Monarch, Mt. – Race the Divide Race Report 2/28/09
By Bryan Wickenhauser
The week leading up to Saturday’s race at Monarch ski resort started with warm snow and rain (yes rain in Gunnison, CO in February!) basically ruining our prized Winter snow for the rest of the week. Midweek dawn patrol missions were put on hold with this weather and rumors of road bikes were being whispered amongst the community. The saving grace for rando racing was that the Crested Butte Town Rando Series was starting on Thursday (2/28) and offered a refreshing and fun “locals series” ….along with Saturday’s Monarch race.
The CB Town Rando race went off really well, with a surprisingly great course Thursday evening! Travis Scheefer won it over rando legend Ethan Passant. In the woman’s race it was Carol Quinn winning it over Sarah Gillis.
On to the main event….
With clear sunny skies and a cold start to the inaugural Monarch event, 53 racers headed to the top of Merkwood Bowl reaching the 1162 ft climb in under 20 mins. (to give you an idea of what the average person does to get here…they take a chair lift for 12 mins then hike up a cat road 10-15 minutes to make the final 300 vertical foot climb (1200 linear feet) to the edge of Merkwood.
Something must be in the Gunnison Valley water, as Brian Smith (Goode) was once again the first to the top, followed by series organizer Pete Swenson (Breckenridge), Travis Scheefer, Jon Brown (Goode) and Bryan Wickenhauser (Goode).
Skins were ripped in windy conditions each time we topped out above tree line at 11,952ft on the Continental Divide. From there it was a series of quick descents down and back up North facing slopes. Some were with in the resort boundary and others were on the famed Monarch Snowcat Tours terrain. Thank goodness for the cold night time temperatures Friday night, as it helped to lock up the snow pack and make it quite fun skiing/skinning. It really had a good backcountry feel to the race, as there was never a chair lift in sight except for the Start/Finish.
Due to the shorter descent/climbs, transition skills were paramount. In total there were 4 descents and 4 climbs, with each descent/climb about 600-700 ft. Brian Smith’s lead was chipped away at by Pete Swenson throughout the race, while the battle for 3rd between Wick, and Travis Scheefer played out in front of Jon Brown. At the top of the final climb, Brian Smith had a 20+ second lead over Pete Swenson, with the descent down Merkwood Bowl and a cat road to the finish line all that was left. Brian, unfortunately double ejected in his speedy attempt to get down, allowing Pete Swenson to take first ….with a dejected Brian Smith following up in 2nd. The race for 3rd has a similar fate with Wick entering Merkwood Bowl first over Travis, but by the time the flat cat road came into play it was a game of cat and mouse with Travis edging out Wick at the finish line for 3rd, followed by Jon Brown rounding out the top five. The winning time for the men was just over an hour and 4 minutes with +/- 2800 ft of climbing & descending
In the woman’s race it was Monique Merrill leading it from start to finish, followed by Janelle Smiley winning the “CB local women’s crown”, and Gretchen Reeves (Goode) placing 3rd and Jari Kirkland (Goode) and Sarah Gillis battling out for 4th & 5th respectively.
Next COSMIC stop is Loveland tomorrow…more racing on the Continental Divide!