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(Second to) Last Skier Standing 2023

Author: Brent Underkoffler, PT, DPT 

Every hour, on the hour you must complete a 3 mile lap with 1200 ft elevation gain skinning up and skiing down Black Mountain of Maine. The event ends when the second to last skier drops out, crowning the Last Skier Standing (LSS). This year I dropped out second to last at 62 laps/ hours having skied from 10am Friday morning until 12:05 am Monday morning to crown Dan Romano as the Last Skier Standing.

I had a plan going into the event that stemmed from my 41 lap solo effort in the 2022 edition held at Black Mountain in New Hampshire. I was there without a support crew and had backcountry skied most days in the week leading up to the weekend because of a planned gap between jobs. In 2022 I bowed out after falling asleep on my skis at 2am the second night. An exit that I chalked up to a lack of calories, crew, and gross fatigue. The 2023 edition was going to be the year I addressed these deficiencies and gave it a proper, planned out effort. 


I have had multiple comments about how much I skied in preparation for the event, but I honestly  only had a couple days of  targeted efforts. The vast majority of ski days were simply out of my love and drive to ski as much as possible every winter. Skiing is fun. 

In classic New England winter fashion, the only place to ski tour was at a resort with man-made snow. If there is good natural snow you will find me in the backcountry around Mount Washington and the surrounding ravines. The slow start to the winter was a silver lining since it forced me to spend days skinning on the steeper resort uphill tracks - the same type of terrain that would make up the Last Skier Standing course.

A little over three weeks prior to the event I went out to Las Vegas to visit my brother. The timing was perfect towards banking long aerobic days and a good amount of vertical gain while allowing the body to  absorb the training before the event. A short drive away from the iconic Vegas strip is an amazing mountain range great for running, scrambling, and climbing. I nearly doubled my training volume, performing two-a-days and really enjoyed my time playing in the canyons. It's a big jump, and one that can precipitate an injury or excessive fatigue,  but I was familiar with these loads and I knew I could handle the strain.


The hardest part leading up to the event was something I mentally committed to after falling asleep in 2022: a caffeine detox from my normal 5-6 cups of coffee per day to ZERO. Caffeine is a performance enhancing drug when taken in larger amounts than your body is used to. I wanted to re-harness its' power. I reduced down to one cup of coffee two weeks prior to the start and made it to zero cups the final 4 days. (This had some work performance fluctuations - just ask Farren). I may have been in a bigger fog during my caffeine detox than post 62 hours of no sleep!


I can’t say enough about the crew that helped me along the way. Brent D. was my primary guy from the crucial evening of day 2 onwards with Zoe M. assisting. They were keeping me fed, performing skin transitions, and even getting me into and out of my bindings towards the end. The Cullenberg’s showed up with food every day which was amazing - that meatball sub hit the spot. The list of names  goes on for support so apologies if I didn’t mention you by name.  Having a good crew is absolutely crucial towards putting up big lap counts.

The Event

The first twenty four hours is a hurry up and wait scenario. It is all about staying well within your fitness limits, eating adequate calories, drinking fluids, and taking care of the feet in prep for the hours/days to come. You can’t win LSS during this time, but you can definitely lose it. Now knowing how things would unfold, it was funny to have sat next to Dan in the tent in between laps from the start. We have known each other through local skimo races and took our first 20+ laps together at just under 40 mins round trip, a lap time he would hold for 4 days.

There will inevitably be some bad laps and I had three distinct moments that stand out. The first came 30+ hours in when I hit a full bonk half way up the course. I was zonked and lethargic by the top. I skied down and inhaled as much sugar as I could and would carry some pocket candy from here on out - in case of emergency. The energy levels came back up to normal and the laps continued.  

The second hurdle was “the pickle lap” where the hip flexor and quad on my left leg started to get that sticky, tense feeling, as if a cramp was imminent. If the leg started to really lock up I would be done for, so I ate nearly a whole pickle to reduce the tone and tried some stretching in the tent. I swear the pickle is what did the trick and I earned more laps.

The third wall was the beginning of hallucinations, in which I had one VERY fuzzy lap late into the second night. The goal was to go the first night sans the secret sauce but now was the time for caffeine to enter the fold. I had two cups of coffee spread out between 1am and 4 am and it felt amazing. My mental clarity returned, I got that needed jolt of energy, and the head fog dissipated.  The caffeine strategy was working exceptionally well. 

The Finale

Ben Eck was the third-to-last skier standing, with 55 completed laps - citing significant knee pain causing his dropout. He is a previous winner and is always in contention to go the distance. It was a surprise to suddenly be in the final two - and only at this moment did I realize I may be able to take this thing to the end. 

Dan had continued to keep a constant lap pace of under 40 mins that was downright impressive and a testament to his own strength this late in the game. His nearly 20 mins of rest time between each lap was banking him some shut eye. I had fallen into my own pace around 43/44 mins and knew this was where I needed to stay in order to keep myself in the effort. At this point, everything was becoming really cranky - feet, legs, general fatigue, and building in intensity. 

What started 20 hours prior as discomfort was slowly maturing into straight pain.  The feet were the primary areas, especially on the outer edges. I wanted to chop off my pinky toes on either foot and I dreamed about having a full size up in boots to accommodate the swelling. My right knee was really starting to ache right over the patellar tendon. I was concerned this could be an irritation that could last long after the event…I did not want to come out of this completely hobbled and ruin the rest/ best part of the ski season or have it bleed into my summer running objectives. 

Dropping @ 62 laps/hours

I had another serious lap of hallucinations around lap 56-58 ish. There were rabbits running across the trail, TV crews on scaffolding in the woods, and generally I was unable to focus my eyes on the trail ahead. I think I said out loud multiple times “come on get your head clear, get to the top” with a head shake, hoping to shake the mental fog. Oddly enough, the descents were crystal clear and I could ski without concern - which was a good thing. 

I had a can of Monster after that lap in hopes to kickstart the clarity. This helped for a moment. Dan was definitely the fresher of the two of us and his quick lap consistency continued to impress. I was definitely on a faster downward trajectory at this point.  It came down to how much hurt I wanted to continue pushing through and if I truly  thought I could break him. I was going to call it at 61 but ended up going for one more. 

I felt completely satisfied with the effort and knew this may be the only opportunity to win such a grueling event. This was on my mind the last two laps and I had no regrets when I ended up pulling the plug. I went out there with the intent to give it my best effort and I felt I had accomplished that goal. The point of the event is to be the last skier standing and I believed Dan would always have one more lap in the tank in comparison to me. 

I called it at 62 laps having skied 186 miles and ascending just over 70,000 feet. I joined Dan for the first section of his 63rd lap before stepping off course and letting him go on to claim Last Skier Standing. I have no regrets, we both went farther in distance and climbed more in elevation than previous iterations of the event. We were just shy of the all-time total lap count of 65 laps/ hours set by last year’s winner Brody Leven (This year's course was at a different location, hence the stat mismatch). 


I slept that night on the floor in the nordic waxing building at Black Mountain. I was pleasantly surprised to not feel like death the next morning. My knee had some residual ache and the joints were creaky but I could walk okay. Both feet looked like hot dogs and each toe was its' own swollen cocktail hot dog. I immediately started lathering them up with lotion and wore compression socks 24/7 for three days straight. My entire pinky toes on both feet were giant blisters and I had a nice blueberry looking blister between my big toes. I kept the feet out of shoes and wore recovery slides. 

I got in a normatec compression boot session Monday night at Steady State and probably accumulated a few hours in them by the end of the week. My leg muscles never got sore, which I found interesting. I think ski touring is a relatively low impact movement and I had good baseline fitness to carry me through. 

I felt well enough to do a light run on Wednesday and followed that up with a run Thursday and Friday. I prioritized eating lots and lots of good things in the initial week and sleeping. Sleep was a priority. I was supposed to have a meeting Tuesday afternoon with Kelton but fell asleep face down on the treatment table for a good 40 minutes. I put the ski boots back on the following weekend for some skinning laps without any complaints from the feet or leg muscles.

At two weeks removed, I feel near back to normal but won’t do anything extremely strenuous for another week just out of caution. Sleep length and quality is back to normal and I have had no recurrence of the patellar tendon pain. 

I have a few potential tweaks to be made so who knows, maybe LSS 2024 is the year.