Another year, another victory for Aspen’s premier local ski-mountaineering athlete, taking his 12th title in his 12th attempt in the rigorous up-and-down tour of Aspen’s four ski mountains.
And while he didn’t cut it quite as close as he did last year — finalizing his registration the day before the race due to illness — his participation did come down to the wire once again, as his scheduled partner was a late scratch due to illness. Instead, Gaston won with his fourth partner in the tandem-run race, bringing in another world-class skimo competitor in Salt Lake City’s Tom Goth on short notice.
“The running joke on race day has become, ‘Does anyone know where John is?’” said Daragh Kneeshaw, race director and Aspen Skiing Co. senior manager of events and partnerships. “And it’s absolutely warranted. John continues to carry the torch for this sport within our community in such a positive light, and we are all just as intrigued as anyone as to when his reign will be truly contested.”
Goth had just competed in Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland, on Feb. 5 and was on his way home when Gaston gave him the call. The two have competed together on the USA SkiMo world championship team, but hadn’t previously teamed up for the Power of Four, Gaston said.
“This guy got back from Europe after a month of racing World Cups on Tuesday night and I hit him up Wednesday afternoon,” Gaston said. “I can’t believe (he) was willing to make that trip; (he) saved my bacon and kept my streak going.”
Goth said he saw the weather report and was already dialed and psyched.
“I was like, ‘What am I doing, why would I say no?’” Goth said.
They completed the 24-mile course with around 10,000 feet of elevation gain in four hours, 31 minutes and 35 seconds. That was shy of Gaston’s course record — which he said they knew was off the table pretty early. Still, they finished about 26 minutes ahead of second-place Bucky Schaefer and Matt Fox. Sean van Horn and Joseph DeMoor rounded out the men’s podium.
Gaston’s other partners included Max Taam, Pete Gaston and Cam Smith.
Caroline Tory and Jessie Young won the women’s race in 5:38:22.67, ahead of second-place finishers Nikki Larochelle/Jill Seager and Lindsay Plant/Kelly Wolf in third.
Kristin Layne and John O’Neill won the co-ed category in 5:35:51.39 ahead of Max and Jamie Kilcoyne and Elizabeth Stewart-Severy and Jon Severy. Layne and O’Neill, under the team moniker “Aspen is the new Nederland” paying homage to their respective residences, had a similar story to Gaston and Goth when it came to teaming up.
“We met like 10 days ago in another race,” Layne said. “Both of our partners dropped and so we decided this was our best option.”
Mangat Kishen and Chris Warner won the 45-and-up division.
In the recreational divisions, Steve Denny/John's brother Peter Gaston won the men’s Power of Two, Kimberly Levin/Emily Nevin won the women’s, Lara Hechtkopf/Johnny Youngs won the co-ed and Bryan Gieszl/Chris Daniels won the 45-and-up.
Kneeshaw said that the race was moved up due to the scheduling of the FIS World Cup on America’s Downhill on March 1-3. This year’s edition appears to be the earliest held in the event’s history, with most events happening in early to mid March, or the last weekend of February at the earliest.
As a result, the sun stayed down a little longer for the 6 a.m. start, and the snow was a little harder, Gaston said.
“I get why they moved it but the few weeks really does make a big difference in that first climb and descent,” Gaston said. “That’s a bit too dark. I would love them to move the start back a half an hour if we’re going to keep it in this earlier spot, honestly. That would make a lot of sense because it was kind of sketchy.”
A well-timed snowstorm last week led to some snowpack for the course and the weather cooperated for good conditions for skiing.
Kneeshaw said that it was the fastest the race has sold out of competitor slots, with 142 teams competing.
“This race has become such a staple here in the valley and beyond and we are so fortunate to be able to offer such a special race experience,” Kneeshaw said.
He added that the best is yet to come and hopes that Aspen Snowmass can play some part in the upcoming 2026 Olympics, which will feature ski mountaineering for the first time.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to show correct Power of Two winners.