challenge to go straight up the hill, but one that everyone seems to enjoy.

"It's quirky but it's a ton of fun," said Baker. "Getting a ski area to ourselves with the sunrise is such a unique thing. It's fun because we definitely have some fast athletes here, but I would say predominantly it is weekend warriors. It's not so much about elite athletes, but as you see some of these people are incredible."

For additional information about the event, log onto Winterwild.com.

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