Friday, April 6, 2012

Grand Traverse

Elk Mountain Grand Traverse  
March 29-30 2012

The Grand Traverse is a backcountry ski race from the towns of Crested Butte to Aspen. The course covers 41 miles and about 7,800 of vertical feet of ascent on skis. This year’s event was the 15th annual for this prestigious race.
I had heard about this race, but this was to be my first time. This race was different to me in many ways including a Start time of , 41 miles, 8 hours, team’s race, a section of dirt, and navigating at night.

Gunnison, Colorado

The Start time meant several things. Little sleep for most racers, if any. Racing at night.
A good head-lamp and some warm mittens were high on my list to attain. The race had a mandatory gear list, so each racer had a good size load to carry as well.
I teamed up with Scott Simmons from Durango, Colorado. Scott is a good friend and one of the top skimo racers. I believe we agreed to do this race while we worked together (and skied most mornings) on his roof for 2 weeks last year. Scott has skied well all year and was in peak form. We signed up and met in CB.

Bella and me taking a break from "roofing" with Scott Simmons in Durango, CO last year

As the last light of day faded away over Crested Butte, racers did their final adjustments or tried to sleep/rest. Head-lamps of 150 teams were shimmering, reflecting, and illuminating the Starting Line. An awesome spotlight lit the Guide’s Ridge far above and distant as we waited for the gates to drop. Off we went. Scott and I had good position early and we skied a good race throughout the night and into the morning. Scott was the stronger of the two of us and had also participated in this event once before. Therefore, he would lead and I would follow him and try to keep pace. “Expect the unexpected”, is what I was told by friend and veteran/former winner Grand Traverse racer Bryan Wickenhauser. In a nutshell, he nailed it. This year’s course featured an initial climb on skins, followed by a quick downhill to a river crossing. A make-shift bridge was in place and we tentatively crossed the creek. Scott was 2nd across and I was right behind him. Next, we changed to tennis shoes, which was awkward, and loaded our skis and boots on our packs and took off running into the night’s sagebrush.
This transition scattered racers for a bit. I fell a few times in the breakable snow while jogging and tried not to damage any race gear. Finally, we dawned our skis and skins. We skinned across open sections of dirt to the next sections of snow. We ran with gear in hands in other sections later on the course, due to low snow. The stars lit heavenly above us in the near perfect weather conditions as we in tandem skinned across the mountains. The dancing lights skiing across the backcountry was an amazing sight. After the half way point, we saw few skiers and were mostly on our own with glimpses of lights ahead. It was still dark when we arrived at the last hut and check-point. It was the Bernard hut and aid station and it included a mandatory 10 minute stop. We arrived to find second place only 3 minutes ahead of us. We left the hut and skied the final 7 miles to the top of Aspen Mountain. A spectacular alpen-glow welcomed us to Aspen. We then skied a few thousand feet to the bottom and through the Finish line taking 3rd place. The winning team was Bryan Wickenhauser and Brian Smith of Gunnison, Colorado. Second place was claimed by Pat O’Neil and Marshal Thompson. There were many great performances both men and women.
Scott Simmons, Chris Kroger

The Grand Traverse was a great race through the night. I would like to thank Scott Simmons for teaming up on this race. He put in a super strong performance and was calm and cool the entire race.
Finish in Aspen, CO.
Many great times in Crested Butte and Aspen and thanks to all who helped with generous lodging-hospitality and in attaining gear for this race, including: Bryan Wickenhauser, Janelle/Mark Smiley, Jess (Aspen), Jeff Burke, Reed Finley, and Keith Cozzens.

Family man and Winner (w Brian Smith)
Bryan Wickenhauser in the know in Gunnison, CO.

La Sportiva RSR skis
La Sportiva RSR race skins
Princeton Tec Headlamps: Apex and Byte



1 comment:

  1. Yeah Kid! Next year we WILL have more snow here and all across the West! Get back for the GT & CB!
    Live to SKI!