Meet the Skimo Racer - John Gaston

After winning all 3 qualifying races (US Ski Mountaineering Championship, Grand Targhee Classic, and Heathen Challenge), we are featuring the men's US Champion in this week's Meet the Skimo Racer Blog Series.

Birthplace: Providence, Rhode Island

Current hometown and mountain range: Aspen, CO and Aspen Highlands.

If you were not born in the mountains, what drew you to them or enabled you to move to there: Ski vacations as a kid got me hooked. Went to school in Boulder and always knew I’d end up in Aspen afterwards.

Age when you started skiing: 3

Number of years you have been skiing: 22

How long have you been skimo racing: 2 seasons.

How did you get into skimo racing:   In college I became addicted to hiking Highlands Bowl, and entered the Inferno race at Aspen Highlands only to get schooled by the legendary Mike Kloser. I made it a goal to get faster uphill after that and started racing more of the local uphill events. Then during the 2011 winter my brother got his first SkiMo set up under the influence of Max Taam and started racing a bit. I was out that winter with a back injury, but knew that once I was healthy again I needed to get in on the action.

Was there a moment of realization that helped you step it up to the next level of competition: Winning the Power of Four last March with my brother Pete. I always knew I could ski downhill fast, and that I had the engine, but realized I needed to work on the details to win individual races. The last two weeks helped confirm that I’m headed in the right direction, and winning the National Championship less than a year after my first race was an incredible feeling.

What is your favorite thing about skimo racing: Ripping downhill on skinny sticks, praying your bindings don’t explode!

What is your favorite skimo race: Jackson. Best descents of any race I’ve done yet, by far. Although the icy mogul climbs sucked.

What is your most memorable skimo moment:  Winning last year’s Power of Four by 2 seconds, after hitting 60+ on the final descent, after the most painful/epic climb of my life to get within striking distance.

What do you do to keep in shape for skimo racing in the off-season: Ride/race mountain bikes. I ride some road before the trails dry out in the Spring, and always say I’m going to trail run and climb more mountains in the Fall…but it doesn’t always happen.

What is your favorite non-skimo sport of hobby: Skiing downhill! Does that count? Mountain biking and dirt biking would come next. I definitely prefer sports that have a speed element to them.

Skimo race wins:

  • 2012 Power of Four
  • 2013 US National Championship
  • 2013 Grand Targhee Classic
  • 2013 Sunlight Heathen Challenge

Skimo race you have not done that you would really like to do:PIerra Menta, Mezzalama, Mountain Attack.

Preference of skimo race format (technical vs. non-technical; in-bounds vs. backcountry; etc): I like good skin tracks, lots of kick turns, and technical booters, but I view icy mogul climbs as an unfortunate inclusion in American races. As for the downs, the more technical the better, but I prefer them to be fast and skiable still rather than bushwacking and log hopping.

Preferred skimo gear (skis, bindings, skins, boots, pack, etc.): Strafe Nomad gear for training, Oakley goggles and glasses, Poc helmet, Dynafit boots, binders, pack and poles, Pomoca skins, Atomic Ultimate ski.

Favorite piece of skimo gear: Really digging the new Atomic Ultimate with tip rocker, but Dynafit Evo boots keep my feet happy and that’s pretty key.

Best skimo training tip: I like Luke’s advice “train hard, race easy.” If you can’t do it in training, don’t expect to be able to fake it in a race. Also, most people severely underestimate the importance of the downhill. Buy a pass and ride some lifts!

Best advice for beginner skimo racers: Practice transitions. It doesn’t take long to get the basic idea, and it will save you a lot of frustration and time when it counts.

Skimo race nutrition preference: Honey Stinger chews, gels, and waffles.

Favorite post race beverage: Something with some sugar, followed shortly by a cold beer.