Each year, Gunnison Valley is made famous by the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse. Generally held in late March, the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse attracts both locals and visitors to watch an epic race from the Crested Butte Mountain Resort to Aspen. Discover the race’s history, why it’s unique, and what to expect in 2015.
How the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse Started
Launched by backcountry skiing enthusiasts in the late 1990s, the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse is the epitome of competitive skiing in Colorado. Attracting hundreds of athletes each year, the race gives back to the local community by donating proceeds to nonprofit organizations. Unlike other backcountry skiing events, the Elk Mountain Traverse starts at midnight and lasts through the following day, with pre-event activities taking place over a two day period.
Requiring much physical and mental endurance to complete, this race is not for the inexperienced. In addition to navigating backcountry territory at night, competitors face a total altitude gain of nearly 8,000 feet and must travel a distance of 40 miles to finish. Although the course can be completed in about 8 hours, it can take twice that long for athletes to reach the finish line if they’re able to complete the race at all.
A Challenging Ski Course
Attempting the race without the proper training and gear is downright dangerous, which is why the event’s management ensures all athletes attend a series of pre-event meetings and are equipped with the correct gear. While the final course map isn’t determined until race day, the typical course is full of challenges for racers. The track proceeds from Crested Butte Mountain Resort through multiple checkpoints before racers finish at the Aspen Mountain Gate.
Battling the Elements
Those daring to compete in this challenging midnight adventure are required to learn the course area, established evacuation routes, and come prepared with the right equipment. In addition to ski apparel designed for backcountry conditions, competitors must have a ski, winter survival, and avalanche rescue system. In preparation for the 40-mile journey, athletes partner with a team member to ensure access to first aid supplies, food and cookware, and navigational tools. Because racers must rely on their partners to finish, teammates are strategically chosen prior to the event.
The Post-Race Celebration
Because technology is changing the way this race is experienced by participants and observers, competitors are now tracked live as they make their way through the backcountry terrain to the finish line. Once the race is complete, the festivities truly begin. As in previous years, live music, food and fun are in store for visitors and competitors at the Aspen Mountain Gate’s Gondola Plaza.
Who Will Win in 2015?
Last year, Brian Wickenhauser took home the award for Overall Champion after successfully completing the grueling 40-mile journey. After this year’s race, 9 total winners will be crowned, three from each main category, before an official awards ceremony and cocktail hour is held nearby.
Are you planning to attend this year’s event? What are your predictions for the quickest finish?
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