Charging With the Dorais Brothers

If you have been skiing the Wasatch much over the last few years you’ve probably seen them:  a couple of tall, lean lads of Asian descent on fairly light gear chattering away as they politely go past you up the skin track…..really, really fast.   Andy and Jason Dorais (pronounced “Doe-ray”) have been skiing for less than a decade, but in that short time their speed, creativity, and enthusiasm on skis has already become the stuff of legend.    

The Dorais brothers grew up in that famous skiing mecca of Bloomington, Indiana.  Born to a Korean mother and American father a year and a half apart, they were mostly runners, and after high school they both went to BYU, which has had a long history of producing great endurance athletes. Jason got a partial scholarship to run the 800 meters and cross country and Andy walked on as quarter-miler (an acutely painful sprint), and they had moderate success; Jason was an All-American as member of a speedy distance medley relay team andAndy made the traveling squad on their very competitive team.  

While at BYU a friend asked if they wanted to go rock climbing. Since their dad had climbed the Grand Teton in the ‘70’s they had always had romantic visions of climbing mountains themselves but had always lived in the wrong state, so they were quick to take their friend up on his offer.  With the intensity that they have applied to everything in their lives, after that initial outing the Brothers Dorais starting climbing like mad (literally every day) and spending all of their student loan money on cams and gas, with a goal to do as many of the “easy” (ie relatively accessible with a beater college car) 50 Classics as possible, which initiated their love of mountains and adventure.  

However, somehow they both ended up back in the Midwest for their respective medical schools.  But they made the most of it, with plenty of road trips to Midwestern crags like the Red River Gorge in Kentucky, and…..Utah. It was a 22-hour drive to Salt Lake, and they had no problem doing that drive if it meant getting in more adventures, which at that point also had begun to include resort skiing at Alta and Snowbird.  After Andy transferred to the University of Utah with his wife Jessie (whom Andy met at BYU, where she was an All-American cross country and track athlete:  â€œby far the most naturally-talented Dorais” as Andy calls her) Jason was making the drive by himself and ultimately finagled a final med school rotation in Utah.  Both Andy and Jason got their residencies at the U of U, and with the team back together in the West again, it was only a matter of time before they were charging hard in the mountains again. 

Like a lot of people, Andy was starting to get bored with the resorts and was intrigued by the local obvious backcountry nearby.  Andy had met Utah native Sam Inyoue in med school and one evening Sam took Andy out near Neffs canyon for his first tour.  Andy took a beating slipping his way up the skin track and then equally flailed most of the descent, but in the waning rays of a beautiful sunset he linked six memorable untracked turns in the midwinter powder and was hooked.  

Some time later Sam invited Andy to join him, his speedy brother Jared, and local mountain bike racer-legend Bart Gillespie to do a big outing: Box Elder to Little Cottonwood to Mill Creek.   Andy gamely showed up on his heavy Black Diamond Kilowatts and big Scarpa AT boots figuring hey, he was an endurance athlete and at that point he could hang with most anybody on the skin track.  However, not only was he going out with really fast guys, those two had already begun to tap into the world of skimo racing and were sporting that gear, and literally within a mile of the trailhead Andy realized he was going to be hopelessly off the back and watched them disappear up the trail, a view of which he was not accustomed to seeing.  By the time he reached the summit of Box Elder he was able to look across the valley to see Bart and Jared already nearing the top of the Pfeiff after summiting/skiing Box Elder! Andy limped back down to the car, and it was a lesson he would not forget. Once again he started shoveling money carefully allocated for medical education towards his recreation, purchasing the gear that would enable him to keep up with his speedy new friends. 

With both brothers in town, like-minded friends, light gear, and – as in climbing – a vast array of “tick list” objectives to go after, the Dorais’ started charging hard.  Even though their running history was that of short, fast races, they easily transitioned to the longer endurance in the mountains, and as their ragged Midwestern-trained skiing began to improve, word of their shenanigans began to spread:  a one-day traverse of the Oquirrhs, a 5:17 round trip ski ascent/descent of the Grand Teton (with Jared Inyoue), a dawn-to-dark peak-bag traverse of the La Sals, etc.  In the meantime, the Powder Keg skimo race had been happening for a few years at Alta/Brighton, and to start off the 2010 ski season with some fitness they suggested a Thanksgiving day “race” among friends to the top of Snowbird (which, Andy proudly points out, was not all that long after his Box Elder debacle, and he won!).  The following Thanksgiving they did the same thing at Brighton (with the winner getting a pumpkin pie), and with other races began popping up around the West they wanted more race training opportunities, so they started a text thread inviting people to come up to Brighton on Tuesday nights to charge up skin tracks and hurtle down the ungroomed, wooded runs in the dark by headlamp. The winners (or those with the heaviest gear, or the youngest, or the oldest, or the newbies) still got a pumpkin pie. In light of their enthusiasm, the concept caught on, and now the weekly skimo races – sponsored by and Voile – attract well over a hundred racers, making them second only to the Powder Keg as the most popular skimo races in North America.  According’s Eric Bunce: â€œFor the past decade the Dorais brothers have been pushing the standards of ski mountaineering, and along the way they have shepherded in a new era of skimo race techniques into the backcountry.”

It was during this time that Jason found (barely) enough time between his residency commitments, Wasatch skiing and racing, and road trips to ski and climbing destinations around the West to connect with Amanda Catano.  Petite and game, with a shy but radiant smile, she was a good stabilizing force for Jason’s frenzied life.  Their world was rocked, however, when not long after they started dating Amanda was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.  In typical Dorais grab-life-by-the-balls fashion, Jason immediately asked her to marry him, and they embarked on another endurance event together; this one for her life.  Despite a dire prognosis – and as an ER doc Jason was acutely aware of the savageness of disease and the frailty of life – Amanda not only lived, but lived well for years in their Big Cottonwood Canyon cabin until she gently succumbed in the winter of 2017.  

In 2013 both brothers qualified for the world skimo championships in France: Jason as an individual and Andy as an alternate.  In a strange quirk of fate, Amanda wasn’t doing well at that time and Jason decided to forego his spot, which Andy was then able to take.  It was an eye-opening experience: skimo is a niche sport deep within a niche sport in the US, but in Europe it’s the wintertime equivalent of bicycle racing.  There are thousands of competitors – some of whom are legitimate professional skimo racers – and the big events draw tens of thousands of spectators.  With Jason and Andy as anchors (along with Salt Lake local aerobic fiend Tom Goth and a strong Colorado contingent), the US has steadily improved their position on the world skimo stage, such as it is.  This past winterJason teamed up with former pro bike racer Rory Kelly to get 12thin the pairs race at the worlds in Verbier. 

While the brothers Dorais definitely take the lessons learned from the BYU track program to heart and when it comes time to race they do “train,” their main passion is still charging around mountains doing random objectives as fast as possible.   One example of this came in 2016 when they decided to throw down a Fastest Known Time (FKT) on Mount Rainier.  After a typically-fast drive out to Washington and a leisurely morning they put their skins onto their race skis at Paradise lodge, started their watches, and quickly strode up the Muir Snowfield, past Camp Muir and around to the final ascent to the summit, where they were blowing past the startled mountaineers rest-stepping their way slowly upward.  At the top there was no arms-overhead celebration selfies; just a sub-1 minute transition before launching into the quad-quivering 9000 foot descent. They hit the parking lot in 3:57 for the first sub-4 round trip on Rainier.   

Inspired by the brothers’ effort a couple of Canadian national team skimo guys came a while later and took the record down to 3:53.  Undeterred, Jason returned this past spring with the indomitable Tom Goth and they pretty much put the record away (‘til the Euros come?) and did Rainier car-to-car in a jaw dropping 3:24.  A year after the Muir route ski blast the brothers put their old climbing prowess to a speed test and blew away a recent FKT ascent/descent by world class climbers of the iconic Liberty Ridge route on Rainier by two hours, clocking an astounding 7:07 car to car.  Not long after that, on a quick spring vacation to the Oregon coast, Jason and Amanda happened to find themselves at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood with skis in the truck and as Amanda took a nap, Jason went to the summit of Hood and back in 1:44; when he returned Amanda rolled over and said “I thought you were going to climb the mountain?” Jason: “I just did!”

As Andy puts it: “no one cares!” about FKT’s, but they have had a great time doing these incredible adventures together using the special bond that they have not only as brothers, but as longtime mountain partners.    As their buddy Tom Goth puts it:  â€œThey have a very productive dynamic between them. They are supportive of each other with just enough ribbing to stay sharp. For me that’s worked out well and we’ve had some great days in the mountains together.”

It doesn’t snow year-round here in Utah, however, and both Jason and Andy have put their considerable talents and efforts into summer enduro exploits as well.  Jason has pretty much every FKT on the Wasatch Front peaks, from Mt Wire to Grandeur, Olympus, Twins, Pfeifferhorn, Lone Peak, and points in between.  A stress fracture in Andy’s sacrum a few springs ago kept him off his feet but he was able to ride a bike, and despite never having ridden much he quickly spent too much money into a fleet of bikes and almost immediately became one of the fastest cyclists in the state.  He was even knocking around with the pros at the Crusher in the Tushar and broke a 20 year old FKT on the White Rim trail, doing the bouncy 100 mile loop in just under 6 hours.  These brothers are so tight that Jason also sustained an injury around that time that kept him unable to run downhill, so to keep going into the mountains he learned to fly paragliders and speed wings.  Andy of course followed suit, and now many of their summer – and winter – days are spent carrying packs full of nylon and cord to fly off their many summits.  

As gregarious as they are tough, it’s always a pleasure to see the Flying Dorais Brothers out in the mountains.  Though they have racked up innumerable accomplishments, they don’t take themselves too seriously, are always quick to invite folks along (if you’re feeling up to it), and are as interested in you as you are in their recent exploits.  Usually they are both hustling to get to their demanding ER doc jobs and – in Andy’s case – sharing the herding (with his doc-wife) of a couple of energetic young boys (Lars and Teague, named after two of the brother’s best pards) to get in a lot of creative outings.   And in an era of social media where backcountry secrets are treasured and Jason and Andy are as aware of the ever-growing crowds in the Wasatch as anyone, it’s hard to be annoyed by their amazing posts of videos (Andy) and stills (Jason) because they are simply so excited about the opportunities they are creating for themselves and their lucky ski partners. 

So if you’re on a skin track this winter and feel like you’re going along at a pretty good clip and two strapping lads chatting away appear very suddenly on your tails, go ahead and let them on by to charge ahead and start breaking trail.  You still won’t be able to keep up, but you’ll have had a glimpse of a couple of the most inspiring mountain adventurers of a generation doing what they do best.  

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