October 2, 2012


Chad hard at it setting course markers Wasatch Powderkeg 2012-Courtesy Chad Brackelsberg
The evening sun is now staring to lazily die out over Millicent peak. The winds are mellow and the last snowstorm was four days ago. At 8,000 feet, with a pack that was once filled with trail markers is now a bit lighter as a tired man rushes to his final review of a perfectly set finish line. The course is ready for the serious but friendly battle that will occur the next morning.  Chad Brackelsberg, 5 year running president of the 11 year standing Wasatch Powderkeg smiles with satisfaction as he gets into his rig with his faithful race and adventure partner Emily, who happens to also be his wife.

The Powderkeg is one of the country's most demanding ski mountaineering races. While driving down Big Cottonwood Canyon to the prerace meeting, he and Emily reflect on the thousands of hours they have spend this year. Some of their efforts included planning, obtaining underwriters, working with the venue of the race, snow studying every three weeks, race planning, marketing and course set up. This year's work all started less than 1 month after last year's race. Why do they do it, year after year? According to Chad, "it's seeing the community of back country skiers all coming together to compete. The winner could beat one of his/her best friends and the whole rest of the day they will hang out together and laugh."  He continues, "it is the smile at the finish line that makes it all worth it." Chad, no stranger to suffering, is the mastermind behind this epic event.

Today, while sitting in a local coffee shop, I was able to squeeze some fun facts out of this busy body and learn more about what his penetrating blue eyes experience in a year's time. Chad is a super thin man filled with smiles and consumed with living life to the its fullest. His aura of intensity is complimented by his genetle kindness that can be felt while spending time with him. 

At the age of 6, Chad's life was forever changed. He met the mountains for the first time while skiing at Big Sky Montana with his Mom and Dad.  His parents that day made an impression on their son that would be unalterable. Already a seasoned skier of 3 years, this young boy was enthralled with the size of these mountains when compared with his 300 vertical foot slopes back home on the plains of North Dakota. In 2002, Chad became a local to Utah, landing a job that allowed him immediate access to the wilds of the Wasatch Range. Today, Chad runs 100 mile endurance races, races mountain bikes and is most content in the high white peaks traveling on skis. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment physically was his very recent completion of the Leadman. One of just 124 folks to complete the Leadman in 10 years, Chad finds himself today recovering from the physical pain it dished out. A notoriously punishing event held in the high peaks of Colorado, the Leadman is made up of a 26 mile trail marathon, 50 mile trail run, 10K run, 100 mile mountain bike race and to cap it off the 100 mile mountain run. The last three distances are completed in just 8 days and all held above 10,000 feet in Leadville, Colorado.  Each step of the 100 mile run served to remind Chad of his mortality while causing his mind and crew to push him to the end. This is the kind of man behind the Wasatch Powderkeg.

In 2003, the Powderkeg was unveiled coincidentally upon his arrival to Utah. That year, Chad did his first Powderkeg diving into the steeps of its history. Eventually in 2008 when founders Andrew and Butch started to be pulled in other directions, Chad and Emily stepped in. In 2008, there were 102 racers and last year they had 160! Chad praises the many volunteers and the sponsors including Brighton Ski Resort, Scarpa, Voile and Outdoor Research. Combined these folks are key to making this event one of the most successful races of its kind in the country. They need more volunteers and Chad invites us to get engaged and help. The setting is cast among the beautiful Wasatch peaks with excellent March backcountry skiing. In 2004 and 2005 the Powderkeg was on the World Cup Ski Mountaineering circuit, while still open to anyone desiring to race and participate.

Chad ekes out more that 25 hours a week training in preparation for ultrarunning events, yielding fruits like sub 23 hour 100 mile trail races and pushing himself further each year.  His life and diet have been influenced by his days with Emily in the Himalayan range, trekking in the Everest and Annapurna Circuit regions. Both 8,000 meter peak districts. When asked what food he could live off, he easily responded, "Indian Food." Chad has learned a great deal during his years of mountain travel. He lives by the mantra "you can walk off something and go ski it later, as hard as it is to do at times." If he could ski anywhere locally it would be Coalpit. Chad has very few regrets in life but one is missing the last Grateful Dead concert in Chicago to which he had tickets but couldn't get away from life's many demands. Jerry died shortly thereafter.

As we look back on our turns in deep powder we see our own imprint of experience. Chad and Emily Brackelsberg have left two prominent, perfect tracks in the Wasatch Mountains, providing each of us that special opportunity in March to create and renew close friendships sharing sweat on two skis. We have Chad's parents to thank for that special day under Montana's big skies.

You can learn more about Chad and Emily by visiting their website: http://thebrackpack.com/
To learn more, sign up or volunteer for the Wasatch Powderkeg go to:

By Chad Ambrose-- ambroseut.blogspot.com

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