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News

Feb 13, 2017

From Hot to Cold: An Actif Epica First

Gaurav Madan is preparing to run the Actif Epica 2017—130km of self-supported running in the freezing Canadian prairies of Manitoba.

WRITTEN BY

Supriya Vohra

A tall order for someone raised in the warm tropics of India.

“I’m chasing a lifelong dream,” says Gaurav Madan, when asked what made him apply for the Actif Epica. “I never imagined I would land up in Canada one day. And suddenly I could see a pathway to live my dream. Not when I’m 50 or 60, but in the fairly near future, almost now.”

Born and brought up in the landlocked, subtropical, semi-arid climate of New Delhi, India, Gaurav was deeply inspired by a BBC documentary on ‘Iditarod – The Last Great Race’ as a child. “A dog sled race of mushers in dead of winter in Alaska! I knew I lived in Delhi and there will never be any snow, and that I could never be a musher, but right then, as a 12-year-old, I knew I really wanted to walk that epic trail.”

The 28-year-old became serious about running in 2006, when he completed his first half marathon in Delhi. Since then, he has participated in a number of city marathons, and has done trail running in the Himalaya. He practices minimalist running and runs barefoot wherever he can. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Atmospheric Sciences in Montreal, Canada and has finished the Beast of Burden, a 100 miles winter ultramarathon in Buffalo, New York while there.

He is now busy preparing for the Actif Epica, a 130km self-supported race in unforgiving winter conditions of the Canadian prairies. The 25 hour race, on February 18th, will follow the legendary Crow Wing Trail (Trans Canadian Trail) with temperatures dipping below -35C with winds strong as 50kmph every year. The trail is not marked, and the runner is responsible for navigation is cold blizzards using cue sheets and compass or GPS.

Chasing a lifelong dream, Gaurav, according to the race’s previous records, will be the first Indian to attempt this run.

In an email to The Outdoor Journal, Gaurav gave a detailed response about his training regime and preparation for managing on race day.

On Training for the Actif Epica

“I’ve been running consistently ever since I landed in Montreal. Air is much cleaner here than in Delhi, so that helps. And there are so many trails within an hour’s drive to train on. I run mostly on the hills in the heart of the city, in middle of the cold night—when every one else sleeps. Schedules are tough, I spend 10am to 8pm in my research lab and run after dinner. I run 3-4 days a week. Weekday runs are short and last for 10-20km. Sunday runs are longer, and vary between 30-50km that may sometimes begin at night. For two days, I work on strengthening and stretching. I do not sleep on Saturday nights as part of training. Monday is an off day. I do a lot of barefoot running whenever possible. It’s been cold the past four months and this is my first winter, so the focus has been to adjust to new conditions and find the right combination of layers I’ll wear and pace at which I run (so that I do not sweat too much). In cold races, sweat may kill you. Running on snow and ice is really tough, you are at a consistent risk of falling, pulling a muscle, twisting an ankle or damaging your hip or back. So, I’m learning slowly, experimenting a lot on different surfaces to prepare myself for Actif Epica—as I’ll face everything on the route. During the race, we’ll run on beaten gravel roads, snow covered trails, frozen lakes, knee deep powdered snow, ice covered highway roads and packed snow. The challenge is immense and you have to get over each hurdle to reach the finish line under 25 hours.”

Image © Kevin B Desaulniers
Image © Kevin B Desaulniers

On Managing the Race Day

“The race is critical in terms of its requirements and there is mandatory gear that a runner must carry to be allowed to start, including a spare windproof jacket for survival, windproof pants, headlamps, a pair of flashing lights for front and back (so no snowmobile runs over you), 2L insulated hydration pack, reflective taping in front and back so you are visible, a whistle, a magnetic compass and GPS (that must work in -30C conditions). You have to be very watchful of how you save your water from freezing in such low temperatures—it takes barely 10 minutes for everything to freeze. To meet that, I will be wearing my hydration pack under my jacket to keep it warm by body heat. A runner must start the race with at least 6000 calories and finish with 2000 calories still in your bag. I am still figuring out what to carry, as you must meet the amount of calories in minimum possible weight. Fruits, chocolates, all freeze in these conditions. So, I might carry some dry fruits, nuts, energy bars (and keep them in inner pockets), gels, salt tablets, and grated coconut with crushed waffers. You are allowed to purchase food on the route, but there are not many options as trail runs through open fields in prairies. The race is completely unsupported, so racers are responsible for food, water, navigation, etc. No external support of any kind is allowed. There are five checkpoints, where racers must report with respective cut-offs, where you may refill your water and eat something out from your bag.
I’m planning to stick around with fellow runners (we are just five on foot) for as long as possible, so we keep up the pace and navigate as a team. We will have cue sheets provided by organizers for directions to follow. If winds are strong on race day, there will be complete whiteout and navigation will be a huge challenge. My navigation skills learned in Himalayas will be tested now, and I believe I should be able to crack it. I am studying the route map deeply, but reality is going to be much different than what it looks like on a map.”

The Actif Epica is also a qualifying race for Iditarod Trail Invitational, the world’s longest and toughest winter ultramarathon. Read more about the Actif Epica here.

Click here to donate to Gaurav’s campaign.

Feature Image © Kevin B Desaulniers

 

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Travel

Mar 19, 2019

Is ‘Sidecountry’ a Four-Letter Word?

A team of Avalanche experts define the word, and discuss how to deal with the phenomena. Do we attempt to stop the sidecountry locomotive, or shape the definition and attempt to harness its power?

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This article originally appeared in The Avalanche Review, a trade and scientific journal serving the American Avalanche Association Membership. It was written by Scott Savage, Simon Trautman, Ethan Greene, and Doug Chabot.

Riding in the sidecountry is fun, and it is marketable. Google ‘sidecountry’ and you get 438,000 search results. As more people recreate in the sidecountry, ski areas promote it, equipment manufacturers capitalize on it, riders benefit through new technology and increased availability, the media eats it up, more people want the experience and WHAM! – we are lost somewhere in a very successful feedback loop. Ski area avalanche professionals and backcountry avalanche forecasters, however, are scratching their heads about how to deal with the phenomena; do we attempt to stop the sidecountry locomotive in its tracks or do we embrace the term, shape the definition to benefit our mission, and attempt to harness its branding power to educate the various user groups that recreate in terrain adjacent to ski areas?

One of the great slopes on Gornergrat with plenty of sidecountry opportunities, near the top, with the ever-distracting Matterhorn in the distance. Location: Zermatt. By Doc Searls Santa Barbara, USA

Currently, defining sidecountry is similar to defining pornography; people disagree on a formal definition but you know it when you see it. In our opinion, sidecountry is very useful term for describing a certain combination of human behavior and geography. It is intuitive because most people understand that sidecountry refers to the terrain adjacent to ski area boundaries. This terrain is easily accessed, easily “lapped”, and in many cases highly visible. Observing this reality and thinking about the term in a geographical and behavioral sense is important because it showcases the idea that sidecountry terrain is used differently than backcountry terrain, and as such, suggests that sidecountry users may have different needs than those traditionally addressed in avalanche education. We believe that using the term benefits avalanche professionals by allowing them to relate to audiences and be succinct when speaking, writing, or educating on sidecountry topics.

“Sidecountry is backcountry”

“Sidecountry is backcountry” is a recently coined phrase that is also highly descriptive and accurate regarding particular aspects of sidecountry. Sidecountry avalanche rescue is effectively a backcountry rescue – regardless of the proximity to a ski area, organized rescue may not arrive in time. Since ski areas do not perform avalanche hazard mitigation work in sidecountry terrain, the phrase is probably an effective tool to communicate avalanche danger, especially to novice and casual sidecountry users. “Sidecountry is backcountry” is a simple message that is easy to understand. There is power in this: power to educate, power to simplify, power to feel that one is addressing the problem. Unfortunately, we are not dealing with a simple problem or a singular, simple user group.

Ski areas do not perform avalanche hazard mitigation work in sidecountry terrain.

Novice, casual, and experienced sidecountry users have different levels of expertise, attitudes, decision-making techniques, and educational needs. In addition, novice and casual users are highly influenced by experienced users. A cursory look at recent sidecountry accident and near-miss reports reveals that experienced sidecountry users appear to be involved more frequently than the less experienced individuals. The experienced group generally visits the same sidecountry terrain frequently enough to become familiar with terrain features, may actively manage or mitigate avalanche hazard (slope cuts, cornice drops, etc.), and at times may have more intimate knowledge of the slope-scale snowpack structure and stability than local avalanche professionals. Most importantly, an “I’m going there because it’s there and I want to ski” attitude seems to be common; experienced users access the terrain and then decide whether to mitigate or avoid hazard or just forge ahead. Will telling these more risk tolerant individuals that “sidecountry is backcountry” reduce their risk? Will it help us communicate with them? Sidecountry may be the same as backcountry in some ways, but routine sidecountry users and backcountry users are disparate user groups.

Skilled, experienced professional avalanche educators can create effective sidecountry-specific educational programs and presentations. As we have learned while reaching out to snowmobilers, relevancy is everything. Just as force-feeding traditional avalanche education to someone who never gets off their sled is ineffective, so too is drawing a “backcountry box” around someone who skis out-of-bounds 50 days a year, but rarely or never uses skins or established backcountry stability evaluation and decision-making techniques. Sidecountry is a growth market for snow sports equipment and clothing manufacturers, and these companies may be interested in supporting educational and outreach efforts to sidecountry users (their customers). Instead of abandoning or over-simplifying the term, maybe the ski and avalanche community would be well served to take advantage of the strong, established sidecountry brand by partnering with the media and outdoor gear retail industry to accomplish the following:

  1. Define sidecountry as the unique geographical and behavioral issue that it is, focusing on the specific dangers associated with sidecountry recreation
  2. Identify and define specific user groups
  3. Tailor, market, and promote user group specific educational programs

The term ‘sidecountry’ is descriptive, intuitive, and useful. We agree with the recent NSAA Journal Editorial “There’s No Such Thing as ‘Sidecountry’ ” that the avalanche and snowsports communities must better communicate that riders are on their own when they leave ski area boundaries. Our common goals are to educate the public on the inherent risk of avalanches outside that boundary and to help users reduce their risk in this terrain. In our opinion, we can enhance communication by acknowledging the difference in behavior and risk tolerance between user groups, by identifying and targeting the needs of those groups, and by partnering with those that have the marketing and promotional power to deliver the message.

Read Next: Charge Hard, Stay Smart: Guidebook Guru, Fritz Sperry, on Safety in Avy-Prone Backcountry.

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