Walt and Dave at White Pines Stampede Award Cermoney

Blind Skiing Ambitions in Mid-West

Walt and Dave at White Pines Stampede Award Cermoney

Walt and Dave at White Pines Stampede Award Cermoney

On Saturday, February 2, 2013, Far West Nordic racer Walt Raineri competed in the White Pines Stampede Classic 40km race near Traverse City, Michigan. He was the first blind competitor to ever race in the 38 year old event and took 3rd place in his age category, 7th overall in all classic skier categories, with a time of 3:15:00, just 2 minutes behind the 2nd place finisher in his category. Dave Baker, Walt’s guide, would have taken 2nd place in his younger category.  Walt finished only 17 minutes behind the overall winner of the classic race made difficult after the 9km mark as the classic tracks had been obliterated by the skate skiers who started at the same time in the mass start. The groomers did a great job smoothing out the snow which had just fallen over the 3 days previous to the race. The issue for this style of race, unfortunately, is that the classic tracks can never remain very sacred or safe  when the skaters have to share the same, narrow wilderness trail   In the end, the final 31km were essentially untracked, which made for a tough set of classic race conditions for anyone, but especially for a blind skier who has to “feel” the terrain to know how to balance, kick at just the right time without losing equilibrium, and all the while trying to stay on the trail to avoid those nasty powder edges which can grab your tips at any time. The trail offered only a couple of feet clearance, at times, and not being able to see where the edge of the trail was complicated matters tremendously for the one blind guy out there.

The snow conditions wer perfect for the race. Cold, around 9 degrees F, at the start with a little lake effect snow falling and wind less than 5 mph.  Within 30 minutes of the start, the sun, which had been hiding for over a week, finally peeked through the cloud cover. By the middle of the race, it was a cold, blue sky day with the sun shining. The temperature warmed to only 15 degrees F or so during the race so the Green glide and Green kick wax worked well throughout the entire 40km. Ironing in the base, ironing in a couple of layers of Green kick wax, and corking in another layer of Green kick wax just before the start was all that was needed.  Walt and his guide never needed to rewax during the race itself. 

The humor in the race came around the 25km mark at an aid station. Walt’s guide, who communicates to Walt via a wireless 24GHz dual frequency headset radio system, had just stuffed his mouth with a few cookies and was trying to slam down a drink as we cruised through the aid station. Walt, on the other hand, just downed a couple of energy drinks and was off. Walt’s guide tried to tell Walt through the headsets to slow down so he could catch up, but all that came out was a spray of buckshot of partially chewed cookies on the trail. Walt still needs to clean that headset.

The White Pines Stampede comes just after the US National Nordic Skiing Championships at Soldier Hollow, Utah, where Walt represented Far West Nordic as part of the US Paralympics Team.  For a good article capturing the experience of those 6 races in 8 days, see the following article. 

Salt Lake Tribune Mobile Edition
Date: Wednesday, January 9, 2013, 5:09 PM

Walt just missed the Tahoe Rim Tour as he flew out the morning of January 27, 2013, the day of the tour ‘race to Michigan for the White Pines Stampede and to participate in the Ski for Light International week of Nordic skiing at the Shanty Creek Ski area near Traverse City, Michigan.  Next up, maybe the Great Ski Race, if Walt can find a guide.