It’s all about the fastest time, whether you’re using shoes with spikes, touring skis, Nordic skis or snowshoes. This race is a crazy idea, especially because it’s at night!
You can count on me to be there every time the legendary sports region of Kitzbühel, Austria, issues the call for this “Vertical Up” event. The race is all about conquering the original uphill racing route called “Streif,” with its 3,300 kilometers and 860 meters of vert. The “Streif” is really a world-renowned DOWNHILL ski racetrack famous for its diverse, difficult terrain.
The Starting Line
The starting gun goes off at 6:30 p.m. Participants must wear headlamps to light their route, per the rules, but particularly tricky areas are also lit. Vertical Up took place the first time in December 2010, and by the next year there were 191 participants from four countries toeing the starting line. In 2014 there were almost 700 participants, while 1,000 starters were expected in 2015. Interest grows ever year.
Good times are guaranteed at this race, no matter if you are a skier, Nordic skier, runner, mountain biker, road cyclist, backcountry skier or mountaineer. The starting line is at an elevation of 860 meters with the average grade of the course at about 27 percent. But along the way the incline sometimes hits as much as 85 percent! To make up for that grunt of a climb, participants get a few reprieves where the incline is only about 2 percent.
Participants can enter either of two categories: The “Speed Class” is what athletes with the best endurance and technique choose for the race up the “Hahnenkamm” mountain in Austria. If you finish first, you win. Simple. Cash prizes are available for the top six spots.
Then there’s the so-called “Backpack Class” or “Hobby Class” where participants enjoy gift certificates, goodies and gear as prizes. This class is all about fun and games. Timing is in alphabetical order, and winners are those who have the closest time to the total average time. There is only one condition in this class: Every participant must carry a fully stuffed pack the entire way, which is supposed to still be fully packed at the finish. But who’s looking….
Every year, it’s just so much fun all over again. Rules are non-existent. You can use whatever gear you want. The only rule is to be self-powered. I’ve experimented, trying Nordic skis, touring skis and shoes with spikes. I feel like the fastest time is with running shoes, spikes and poles.
I’m often asked how to train for such an event. I go out on my Nordic skis (skate style) and touring skis a lot. In the early winter, I keep my pulse lower in training for longer endurance. As the race day approaches, I do more interval training. To get a feel for icy spots on the course, I also head out now and again with my spikes on.
Since it’s not usually warm at the start of the Vertical Up, the tendency is to dress too warmly. Since you work up a sweat pretty quickly, I only wear very thin pieces like these: