If your bucket list isn’t long enough yet be sure to add the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse right near the top!
The Grand Traverse begins at the stroke of midnight. About 187 teams showed up to suffer the 40 mile course.
The Grand Traverse means business.
The Grand Traverse Reverse on the other hand was described by many, including Dynafit’s CEO Benedikt “Beni” Böhm as “easily the hardest race of my life.” That says a lot for a man who pilots one of the biggest backcountry ski brands in the world, a past member of the German National Ski Mountaineering Team, and is world renowned for his speed records up eight thousand meter peaks. (Note for newcomers to the world of long distance Colorado ski racing: Grand Traverse is a gnarly mega-slog that pushes over the mountains from Crested Butte about 40 miles to Aspen. With too much avalanche danger, they change the route as they did this year to the “Reverse,” a series of loops and transitions that stay out of slide danger, starting and finishing at Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR). The trick with both race courses is while they involve plenty of climbing, they tend to present more horizontal travel than most skimo races. Thus, how you skate and use your climbing skins for relatively level ground are key to how you perform — and also make the racing extra exhausting.)
J Marshall Thompson, last year's winner, and Beni paired up for the race. Keep in mind both had never skied together before the impending start.
Teams of two, almost four hundred competitors, filtered through Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s Grand Ballroom from Thursday evening to Friday morning for mandatory gear checks. This race is unlike other rando races throughout North America in that 95% of race terrain is in the backcountry, thus skiers must be self sufficient to survive if things go awry.
Gossip and hearsay were whirling around the ballroom about conditions on Star Pass as competitors were treated to a afternoon feast of unlimited pasta, bread, and dinner plate cookies. Some said it was still a go, others said 50-50, and then as more and more filtered in the ballroom for the mandatory pre-race meeting, the resounding feeling was “REVERSE.” With two feet of fresh snow over mountain passes, wind loading on slopes, and an official raised avalanche danger rating of “considerable” the room was spinning with rumors.
Bryan Wickenhauser, co-race director, set the meeting in motion with a swift throw of CAMP’s godzilla sized cow bell, easily silencing the chatter. Expressing thanks to all who made the journey, and ultimately unfolding to all where they were headed come the stroke of midnight.
Meaning in the 17th year of the Grand Traverse this would be the third time competitors would make they’re way around the Friends Hut and return to Crested Butte instead of making a mid-day arrival in Aspen.
Outlining the course re-route and estimated completion time of 6 hours, Wick ensured athletes this course would be just as long, 40 miles, and even more vertical gain, 8,000+ feet, and that they would surely suffer on their return to CBMR.
After the news teams made their necessary mental changes, they left their sable fur scarves in the back of their dirty Tacoma’s, tried to get some pre-race shut eye, and wolfed down whatever carbohydrate-laden food they could find at the sole supermarket in Crested Butte.
The halls of the ballroom were pulsating with coffee, energy drinks, and last minute beacon checks.
Final gear check by power couple Ted and Christy Mahon. This will be their 13th Grand Traverse.
Other teams lounged and worked on their picture perfect finish line pose.
Proper stretching for 40 mile rando races is crucial. Wigs not so much.
Certain teams' techniques of drinking Coca Cola, eating copious amounts of Pringles, and raiding your toddler's candy stash seemed to increase the energy in the room.
Last minute decisions of headlamp color at the start. Red to preserve night vision or deer-in-a-headlight bright to awaken the night.
Volunteers at several checkpoints awaited racers throughout the night. With temperatures well below zero, snow pit bonfires warmed competitors who could push no farther.
Sunrise began over the Friends Hut with very few teams in sight. It was clear the race was going to be longer then the expected six hours at this point.
Faithful resort uphillers marched up Crested Butte on the brink of a gorgeous Saturday morning in anticipation of viewing the winning team.
Team Smith and Wickenhauser crested Homeowner Hill en route to their final decent into Crested Butte. They finished in a winning time of 7 hours 53 minutes.
Volunteers shook the cold away with Neil Diamond strumming along behind them. Easily waking up the entire resort from its slumber.
J Marshall Thompson and Beni were just six minutes behind the leaders.
Perfect corduroy, free flowing rum, breakfast sandwiches, and hugs from family members awaited finishers.
Pat Oneil and Olympian Rebecca Dussault finished fourth overall. First in the co-ed division.
Every finisher was greeted by Glo with a medal and a big kiss.
17 Grand Traverses and 17 finishes. Alan Hadley is a machine not man.
Father-son team Murray and Jeff Banks finished just over 10 hours. At 66 years old Murray, the oldest competitor, can still kick it with his IFMGA/UIAGM mountain guide son. Good enough for 21st place.
Team Dyna95 with Team Christy and Ted Gone Skiing were all smiles after the Reverse.
Western State College was represented well by four members from their new Endurance Ski Team. Matt Clark and Nick Schly were ecstatic on their finish.
14th place finishers or 1st in the heavy metal division, Sakson and Krimstock don't stray far from their roots. Leather boots and three pins on a setup four times as heavy as the top 50 competitors.
Smith and snow safety director of CBMR 'H' shared in the finish line revelry.
Without the unbelievable voice and muttonchops of announcer David Ochs or OX the Grand Traverse Reverse wouldn't have been much to talk about. Co-race director Andrew Arell kept the event running smoothly back at CBMR with help of a dozen volunteers.
The top women team of CBMR Bizarre Betties, Kirkland and Kramer, took the top spot with a time of 9:42. Team Jervey O Connell and Davis Poppe rounded out the womens podium.
Team Wick Smith took first place overall on home turf, ever assuring the eliteness of the Crested Butte Skimo Mafia. Marshall and Beni from Dynafit finished just minutes behind them with Brown and Laird placing third respectively.
Without question the most excited finisher to be back in Crested Butte was Mayor Aaron 'Huck' Huckstep. Pictured here with his favorite recovery drink, and Benedikt Böhm who told us he was 'amazed at the hospitality of folks in Crested Butte'.
Additionally this race may have been a nordic race 17 years ago but make no mistake, if you aren’t on tech bindings and light race style skis you’re going to suffer. So pick up some from our friends at Backcountry and start training for next year!
For full results of the Grand Traverse see here: Official Results