SNOWMASS VILLAGE - On Saturday and Sunday, hundreds of cross country skiers will participate in one of Colorado's most famous cross country ski races since 1985: the Owl Creek chase.
Saturday's events feature the 1.4 kilometer SuperTour sprint qualifier at 9am followed by the five and ten kilometer SuperTour Classic at 11 a.m. The next day, the main event, the Owl Creek Chase, will begin at 11 a.m. The SuperTour events are the highest caliber of cross-country skiing according to Austin Weiss, chief of competition for the races.
"The SuperTour series is the highest caliber of event outside of U.S. nationals," Weiss said. "It brings some of the very best skiers in the country to Aspen. It's sort of the second tier of elite athletes who are just off the U.S. team."
The race begins at the Snowmass Cross Country Center, loops around Snowmass Club golf course and connects to the Owl Creek Trail. The finish is at the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club.
"It's one of the few races in Colorado with a point-to-point nature," Weiss said. "Its overwhelming characteristic is that it is a very hard course with a lot of elevation gained and lost. It is one of the harder 20km races in the U.S.
"It climbs a lot out of Snowmass. You climb over what we call the 'Glendale Divide' and it sort of levels off from there. We see the folks who win the race by that second climb up by west Buttermilk have already broken away from the pack."
The race is divided into categories depending on participant's skills in cross-country skiing. There are the men's elite, women's elite and the citizen divisions. The citizen category, which registration is open to anyone, is what Weiss says makes this competition unique.
"We really want to promote the citizen category," Weiss said. "We see tremendous value there because it's an opportunity to race side-by-side with elite athletes. It's kind of a unique opportunity in Colorado."
Those in the citizen category will race in their own age group, from as young as first grade to adult. There will also be a high school race on Saturday, which Weiss thinks will push up registration numbers to around 300 on that say alone.
"I really look at it as a huge marketing opportunity for Nordic skiing in Aspen as a destination for cross country skiing," Weiss said. "We have gained a reputation not only in the cross country skiing community about coming to Aspen for our trail system. The Owl Creek Chase is a great way to show the trails that we have here."
Last year, Vail native Sylvan Ellefson won the men's elite division with a time of 57:03. Maria Graefnings won on the women's side at 1:05:44.