Spartan Winter is Here – Greek Peak 2019

Greek-Peak-2019-looking-at-the-finish

Playing in the snow is in our blood. As adults, we dislike the snow because it makes driving to work inconvenient. But growing up, snow days were the best. Spartan Race lets you relive that childhood excitement with its now third annual Winter Sprint event at Greek Peak Mountain Resort.

What makes this a Winter Sprint? Every single inch of the course is covered in fluffy white snow. The temperature at this year’s race was in the high 30s, but it was mostly sunny so it felt even warmer. That was basically a heatwave if you consider the first year Spartan was at Greek Peak, they dealt with single-digit temperatures and below zero-degree wind chills.

Greek-Peak-2019-Bridge-Crossing

Parking and Registration

General parking this year was off-site, with two options. One of which was in Cortland, for racers coming from north of the venue. The other was about 15 minutes west of the venue, in Dryden. There was a VIP option for $30 which got you right on-site in Greek Peak’s parking lot.

As with last year, registration was inside, which made sense after the first year’s temperatures caused equipment malfunction at the outdoor registration tents. Spartan does registration really well. The earlier you arrive, the shorter the lines. But even later in the day, it didn’t seem like the lines were too long. As far as I could tell, everything was moving smoothly.

Greek-Peak-2019-part-of-the-course

Early or Late?

I ran my first lap in the Elite wave, mainly to get done in time for my second lap. At most races, running Elite or Age Group is an advantage. You’re one of the first groups on the course, which means no obstacle lines, a less sloppy course, cleaner obstacles and, in the summer, more favorable temps. At a Winter Sprint, it’s almost the complete opposite, with the exception of obstacle lines.

During the Elite wave, which started at 9:00 am compared to 7:30 am that you see at most Spartan races, the air temperature still remained under 20-degrees. Most of the running was through several untouched inches of snow. The only footprints came from racers ahead of me and volunteers/staff who helped put the course together.

Greek-Peak-2019-A-frame-Cargo

Later in the day, I ran in the 10:45 wave. The sun was out a bit longer and temperatures made their way into the 30s. It did help a bit that I was already warmed up from the first lap, but there was a definitive difference in the air temperature before and after the Elite wave. On the course, lots of the previously untouched snow was now packed down, which made running a bit easier. There were still plenty of areas that made it difficult because, well, snow is still snow.

I didn’t notice the obstacles being anymore wet or slippery between the two waves. One thing that remained true of later heats was the lines. I’ve definitely seen worse, but there was at least a little waiting at obstacles like the Spearman, Monkey Bars, and Multi Rig.

Greek-Peak-2019-women's-bucket-carry

The Classics

Speaking of obstacles, I was a bit disappointed to see that none of 2019’s new obstacles made the trip to New York. Seeing recent posts of Helix, 8’ Box and Beater made me anxious to give them a try. Other newer obstacles like Olympus and Twister also missed the trip.

I do understand that the snow and cold weather probably makes it pretty difficult to set some of the obstacles up, so it’s easier to stick to ones that have stood the test of time. Hopefully, in the future, maybe one or two newer ones will be brought out. I will say though, there is something special about trekking up and down the slopes with all the classics.

Greek-Peak-2019-Winter-Medal

Not Your Average Spartan

Greek Peak Winter Sprint is truly a unique experience. And a unique experience deserves unique swag. Last year’s finisher shirts added long sleeves to the standard sprint finisher shirt. This year, Spartan added a nice twist. The shirts have a similar design to the usual 2019 Sprint finisher shirt but, in addition to having long sleeves, had a nice light blue color, really making it look like a winter race shirt. The Spartan Winter medal was distinct as well, with the same light blue coloring and a few frozen pieces “missing” from it.

Photo Credit: Spartan Race, The Author

Abominable Snow Race 2019

Can you imagine building an OCR event where the temperatures rarely reached -10 degrees and the windchill touched -55? Most of us don’t even leave the house under those conditions but this is just what Bill Wolfe and his badass crew had to deal with in the week leading up to the fourth annual Abominable Snow Race.

With a couple rounds of snow sandwiched between the historic lows, these hearty troopers built obstacles and marked trails for a 4-mile race with an option for an extra 2.6-mile loop for the really demented racer, during conditions that caused school for my children to be closed the entire week. Not to mention the fact that the race moved from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin to Devil’s Head Ski Resort, Wisconsin, meaning that prep would take that much longer on the virgin location. This marked the third venue change in the four years of the event as ASR constantly looks to upgrade the location to bring out the best of the winter racing experience. Devil’s Head boasted some awesome scenery including a frozen waterfall along a course with over 3,000 feet of elevation change. Now, you might not have noticed all the majestic views as 6 inches of fresh powder made racers to pay close attention to their footing, and the snow covered up all the tree roots and rocks underneath and fog added an extra layer of mystery as race time temps rose up to the balmy high 20’s. But all things considered, how could you miss the best winter OCR in the nation?

 

The start of the ASR caused a lump to form in the throat of most racers. After Coach Pain gave his iconic pep talk the race began with racers running straight up the ski slope into the fog, which caused you not to be able to see where the climb actually ended. Foreboding, ominous, and lurking right there in front of you. The initial ascent was going to be draining and you knew you were going to be in for a long day. As you made your way up and the top finally came into view you felt a wave of relief, but that was short lived as the trail flattened out for all of 20 yards and then continued going up at a less steep angle through what became a one-lane track through the wooded landscape. Along this trail transition, I noticed my first set of racers sitting off to the side as the initial climb had just taken too much out of them.

The footing here, and all throughout the course, was treacherous, making the sledding tough. Pardon the pun, I simply had to work that in. The obstacles started coming into play near the top of the initial climb, the first being an inverted wall climb followed up by a set of high hurdles. Also tucked into this section of the race was the ASR Apex obstacle. This was the toughest challenge on the course judging by the number of elite bands sitting on the ground. Apex required an athlete to traverse across three steep sections of A-frames separated by about a foot. An athlete had to cross using only the thin ropes suspended from the top and whatever stability their feet on the severely angled wood provided. This was a grip strength killer and I found trying to keep your snow packed shoes on the boards almost impossible.

 

Racers now faced a tough section of trail running as the course made its way slightly down the mountain and through the forest. The over, under, and through walls were tucked in along this section of the course that managed to be wider than 2 feet. A low crawl through the fresh powder froze racers to the core and I personally never felt warm again that day until I changed clothes afterward in my Jeep.

More seemingly endless trekking through deep snow followed that up as the constant climbs and descents started taking a toll on a racer’s legs. This led to a 9-foot wall which also marked the point where the short and long course separated. I picked the longer section as I promised ASR bossman Bill Wolfe a comprehensive race recap and immediately regretted it as I started running along another long stretch of deep ass snow. This section of the trail turned out to be a little flatter than before which was most welcome, but you still couldn’t open up and run do to the deep snow pack. A short Wreckbag carry was situated here along with a bucket carry filled with ice. This bucket carry was much shorter than the previous years carry which seemed to last forever. One last 4-foot wall led into the last low crawl of the race on our way down to the festival area. I looked at my watch watching the distance go by slowly as I entered basecamp. If you had picked the short course then your race was almost over, and I seriously considered just ending it right there as my legs were toast. But I summoned up some internal strength and hit the Z wall which led athletes back out onto the final loop. There I found myself on another steep climb almost immediately. Cursing myself about the choice I just made I found myself trekking up and down steep ravines, as the pace became little more than a walk. Luckily this was the section of the course that held the best views, the frozen waterfall being the sight most racers talked about after the race. This was also perhaps, the most physically draining as the climbs were steep and the footholds small. ASR was nice enough to throw a cargo net down for the last climb up though, that is if you wanted to stick your already frozen hands down into the snow to grab the net.

 

The festival area itself presented some interesting new challenges, as after athletes climbed over a slip wall ASR had built a cargo crossing over the starting corral. This led to my favorite obstacle of the day. The ASR build crew constructed a long wooden traverse suspended about 7-feet off the ground and covered it with long sections of cargo net. The object being an athlete had to traverse this expanse by crawling upside down using only the net to hold on to. Athletes finally got to get up to speed during the last obstacle of the day. After picking up an inflated inner tube, racers made one final climb up a hill, hopped on their tube and flew back down the hill to the finish line! Now, there were things missing from the race that were either included on the race map or had been included in previous races. The sled pull, tire drag, monkey bars, and winter weaver to name a few but considering the unprecedented weather leading up to the race, I think a round of applause are in order.

Never before in OCR has a crew had to set up a race in these conditions. Personally, I felt the terrain alone made this race extremely tough, so missing a few obstacles didn’t bother me at all. The only concern I heard from people completing the race was the lack of water along the route, I sucked down 3 bottles of water myself upon completion of the race. I don’t feel it would have been possible to add water stations to the course due to the temperatures as almost every water delivery system would have been frozen solid. Besides, veteran racers should have already known to bring hydration… cough… cough… I forgot.

The mountain ski patrol was situated around the course at various locations to ensure the safety of racers along with a few members of the ASR staff who zipped around on snowmobiles. I offer a question to you as my final thought on the race. You’ve become pretty good at climbing over walls and carrying heavy things around when the temperature is 80 degrees, but have you tested yourself when the thermometer dips below freezing? If not, what’s keeping you from joining Yeti Nation?

2018 Abominable Snow Race

Adaptation.

The ability to overcome on the fly using the skills you have developed. Some would argue this is the single biggest quality that successful obstacle course racers possess. Maybe you have mastered the ability to adapt to obstacles presented to you during the warm weather races, or maybe you’re still fine-tuning them.

Well, let me throw a monkey wrench into your comfy regime. How about we add freezing temps into the mix, maybe some ice or snow, or maybe even a mixture of them all with some mud thrown in. You love mud right? The kind where you rinse off from a hose at the end of an event while sipping your finishers beer in 80-degree sunshine? Well, this isn’t the same shit.

Winter OCR is here to stay and it’s getting bigger and tougher than ever before. Winter is no longer the offseason for OCR with events popping up all over the country. I had a chance to race in the third annual Abominable Snow Race held last weekend with a few thousand other racers from all over the country at the majestic Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva Wisconsin and I can tell you Winter OCR is here to stay. Held on the grounds of a ski resort you kind of had an idea of what to expect, but ASR chief Bill Wolfe went out of his way to make this race one people would talk about for a while.

Yeti Nation

With morning temps hovering just above freezing my family and I pulled into the Grand Geneva bright and early for packet pickup and were directed to a parking space in a lot right next to the registration tent. Thank you once again, Bill Wolfe for the VIP treatment!

I found most racers were parked in a lot a short distance away and could either walk or take a quick shuttle bus to the registration tents. Now, there were only two stations were athletes could check in making the process somewhat slow, but ASR did provide warm trailers nearby as a changing area which more than made up for the cold wait.

After getting yourself geared up and ready you entered the resort lodge, bathrooms were to your right and food and drink were upstairs. This was your final chance to warm up before leaving the lodge and entering Yeti Nation. The iconic voice of Coach Pain was the first thing you heard upon leaving the lodge, and as you stepped foot on the snow the cold smacked you right in the face as your gaze fell upon the tallest ski slope Grand Geneva had to offer. Food, merchandise, and drink tents surrounded you along with info tents from local races including Frontline, Dirt Runner, and Highlander Assault.

An Epic Adventure

ASR offered 3 different heat choices along with a little Yeti course for the younger racers. The regular Elite and Open classes were offered along with a special Hero Heat for military and first responders. The Open class course offered 22 obstacles along a 4.5-mile course while the Elite class/Hero Heat offered 25 obstacles over a 5.8-mile distance. The little Yeti course was not timed and wasn’t very difficult, but the kids really seemed to enjoy it and they got the same huge medal as the adults did! The main course itself started and ended right out in front of the main lodge offering great views for those brave enough to stay outside or watch from the warmth of the two-story lodge. ASR started off Elites first with the Hero Heat and Open class following. With Coach Pain pumping up athletes for the start I think we all had a feeling that this was going to be an epic adventure!

 

A Tale of Two Shoes

The very first thing I noticed upon starting was that all racers fell into one of two categories. It was basically the have or have nots and it came down to shoe selection. As we climbed up our first hill made of ice those with metal studded shoes moved right along while those without struggled mightily.

The course conditions remained this way throughout the race and served to thin out the crowd right away as we came to our first obstacle, a wooden wall climb named the Ice Breaker. The trail was wide enough for a vehicle during this short stretch of the race and offered the only real chance to pass as the path narrowed to one lane shortly thereafter, but not before an over/under/through obstacle.

An Inverted wall, which ASR called Cold Snap, was the last obstacle before the trail veered into the woods where the terrain turned into a single lane of muddy slush which was chock-full of rocks and tree roots making footing unbelievably slippery. This section of trail was appropriately named The Abominable Forest and lasted well over a mile. Nestled along one of the few clearings along the way ASR set up their Alaskan Oil Rigs, which ended being a type of ladder climb with the rungs set far apart and at a 45-degree angle made slick with all the tracked mud. After tapping the bell on top of the rig it was again off along the slick path and over more of the rocky hills leading to The Winter Weaver.  It was also during this section of the race where ASR threw in a triple set of hurdles and their slip wall.  These hurdles were cut into a diamond shape with a sharp point at the top making athletes regret stopping on top for very long.

 

Sled-Pull

There were a couple different ways ASR made some of their old obstacles tougher and the sled pull was one of these obstacles. In the past, the sleds were filled with snow or a sandbag and pulled along in a snow-covered circle. Now, the only real difficulty doing that was guiding the sled.

This year, ASR filled the men’s sleds with 3 sandbags and the women’s with 2 and the path this year was solid mud making the pull long and gut-wrenching. This also created a bit of a bottleneck due to racers stopping for breaks along the way. After finally getting rid of that damn sled it was back into the forest for more of the sloppy trail run leading to an uphill low crawl.

This wasn’t your normal low crawl either as the ground was made slick with ice, frozen mud, and decomposing leaves. There was no getting around becoming wet and cold after that crawl! Back on the trail now the switchbacks increased making many racers wonder just what direction they were really going. It was along this route ASR placed a 9-foot wall and their Cliff Hanger.

This was a Z type traverse wall with 2×4 pegs along with one section made up of 3 rope loops suspended from the top. The addition of the ropes was another example of ASR making their old obstacles tougher. This marked the halfway point of the course with more fun to come in the form of the Himalayan Climb up one of the snow covered hills with a cargo net climb on top.

Separating Open From Elite

The ride back down might have left you a bruise or two on your rear end as the snow was packed tight and the descent was steep causing many racers to use their backside as a sled. Athletes now followed the trail back out into the woods in a route designed to make racers loop back up one of the higher ski jump hills. ASR had used a giant Earthmover to make snow mounds to cross as a replacement for the normal mud mounds used during the summer.

Once at the top racers made their way down the back side of the slope stopping at one point to pick up a log for the Lumberjack carry. One final loop back into the woods and returning to the festival area was all that was now required. Sounds easy right?

Well not so much for the Elite and Hero Class as obstacle 18 came into view. A slingshot target was set up and a miss required burpees. However, that was for the Open Class only as Elites and Heroes skipped this obstacle and took off down an extended section of trail.

This extended version started off with a long ass low crawl as bungee cord was stretched across the one lane path for what seemed like miles. Then there was the bucket carry. ASR put their own spin on this by filling the buckets with water during the week and allowing them to freeze making them Ice buckets. An athlete certainly knew after the race if during the bucket carry they happened to bump one into their leg. And the length?? It was a long, long, long ass carry.  Many a strong racer could be seen making multiple stops along the way to regrip. The last extra obstacle along the extended route was a set of rising and descending monkey bars with a bell tap finish.

It was at this point where the extended course and main course joined back up as athletes made one last climb up the ski slope and grabbed an innertube for a fast-paced ride back down to the bottom. Now in the festival area, only two obstacles remained starting off with a set of low walls and ending up with a tip of the spear type wall traverse. Three slanted walls were set up side by side with ropes suspended from the tops of each as your only means of getting from one to the other. From there the finish line and that awesome bling was only a few meters away.

Final Thoughts

I found the 2018 version of the ASR to be not only longer and more challenging, but also much better managed. Things seemed to flow smoother and I left with a feeling of accomplishment. The racers I talked to post-race were in agreement that this year’s event far surpassed the previous year’s race.

The only real complaint I heard was that a few of the course marshals were not specific enough regarding obstacle completion during the Elite heat. But when dealing with volunteers you occasionally get these issues. Our sport is volunteer-dependent so it’s just one of the things you live with. My final thought on this event is if you think OCR is only a summer sport, think again and come on out to ASR next year!