MOUNT BACHELOR —

Twenty-five skiers and splitboarders veered left during the mass start of the Crow’s Feet Ski Mo Rally on Saturday, heading up the slope on a tree-lined path under the Red Chair lift.

But Akeo Maifeld-Carucci, a 25-year-old nordic ski racer who lives in Bend, went right, skate skiing up the Leeway run.

The other racers were all equipped with alpine skis or splitboards. They had attached climbing skins to their skis to help them up the slope, intending to remove them at the top of the course, about halfway up the length of the Red Chair lift, and reattach them at the bottom of the downhill run before starting another loop. Maifeld-Carucci, however, thought he could stick to his nordic skis for the entire hourlong race.

(Much like cyclocross, the objective in this ski mo — short for ski mountaineering — race was to complete as many laps as possible in a set time, with competitors who finished the same number of laps ranked by time.)

And for a few laps, Maifeld-Carucci’s plan worked. Sort of. He was leading Bend ultramarathoner Max King and Chris Jones, who dominated the first two Ski Mo rallies of the winter, widening his lead when King and Jones stopped at transitions but losing time to crashes on the downhill half of the course.

“I think I was averaging about three crashes a lap. So not the worst, but not ideal,” Maifeld-Carucci said. “I knew I would save some time on the transition, and then try and stay ahead of them on the climb. Go as easy as I could while staying ahead, which was still basically at my limit.”

But after five laps and at least one face-plant into the snow, Maifeld-Carucci met disaster when one of his skis snapped. As he left the course to try to remedy the situation, King and Jones raced past and started the next lap.

“We had a good battle going back and forth,” said Jones, 38 and of Bend, who ultimately finished second to King, also 38. “I was in the lead for the first few laps, and he took the lead and I was within a second of him on the last lap, so that was a good battle. It was fun.”

Jones said he tried ski mo after retiring from 10 years as a professional cyclist.

“It just looked like fun: I grew up skiing … and it’s something to do, so I put my skiing and my athletic background together,” Jones said. “The first (race) was really powdery, and last time it was really icy, and today was a little in between. I think the first time it favored someone who has really good fitness, like Max. The second time it was better for a pure skier. Maybe like myself. And then today was kind of a mix of both.”

Jennifer Bentley was the women’s ski winner, followed by Michelle Mills and Cammy Fox. Michael Allen won the splitboard race, Alan Kelley was second and Josh Strauss was third.

Ann Cook, 45 and of Bend, was one of four participants who opted for the shorter 45-minute race.

“I’ve been skiing for a very long time. So it’s really nice, when you’ve been on your skis forever, to have something different that keeps you excited about coming to the mountain and using your skills in a different way,” Cook explained. “Actually, I really like the physical fitness part of getting out and getting a good workout.”

Cook said it can be difficult for skiers to gauge how hard to push themselves during ski mo races, especially as the downhill half of the course — which should feel like recovery, after the climb — goes by so quickly.

“The guys that are doing it in the full Dynafit set, and they’re like running up the mountain,” Cook said, referring to specialized backcountry ski and mountaineering gear. “With something that’s endurance-y like this, you kind of have to take it at your top level that you’re not going to bonk at. So I kind of stayed right in that zone. I was like, can I go any harder? Then I was like, no, because then I’d just die.”

Although he had fallen far behind King and Jones, Maifeld-Carucci returned to the course after a few frantic minutes, now wearing a pair of borrowed alpine skis, and completed the race, finishing third.

“I was just trying to go as fast as I can and make up time, once I got those skis, try to make up time on the downhill because they were so much more stable,” Maifeld-Carucci said. “And that felt pretty nice, actually. I think it probably would have been best for me to just have used that in the beginning, but it was a fun test. A good attempt.”

—Reporter: 541-383-0305, vjacobsen@bendbulletin.com

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