New race at Mammoth Mountain for skiers, runners and snowshoers becomes an overnight success
By Lara Kaylor
“So this is what we do for fun in the mountains,” said the runner hopping up and down next to me, trying to stay warm. “Race UP the mountain.”
I laughed but it was true. Dubbed, “Ezakimak 11,053’ Pink Moon Challenge,” participants were heading more than three miles up the backside of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area in a brand new event.
Pronounced ‘e-zack-a-mack,’ the word is Kamikaze spelled backwards, and the new race is a twist on the ski resort’s famous mountain bike trail of that name. Kamikaze weaves down from the top of the resort along the backside of the mountain and finishes at the Main Lodge and is the namesake of Mammoth Mountain’s annual Kamikaze Bike Games held each fall.
The purpose of Ezakimak was to flip the trail on its head and bring summer fun to the snow by sending race participants up the trail on their choice of skis, running shoes or snowshoes. The inaugural race took place on April 4, 2015 at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area in the town of Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
The course is a little more than three miles (a 5K), but the elevation gain takes you from 9,000’ to 11,053’ in that span. In addition, the race kicked off at 7 p.m. under the light of the spring full moon, which meant headlamps were a requirement.
Race day was a chilly evening at Mammoth Mountain so most racers stayed inside the lodge as long as they could. It was clear that the runners with Yaktrax-like devices on their shoes and poles in their hands would have the best odds in the conditions that lay ahead. The snow was going to be firm and potentially icy, so the skiers were going to struggle.
Snowshoes were going to be a good option for the race as well, but wouldn’t be as light and fast as running shoes. They would, however, provide the traction to keep racers like myself from slipping and sliding on the uphill slopes.
The race began with staggered starts. Skiers headed out first followed one minute later by the runners, who were then followed one minute later by snowshoers.
Nick Scalfone, a national snowshoe competitor and Strava Track Club team member, attended the race to compete in the men’s snowshoe open class. I caught up with Scalfone a few weeks after the race to see what he thought of the experience.
Scalfone explained that his specialties are hills and snowshoeing (he’s also a runner), so when he saw the Ezakimak advertised as a one-way, straight up race on snowshoes he knew it would be the perfect blend of conditions for him.
“I was also surprised to see a snowshoe race in April,” said the San Jose resident. “I thought I was finished racing for the season. So I made the long drive to Mammoth Lakes and it was one of the most fun weekends I’ve had.”
Scalfone said he didn’t know what to expect from the race but ended up loving it.
“I have always lived at sea level so it was completely new territory for me,” he said. “It was a very difficult challenge, as advertised, but it was also very fun.”
Photo credit: Peter Morning/MMSA
Scalfone took first place in the men’s open snowshoe category and mingled at the top of the mountain with professional runners and Mammoth Lakes’ locals Tim Tollefson and Deena Kastor. He was also invited back to Mammoth Lakes to run in the elite field of the Mammoth Half Marathon on June 21.
As for the challenging course, it was indeed the runners who took the top spots. Tollefson claimed the King of the Mountain title when he came through the finish line first with a time of 35:31 and Kastor followed close behind at 37:16. Scalfone crossed the line at 42:42.
As Tollefson reported the following day, the course was no joke. “There are perhaps two level sections for no more than 100 meters and we were greeted by strong zephyr winds, icy groomed trails, and repeated bouts of sand blasting to the face.”
And yet the race ended with smiling faces enjoying the food and drink at the Pink Moon Party and awards ceremony at the top of Mammoth Mountain. There’s already talk of a summer Ezakimak, and it’s clear the winter version will be around to punish competitors for years to come.