Banner day for PPP racers
After soggy skate, Morton prevails as overall champion.
By Jim Stanford, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
April 4, 2012
In 2008, it was a blizzard with blowing snow. In 2010, it was frigid temperatures that left icicles hanging from racers’ helmets.
Every year brings a different challenge in the Pole Pedal Paddle, and on Saturday competitors were treated to a new one: rain.
A downpour greeted participants as they loaded gear in the predawn light and headed to Teton Village for the start of the 37th annual quadrathlon. Although the sky would clear, the rain turned an already-soft Nordic course into slop better suited for pond skimming than skate skiing.
“That was the race right there,” said Spencer Morton, who won the individual title for a second straight year. “I knew it would be a slog. Every stride was really difficult. You’d drop a foot deep on your pole plant.”
Morton finished the 4,139-vertical-foot downhill, 10-kilometer skate ski, 20-mile bike and 10-mile paddle in 2 hours, 22 minutes and 49 seconds to edge pro triathlete Adam Wirth, of Boise, Idaho, and Dave Bergart, of Victor, Idaho.
Owing to the skate, Morton’s time was five minutes slower than last year.
Katie Engelman bested Kathleen Crowley by one minute to win the women’s title with a time of 2:41:21. Meaghan Wheeler took a distant third place.
Engelman, 29, credited the warm weather this spring for her victory. She was able to practice paddling on the river in the weeks leading up to the race.
“I felt a lot more comfortable and was able to push it a little bit,” Engelman said.
A total of 320 competitors took part in fun, recreational and racing classes, an increase of 75 percent over last year. Racers from teens to senior citizens competed individually or as teams.
Despite the soggy morning, the day turned out beautifully, with little to no wind on the bike and warm, brilliant sunshine for boating on the Snake River.
At the start of the racing class atop 10,450-foot Rendezvous Mountain, competitors initially were nervous, Morton said.
“The greatest part about the day was when the fog lifted at the top of the bowl,” he said. “The vibe was tremendous.”
Although he had planned to be cautious on the downhill, he wound up letting it rip and finished the leg in 4 minutes, 23 seconds, building a lead of several minutes over Wirth and Bergart that he never relinquished.
“That guy’s a beast,” said Bergart, who has finished second or third several consecutive years.
Adding to skiers’ woes, organizers of the Nordic leg set a full 10-k course despite the deteriorating conditions. Because of thin snow cover, the ski club had shortened the leg the last two years.
Nevertheless, racers pressed on, buoyed by the sight of fun class participants skating in giant wigs or even towing a baby in a sled. At the transition, a competitor asked Martin Hagen, a three-time Olympic biathlete, for advice.
“Stay relaxed, with intensity,” said Hagen, who was serving as support crew for his son Charlie. “Worked for me.”
Morton and Engelman each won $500, as the Jackson Hole Ski Club awarded a cash purse of $3,500 to promote the race and draw more out-of-town competitors.
Wirth, 33, who competes on the XTerra triathlon circuit, was one of the visitors to rise to the challenge. Although he did not come for the money, the $250 he won for second place paid for his gas, he said.
Wirth, who also raced in the ski club’s Moose Chase Nordic marathon earlier this winter, has competed on a PPP team in the past, but this was the first time he did the race individually. He brought his wife and two children to town for the weekend.
Compared with other endurance sporting events, the PPP holds promise as a major draw, he said.
“I think it’s a fantastic event,” said Wirth, who in his third season as a pro will compete for a U.S. triathlon team in Europe this summer. “It will continue to grow.”
The course has its thrills, but he credited the Jackson Hole athletic community for making the race worth traveling for.
“The people who live there make it a fantastic, fun atmosphere for people to come do this stuff,” he said.
Among teams, Rendezvous River Sports claimed the men’s and women’s titles. The men’s team of Ben Brettell, Jon Filardo, Gabe Klamer and Jon Souter finished in 2:11:50. Souter practically left a wake for surfing as he paddled the Snake in 53:09, fastest among all boaters.
The Rendezvous women’s team of Jen Calder, Tamsen Pruzan, Robin McGee and Allison Bergh won with a time of 2:29:47.
In the recreational division, 14-year-old Peter Neal won the men’s individual class by a whopping 14 minutes with a time of 2:33:50.
His father, Bill, took third among masters.
State Rep. Jim Roscoe, D-Wilson, raced the downhill for the winning masters team. Competing individually, with his sons or on another team, Roscoe, 62, has missed only a few PPPs in the 37-year history of the event.
“Springtime comes around, and you’ve got to do PPP,” he said. “Then you can put all the gear away.”