Eugene Buchanan: Inside Cody’s Challenge |

Eugene Buchanan: Inside Cody’s Challenge

Eugene Buchanan participates in Cody's Challenge on Saturday at Steamboat Ski Area. Eugene Buchanan participates in Cody's Challenge on Saturday at Steamboat Ski Area.

— There are countless ways to lose time in your first Randonee race as I learned at this year's Cody's Challenge, an annual competition held in memory of former Steamboat patroller Cody St. John.

Being out of shape is one, as is being spastic at transitions, slow on the downhills and schizo about layering. Accordingly, with nearly 3,500 feet of climbing in store, I decided to make it my own personal Cody's Tour rather than a race. I'd go at my own pace without leaving a lung on the trail.

But I still wanted to put my best foot forward, so the weight-saving tactics began the night before. I didn't drill holes into my headphones like my friend Pete suggested, but I also didn't tour in steel Volants with Lange Banshees. I had Dynafit skins, bindings and skis with Garmont boots, which came in pretty light for me at 10.2 pounds per leg. (Yes, I weighed it.) But even that paled to racers who were using Dynafit's lightest set-up, which clocks in at a featherlight 3.6 pounds per quad.

I filled my water reservoir only three-quarters full and pared down my pack, even taking out Band-Aids. I thought about not wearing underwear but figured the ensuing rash would weigh more than my boxers.

Some weren't as concerned with weight. On the gondola, one racer's dreadlocks likely weighed more than some racers' skis. And another carried a boom box, salami log and PBRs in his pack. This full spectrum was spread out at the starting line, from first-timer John Cosik, who heard about the race the night before, to Olympic dignitaries Nelson Carmichael and Caroline Lalive and logo-clad members of the U.S. Randonee Team. (There is such a thing.)

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The mass start kicked off before I was ready, but at least I had my skis on, unlike the poor sap next to me. After a Lycra-clad skier took off skating, I quickly realized there were two types of competitors: actual racers, clad in sponsor-covered one-pieces, and people like me.

Right away, I learned that the incessant trudges offered a lot of time to ponder things like how much time dropping and retrieving my visor cost me and whether the blister forming on my heel created more weight. Continuing in that vein, how much did the fog condensing on my sunglasses weigh? Did every sip of water lighten my load or simply move from one bladder to another? More importantly, would the weight loss from urinating make up for the time lost while stopping?

There also was time to be lost during the transitions. Racers have to take their skins off, store them and switch bindings into ski mode only to reverse the whole process a few minutes later. My technique: kick the ski tip up, peel off the skin, fold it up (hopefully correctly), stuff it in my shirt and repeat. The key was not taking my ski off, saving me click-in time; not changing layers; and not letting my skin get stuck to anything.

Skinning back up has the added dimension of having to take your skis off, unless you're the rare contortionist who can put skins on with skis underfoot, and trying to fit your boots back into sometimes-stubborn Dynafit toe pieces. But at least my tribulations weren't as bad as the girl who accidentally put one skin on backward, making it stick while moving forward. Or my friend Pete, who took his skins off in the flats when he shouldn't have only to instantly face the climb up Chute Three.

Come the downhill, you can make up time by pointing it, but it's peanuts compared to climb time. Are the extra few seconds gained from Hahnenkamming it worth the possible agony of defeat? With conditions bulletproof and littered with knee-jarring and binding-releasing ice chucks, it was a game of delicate balance. (One racer even kept his skins on to descend a glistening Cyclone, which proved a faulty decision.)

By the time I peeled my skins off for the final time and schussed down to the finish at Slopeside Grill, I finished in the middle of the road — right about where my puke landed. My time of 2:19 was an hour off the winning time posted by some guy named Bjorn or Sven (actually Max Taam) placing me firmly back where I belonged with all the Joes, Petes and Bobs.

And in the end, I realized that none of my ounce-saving savvy or even my finish time really mattered. Whether you're carrying a boom box or shaving chest hairs, Cody would just be proud that you're out there.