Ask any siblings about growing up together, and the stories will flow: from rivalries to clothing fights to all-out charley horse battles. Hailing from Canada, sister ski racers Caroline and Sarah Tory dispel those myths of hellion siblings. Both women moved to the valley in search of epic mountains. They both have careers in the world of words. And they compete not against one another, but together, in what has been described as the valley’s most strenuous ski mountaineering race, the Audi Power of Four. It showcases the four peaks of SkiCo, ascending over 10,000 vertical feet while traversing an arduous 24-mile course. The sisters skied into second in the women’s division in 2018 and ‘19, and fourth in 2020.
Ski mountaineering, or “skimo” for short, is backcountry mountaineering on skis designed for the rigors beyond the resort. The allure is high alpine, untrammeled, un-peopled landscapes that few ever get to experience. For Sarah and Caroline, skimo is a natural extension of a lifetime of skiing. They grew up on waxed sticks at a little ski hill their grandfather started north of Toronto. Both parents were big skiers. The girls began ski racing early.
“Being active was a big part of growing up, for which we’re lucky,” Caroline explains.
“Later in our youth, we’d visit the Canadian Rockies to ski or hike. That was our introduction to the mountains,” says Sarah.
“I think it’s pretty unusual to start backcountry skiing in high school,” says Caroline. “Especially for people from Toronto! Our parents had been exposed to that themselves and brought us on a few trips that sparked that love of backcountry skiing for Sarah and me, and contributed to us moving to Colorado.”
Starting technically epic skiing so young was a challenge.
“I remember thinking, ‘Nah,’ like it was Type II Fun at the time,” Caroline says of outings that felt like torture in the moment but were enjoyable in retrospect. “I remember getting excited about it, but also struggling so hard, trying to keep up. It was the hardest thing I had ever done. Being able to share that with your family is pretty amazing.”
Both sisters made it to the Colorado Rockies. With a career at Aspen Words, Caroline lives at the gateway to the Sawatch and Elk Mountains: Aspen. As a correspondent to High Country News, Sarah is based out of Carbondale where she can climb in one direction, or head upvalley to ski. As grown-ups, skimo is a big part of their friendship these days.
“I want to do more adventurous traverses, even within just the Elk Mountains, where there’s so much good skiing. You need to spend more than a day just getting there,” Sarah says. She lists off Mt. Rainier, big peaks in the Canadian Rockies. “More, bigger adventures, really getting out there.”
In 2021, the sisters are hopeful for the Crested Butte to Aspen Grand Traverse, another grueling local skimo event.
“We’d like to finish it this year, to ski across that mountain range. We’ve explored together so much, it would be really cool to ski into Aspen,” says Caroline. “We’ve gotten really hosed on the Grand Traverse. The first time, it reversed back to Crested Butte because of conditions. We were signed up to do it last year, and then Covid happened.”
After three shots at the Power of Four together, Sarah wants another go at it this year. She felt really strong through the first three mountains in 2020, but died on the final climb. Caroline wants to put together better numbers for a stronger, second win at the Triple Crown. She won her first attempt in 2018, completing the skimo race, the mountain bike race version, and a 50K trail run, all within the same year.
“But I don’t know that I got into this for the competitive racing side of things. I was drawn to it because I wanted to be able to move quickly in the mountains—mostly because time is limited!” Caroline chuckles. “Faster, stronger allows for a bigger adventure you can have on your Saturday, or even in the two hours before work.”
When asked what motivates them, both sisters laugh and admit that it’s keeping up with the other, not letting her sister down, and most notably: the sheer synchronicity of doing it together.
“The Power of Four has a really special atmosphere,” says Caroline. “All these mountains I skin up and ski down. Mountain biking through them all summer. Being able to traverse them in a race format as fast as you can on skis— with your sister?— is really fun.”
Sarah interrupts, laughing as she sing-songs, “‘Don’t slow Caroline down too much! It’s not just completing the race for yourself. It definitely adds this extra outlet of psych and motivation to be doing it with my sister. If I were just by myself, I’d slow down, and drink whiskey on top of Highland Bowl!”
Both women erupt into giggles: the skimo sisterhood.