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Late-season skiers pencil in Leadman

It’s not how you start, but how you finish that makes an impression. The 2009-10 ski season started with some of the earliest hill openings in recent memory. But early excitement fizzled during several miserly months of snowfall.

Now, just in time for me to say goodbye, a series of storms has brought forth the best conditions of the year. Spring Breakers really lucked out this week. It’s time for the rest of us to cash in with mountain snow in the forecast today through the weekend.

“This may be one of our last great powder patterns in this lean powder year,” said meteorologist Larry Schick, Ski Washington’s “Grand Pooh-bah of Powder.”

“Get with it. That powder is not going to ski itself.”

For the organizers of the Leadman Triathlon at Silver Mountain Resort, this late powder burst comes at an auspicious time. Unless you like backcountry, the sixth annual Leadman on April 24 is your last chance to slide on snow around here.

“Every year we’re planning up to the last minute on where the course will go, because it’s dependent on the snow line at the end of the month.” said Katey Scholey, Silver’s director of development. “That makes the Leadman event unique. We don’t know what the course will be until the week before.”

Leadman is a triad of skiing, mountain biking and running that starts on the summit of Kellogg Peak and finishes at Silver’s gondola village in Kellogg. Competition is open to individuals and teams.

The first leg is a wild and woolly giant slalom that begins with a Le Mans start. Racers set their skis at the starting line and muster in a pack about 50 yards back. The gun triggers a boot-stomping stampede as the field fights to click in and go.

I ski for the Lead Pencils, the winning team three years running – no thanks to me. My Leadman experience includes being blinded by spray-caked goggles and skiing through flying yard sales unscathed. Last year, tucking among the leaders, someone careened out of nowhere and knocked me off the course.

After surviving the ski leg I savor the last runs of the season while rider Joel Armstrong, a Spokane banker, and runner Chris Morlan, a Spokane architect, take up the slack. For solo competitors, Leadman is much more challenging.

“Its such an equipment-heavy race with skis and bikes, there’s plenty that can go wrong mechanically,” said Stephen Barbieri, a Spokane consultant and men’s solo champion the past four years. “Making sure your gear is in order is a big part of it. There’s a lot of logistics at the exchange zones. You have to make sure your equipment is as prepared as your body.”

For most entrants, Leadman is a lark. But Barbieri said competition has been getting more intense.

“Last year for the first time there was a lot of people at the transition between the bike and the run,” he said. “In years past, I never saw anybody there. This year there will probably be a group on the run competing for the win.”

A February knee injury will keep Barbieri from going after his fifth consecutive title. After a flat tire set her back last year, Joel’s wife, Kristen Armstrong, a two-time women’s solo champion, will try to reclaim her title from Bridget Schwenne of Genessee, Idaho. The Lead Pencils hope to rise to the occasion once again.

To get in on the action, register online at Meantime, get the lead out this weekend and take advantage of winter’s final farewell gift.

Bill Jennings can be reached at