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 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.)
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.
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
Joseph Risi was raised on pasta and meatballs in the “backwoods” of Long Island before seeking higher education in the mountains of Vermont. Always looking for adventure, building treehouses, working too many odd jobs around the world he now lives in the Aspen area of Colorado.