Crested Butte, CO to Aspen, CO
March 28th- March 29th
A vertical foot adding course change, extremely cold weather, and dry powdery snow led to perhaps the hardest Elks Mountains Grand Traverse yet. This extreme backcountry Nordic race, in its 6th year, saw slightly over 1/3rd of the field drop out or not finish. This race starts at the Crested Butte Community School at midnight, climbs over and around Crested Butte Mountain Resort, heads out Brush Creek Road, over Death Pass, to Friends Hut, and over Star Pass. This is where the eight-hour cutoff is strictly enforced. From Star Pass, the race continues through the Taylor Basin and over Taylor pass, which is extraordinarily exposed to the wind and cold. After braving the wind, the race continues over three more incredible climbs and down to Barnard Hut, up and over Richmond Hill, into the Aspen Ski Area Boundary and down to the town of Aspen. Indeed it is an epic 7-20 hour backcountry ski race that tests the strength of all 115 teams allowed to enter. Teams of two are only permitted to enter this race due to its extreme nature, and at no time throughout the race, are pairs allowed to be out of sight from one another. A pack of required gear is a must. Everything from an avalanche beacon to a shovel, to extra clothes, and water. Stoves, probes, gloves, hats, repair kit and first aid kit. These are all required for participation. Thus, a pack, including gear can weigh around 12-20 pounds. It all depends on how smart the packer is.
After seeing an incredible course record last year of 7hrs. 10min being set, this year proved much tougher, but still saw one team close to 8 and _ hours. The course change took the racers up about 1100 vertical feet on Mount Crested Butte, dropped them down and out on the other side of the mountain and then a ski across a ranch to meet back up with the original course on Brush Creek Road. This added some quality vertical footage, and also some interesting down hills to negotiate. The winning team this year was Team Vail: Mike Kloser and Dan Weiland in a time of 8hrs. 32min. 30sec. This victory was sweet revenge from last year when they lost by a mere 26-sec. Jimmy Faust, and Pat O’Neill from Crested Butte took home second place this year almost one hour back. Third went to The Banks Brothers of Crested Butte: Jeff and Steve, 1 hour 20min. back from the victory. Coed victors were Bob and Ruth Wade from Aspen in 11hrs. 41 min and 40 sec. The women’s champion team consisted of Heather Lafferty and Galen Nourjian from Basalt and Aspen with a time of 14hours 8min. 15 sec. My teammate, Jessica Gray and I finished with a major bonk in 15hrs.and 27min. It was certainly an epic day of racing.
There were many teams that performed well. The winning time was still incredibly fast with the new course addition, the snow conditions and the extreme cold. It was an incredible performance. Many teams persevered even though they were off the back. This race is all about having trust and faith in one’s teammate and continuing on through adverse conditions. This adventure certainly tests the bonds of many a team. This year’s event took on a whole new shape with the new course, and the extreme cold. The snow certainly changed things as well. It is no wonder that 40ish teams dropped out, did not finish, or were disqualified. Many teams could not brave the elements together and quit due to the weather. Still other teams did not make it to the cut off at Star Pass before 8:00am and were turned around and sent back down to Crested Butte. Yet more teams got so fed up with each other in the cold darkness of the middle of the night that one member “dropped the other” and the team was disqualified for being out of sight of each other. However, for those teams that stayed together and helped and pushed each other, it was a great reward to cross that finish line in Aspen. These 63 pairs that chose to persevere and finish together will forever know that they were “survivors” of the toughest Grand Traverse to date. Way to go to all that entered and I look forward to seeing all of you again next year for the 7th annual Grand Traverse. Keep training and get after it.
Complete results, incredible pictures, race rules, and a comprehensive account of what this race is truly all about can be found on the official race website: <www.elkmountainstraverse.org. Go to this site, check it out and decide to test yourselves at a new level.