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07 March 2017 Back to list
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Pierra Menta: The Tour de France of Ski Mountaineering

Words and photos by Eric Carter.

Carter is coming off one of the most exciting Ski Mountaineering World Championships for North American athletes in history. Both men and women had truly amazing performances and there is a lot to look forward to for North American athletes. But, enough about Worlds, we're here to talk about Pierra Menta, the skimo stage race or all skimo stage races, and who better to talk about the event and experience than Carter himself.

Pierra Menta: The Tour de France of Ski Mountaineering
 
The Pierra Menta is best described as the Tour de France of ski mountaineering. While it’s only four days long, instead of a month, the Pierra Menta is the pinnacle of our sport. A historic race, beautiful scenery, and rabidly enthusiastic spectators, it’s an amazing opportunity. In 2015, I raced the 30th edition with my best friend and training partner Nick Elson (Canada). It was our first season of European racing and our first Pierra Menta. Despite being a little intimidated, Nick and I started well in the race and by the fourth day, were situated well in the rankings. Our goal was just to finish the race without serious adverse events but we could taste a good result. Over the course of a stage race, you go through various forms of fatigue ranging from day two ‘how am I going to survive doing twice what I just did!?’ to day four ‘I’m actually getting the hang of this!’.
 
 
The final stage traverses a famous peak called the Grande Mont. As Nick and I raced towards he summit, we entered a section climbing up a steep, windless face. The mid-day sun was beating down and reflecting off the surface of the snow, creating a furnace effect. While we rarely talk much in races, I told Nick, ‘I’d KILL for a Coke right now’. 
 
Cresting the summit ridge, we made our way towards the peak. Thousands of spectators had ridden the lifts and skinned up the night before and morning of while the organizers used helicopters to deliver firewood and giant fondue pots to keep them warm. We ran through a small corridor fenced off to keep the spectators at bay but they still screamed at us, pushing us along on our backs. The noise was overwhelming - we certainly couldn’t communicate with each other. Reaching the summit, I had one of my fastest transitions ever and distinctly remember having to wait a few moments for Nick to finish. While I did, I looked up to see a small French race volunteer standing in front of me. In a moment that I’ll never forget, the din of the crowd around us seemed to fade into silence in the background, as he raised a two-litre bottle of coke. The distinct noise of cracking open the bottle was music to my ears as he thrust it out and asked ‘coka?’.
 
 
I grabbed the bottle and threw it back, chugging. I passed it to Nick who had finished his transition and he took a chug as well. He handed it back to the volunteer and we took off as if we had jet-packs, all to the spectators screaming pleasure. We had our best descent of the entire week and rocketed down to a finish ranking of 15th - the best a North American team has ever accomplished.
 
 
Now the Pierra Menta is tomorrow and both Nick and I are feeling, acclimatized, fit, and highly motivated. With a bit of experience and better fitness under our belts, we’re hoping to improve on our ranking!

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