In 10 days time, at midnight, the 40 mile Grand Traverse race will begin at Crested Butte in the Elk Mountains, Colorado. Over the 8-16 hours it takes to complete the course, skiers will climb more than 7,800’ to the finish line at the base of Aspen Mountain.
An unsupported backcountry ski race, the route starts at 9,000 feet and takes competitors over two mountain passes. All participants must be prepared for a 24 hour bivouac, and no solo athletes are allowed to compete for safety reasons.
In fact, safety is integral to the planning of the race: from the midnight start (to ensure that racers reach the high point – Star Pass, 12,303 feet – before the heat of the day increases the risk of avalanche) to the route which is decided on race day to allow last minute assessment of snow conditions, weather and other safety concerns.
The best time for this grueling ski race was set by Bryan Wickenhauser and Brian Smith in 2010, when they recorded a time of six hours, 28 minutes and 16 seconds, and the same pair won again in 2012 with a time of seven hours 32 minutes and 23 seconds. Of course, the changing route and conditions each year makes comparing times difficult, and previous years have sometimes taken the eventual winners as long as nine hours.
Take a look at the video below to see the kind of thing athletes can expect when the race begins in 10 days time. Wish you were there? Let us know in the comments.