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Ott, Geankoplis win Big Mountain Enduro titles at finale in Snowmass

The Big Mountain Enduro Aspen Snowmass races, and final BME competitions of the season, concluded Sunday after two days of racing in Snowmass and Aspen.

“Let’s give a big round of applause to all of the racers,” a BME announcer said at the awards ceremony from Snowmass Base Village. “I love this series. It’s such a great community to be a part of.”

Starting with the winners of the weekend races and ending with the overall champions of the summer-long BME series, which consists of five races across the western U.S., dozens of athletes stepped up to the podium Sunday evening to be recognized.

Each BME race features courses with timed downhill stages coupled with non-timed traverses between the stages. The descent times are added up for an overall time and score for the series.

Some of this year’s standouts included Roaring Fork Valley locals Erik Obermeyer, winner of the weekend BME race in the amateur men’s 21 to 39 division, and Megan Cerise, the weekend winner in the amateur women’s 21 to 39 division.

Both amateurs won all six stages of the weekend, which included riding on the Valhalla, Animal Crackers and Sam’s Knobs trails on Saturday, along with the Powerline, Aspen Mountain and Banzai trails on Sunday.

At the pro level for both the weekend and overall enduro series, many of the same racers took to the podium, including Cooper Ott, 27, of Gunnison.

After being showered with champagne from her teammates and competitors, Ott acknowledged it was a privilege to take part in such tight racing.

“It was a great weekend and this definitely wasn’t handed to me,” Ott said. “It was hard work.”

Ott, who also won the overall women’s pro title last season with a finish in Snowmass, won three of the five BME races this summer. She finished with 1,550 points to hold off runner-up Lia Westermann (1,420) and third-place finisher Stefanie McDaniel (1,340) for the season’s crown.

Ott and Westermann also went 1-2 in the Snowmass stop, with each woman winning exactly half the stages. Ott took the Snowmass win by less than a second, while Antonia Wurth was third.

Ott explained that she didn’t “seal the deal” her first day of racing, putting the pressure on her second-half performance. Westermann won two of the three stages on Sunday.

A big wreck Sunday during Stage 5 on Aspen Mountain made Ott rethink taking on the final stage of the race, but she came back to win both the weekend and the overall BME series.

“Going downhill is just as hard as going up,” Ott said, laughing. “It was super fun to hit the descents in my sister hometown.”

California’s Evan Geankoplis held on to win the overall BME title for the pro men despite not competing this weekend. His 1,260 points held off season runner-up Carson Lange (1,200) and third-place finisher Scott Countryman (1,110).

Lange, of Texas, won the pro men’s race in Snowmass. David Camp was second and Shane Leslie was third.

Complete results from the Snowmass race can be found here.

mvincent@aspentimes.com

Herman repeats as Power of Four mountain bike champ on new Snowmass course

The debate likely will rage on for some time.

Since its inception nearly a decade ago, the Audi Power of Four mountain bike race was a grueling climb and descent of the four local ski mountains. But this summer, with the creation of the new Snowmass Bike Festival, the latest edition of the Aspen Skiing Co.-produced race stuck to the single track in Snowmass.

So, which course is better? Guess it depends on who you ask and how much they enjoy suffering.

“Some people just love to suffer. I like fun more,” joked Aspen’s Ryan Koster, a local radio show host on KSPN who competed in Saturday’s 25-mile race, taking eighth. “You’d have to come up with maybe a different name, but the name doesn’t matter. It was super fun, so hopefully we can build on it. It would be good for the community … it was just a good vibe.”

The new course was essentially a 25-mile loop (Skico officially went with 26.5 miles after the fact) of mostly single track in Snowmass. The main race required doing that loop twice, equaling roughly 53 miles and just under 9,000 vertical feet of climbing. On top of the one- and two-loop solo options, there was a two-loop team race for pairs.

The previous course included some long road slogs up Aspen Highlands and Aspen Mountain, while the new Snowmass course had less of that and more consistent up and down. Some, like Koster, were perfectly fine without the long climbs — he had never raced on the previous course for that reason — while some of the high-end 50-mile athletes seemed to miss that sort of suffering.

“I’m a purist in that it’s the Power of Four, and this is more of a loop around Snowmass, which I think has its place as a race,” said Aspen’s Jessie Young. “But I think there are some fun challenges on the regular Power of Four course.”

Young was the top female finisher in Saturday’s 50-mile race, coming in 15th overall with a time of 5 hours, 53 minutes, 49.4 seconds. Aspen’s Caroline Tory was second among women in 6:18:58.4 and Silverthorne’s Jill Seager was third in 6:42:30.6.

By comparison, last year’s female Power of Four race winner, Marlee Dixon of Fairplay, had a time of 4:39:53, so the new Snowmass course was hardly an easy affair.

“I really liked it. I don’t know if I liked last year’s or this year’s better. I think this year’s was harder,” said Lakewood’s Thomas Herman. “For me, I think the long, painful road climbs are better. This one had it broken up. This one was still a ton of fun, but if I had to pick, I think I would say go back to last year’s.”

Herman won Saturday’s Snowmass-only Power of Four 50-mile race in 4:52:41.4, the only racer to finish within five hours. The Groove Subaru-sponsored rider who works for Boa Technology — they make the unique closure systems readily found on snowboard and biking boots these days — also won the 2018 Power of Four, then with a time of 3:48:11.01.

Runner-up on Saturday was Gunnison’s Cam Smith, who had a time of 5:00:29, while Aspen’s Aaron Pool, who led most of the 50-mile race early on, was third in 5:01:12.5. Carbondale’s Levi Gavette was fourth (5:07:45.6) and Aspen’s Max Taam was fifth (5:10:26.3).

This was Smith’s first Power of Four mountain bike race, so he couldn’t compare the old course to the new, but he liked what he found on the Snowmass course.

“It was all new to me anyway. It seems this was a more fun-to-ride course,” Smith said. “This one is definitely more showing off the things Snowmass is good at.”

Longmont’s Cesar Grajales won Saturday’s 25-mile race in 2:53:05, with Eagle’s Scott McCorvey taking second (2:53:11.5) and Aspen’s Thomas Hayles taking third (2:58:38.8). Rachel Beck of Woody Creek was the top female finisher, taking seventh overall in 3:04:28.3. Second among women in the 25-mile race was Carbondale’s Anne Gonzales (3:13:51.6) and third was Lindsay Jones, also of Carbondale, in 3:37:55.3.

Only two pairs competed in the 50-mile team race, with the Aspen husband-wife duo of Greg and Tess Strokes winning in 5:52:21.9. Greg Strokes, 46, recently won his age division at the USA Cycling Mountain Bike Nationals in Winter Park.

Taking second was Boulder’s Rea Kolbl and Trever Townsend in 6:47:27.4. Kolbl is an elite Spartan athlete who also won the Power of Four 50-kilometer trail run back in July.

Complete race results can be found here.

AN EPIC WIN FOR HERMAN

Winning back-to-back Power of Four titles is impressive enough. But Herman made it even more ridiculous by having just finished the six-day Breck Epic stage race, which concluded Friday. He finished 22nd in the UCI Elite Men division.

While his body was “not great” after six straight days of racing, Herman said the routine of race and recovery actually helped him out in what essentially became Stage 7 on Saturday in Snowmass.

“This I had such a good time at last year and love the Aspen area. So I don’t know, I had the weekend off and figured why not drive here and try and repeat?” Herman said. “Getting into that routine, this is the seventh day of that routine and it’s been helpful for me. I was very careful not to crack myself out there.”

He made it clear he won’t be racing again on Sunday.

“Stage 8 is going to be a massage and a lot of sleep,” Herman said with a laugh.

TRIPLE CROWN WINNERS

Saturday’s race concluded the three-part Power of Four Triple Crown, which awards competitors who competed in all three races: the winter’s ski mountaineering race, the trail run and the mountain bike race. Smith won the men’s Triple Crown with a collective time of 15:42:11, while Taam finished second. Young won the women’s Triple Crown in 19:08:58, followed by Seager and Kolbl.

Smith said his next goal is to win the Grand Traverse Triple Crown, which he’ll have a shot at Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, when the popular race from Crested Butte to Aspen (and back again) takes place. Smith won the skimo race back in March.

“I like staying local with the races I do,” said Smith, who is a member of the U.S. ski mountaineering team. “We have so many cool things going on here in the Elk Mountains, whether it’s CB or Aspen, I don’t want to leave if I don’t have to. So I kind of sat down and figured I’d do the Power of Four Triple Crown and the GT Triple Crown, and call it the double-triple.”

SNOWMASS STAYING EXCLUSIVE?

Whether future renditions of the Power of Four mountain bike race remain exclusively in Snowmass isn’t known. Prior to the race, Deric Gunshor, Skico’s director of event development, said they wanted to see how things played out and get feedback before making any decisions on next year.

Also new this year was the fact that the trail run and mountain bike races weren’t held on back-to-back days. Gunshor said some of this was just logistics, with the trail run fitting into the Skyrunner Series schedule best in July and a later date for the mountain bike race fitting into the bike festival weekend at Snowmass, which includes the Big Mountain Enduro finals, which wrap up Sunday.

“We’ll just kind of take it year by year,” Gunshor said. “When we do something new like this, we like to see how it works, how it works in the community. We work pretty closely with Snowmass Tourism on programming that summer calendar. So we really just want to be able to see what works for everyone and get some feedback on it.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Power of Four mountain bike race returns Saturday with new Snowmass-only course

The Audi Power of Four mountain bike race makes its annual return Saturday, although it comes with some noticeable changes. At the top of that list is the realization that this year’s course only includes Snowmass, opposed to all four local ski mountains, as the name suggests.

“It was built around this idea of hitting the four mountains, but only Snowmass and Buttermilk really had proper bike trails as part of the race,” said Deric Gunshor, who is the director of event development for Aspen Skiing Co., which produces the Power of Four race series. “So we really wanted to create something that we felt like everyone would have fun riding.”

Previously, the race had started in Snowmass before ascending and descending Buttermilk and Highlands. The race would finish at the base of Aspen Mountain. This year’s new course is now a roughly 25-mile loop set exclusively in Snowmass that includes around 5,000 feet of climbing. The premier race offering is a 50-mile solo ride where athletes essentially do two laps of that loop. There also is a one-lap option and a 50-mile team option for two riders to split.

There were a handful of factors that led to the course change this summer, among them scheduling logistics around July’s trail run and a desire to highlight all the single-track mountain bike trails that Snowmass has to offer.

“In general, there has been such an incredible growth in the trail offerings here in the valley,” said Tyler Lindsay, Skico’s event marketing manager. “One of our big focuses in designing the course is having as much great single-track terrain as possible and as little road time as possible.”

The new 50-mile course is expected to finish in roughly the same amount of time as the previous Power of Four course. Thomas Herman of Lakewood won last year’s race in 3 hours, 48 minutes, with this year’s winners expected to finish in around four hours. The 50-mile individual race starts at 7 a.m. and the podium finishers are expected to finish before noon.

The start and finish line is located on Fanny Hill near the Snowmass concert venue. Spectating is free.

“The old Power of Four, it’s a cool course and all, but you had a long road climb up Highlands and then an extremely long road climb up Midnight Mine Road,” Gunshor said. “So to have this ride just really be all single track is super cool.”

This year’s race also is part of the new Snowmass Bike Festival, going on through the weekend. Among the other races this weekend is the return of the Big Mountain Enduro finals, which also wraps up at Snowmass.

The BME fanfare will take place in Snowmass Base Village and Lindsay said the Power of Four course shouldn’t get in the way of the BME stages.

The BME finals are six stages over the weekend, starting Saturday and finishing Sunday. The Power of Four mountain bike race will be held Saturday only.

“We wanted to create an incubator for great mountain bike culture and we thought the Power of Four and the BME were really good anchors for an event,” Lindsay said.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Scott Mercier: Colorado Classic provides unique opportunity for female cyclists

Professional cycling for women has been in the doldrums for quite some time. One could argue that it has been nearly nonexistent. Racing opportunities, sponsorship, prize lists, salaries and media coverage have been few and far between for women.

We may finally be on the cusp of a change for the better. The Colorado Classic, in its third year, is at the vanguard of this movement. The organizers of the Colorado Classic decided to become a women’s-only race for 2019. It’s billed as the lone women’s-only professional cycling event in the Western Hemisphere. They’ve devoted all their resources to making this a top-notch event for women, with a quadrupled prize list, stipends, daily live streaming, longer races and travel allowances.

The race was granted a Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) 2.1 designation, which is one of the highest rankings for a race. The UCI designation is important because the points accrued at this level of race count toward the rankings for slots in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. The more points riders from a country have, the more athletes they get to send to the Games.

This year’s Colorado Classic is truly a global event, with nearly 100 women racing on 20 teams from 16 countries. Last year’s winner, Katie Hall, is returning to mentor Team USA, which is comprised of elite collegiate athletes. Katie got her start racing for U.C. Berkeley when she was a graduate student. Madeline Bemis, from Milligan College; Anna Christian, from CU Boulder; Emma Edwards, from M.I.T.; Cara O’Neill, from the University of Arizona; and Samantha Runnels, from Lindenwood University, will all be mentored by Katie during the race.

The Classic starts Thursday in Steamboat Springs. Stage 1 is a 54-mile road race with 4,255 feet of climbing. The stage includes 6 miles of gravel near the end of the race. In fact, the final climb and part of the descent are on gravel. The women will have just 7 miles of pavement at the end of the gravel road to the finish line in downtown Steamboat. The profile and the gravel make this stage wide open. The climbers will have to be great descenders to hold off the peloton on the descent to the finish.

Avon hosts Stage 2, a 50-mile circuit race with 3,400 feet of climbing. The race starts with seven relatively flat circuits through town and then veers off for one bigger circuit that has a monster climb with ramps as steep as 14% up Daybreak Ridge. The Queen of the Mountain at the top of the climb is about 10 miles from the finish, so just like Stage 1, the women who are great climbers will also need to be great descenders to stay away to the finish. A great descender who gets dropped on this climb could potentially bridge a gap of 30-40 seconds by the finish.

Stage 3, in Golden, is the longest at 64 miles, and arguably the hardest. It’s a circuit race of seven laps. It doesn’t have a huge climb, but the profile literally looks like a saw blade. It’s up and down all day and technical with lots of corners on the city street. By the finish, the women will have climbed nearly a vertical mile. The format should provide for great racing and great opportunities to watch the race.

Stage 4, in Denver, should be a sprint finish. Typically, this flat circuit race of 53 miles over eight laps would be a coronation of the leader from Stage 3, but with no mountain-top finish or time trial, the top women could realistically be within a few seconds of each other. The 16 bonus seconds on offer during the stage could affect the final outcome of the race. The start/finish near Coors Field in LoDo will have an expo and lots of entertainment.

I love the design of this year’s Colorado Classic. The overall winner will be an aggressive racer who can climb, descend and sprint. It should provide exciting, and unpredictable racing and the small team sizes mean it will be difficult to control the race.

The organizers have taken a significant risk by opting to host a women’s-only professional race. The race will only be deemed a success if people come out and watch or stream the race. If you support women’s cycling and have time on your calendar, I’d encourage you to make a trip to one of the stages. Professional women cyclists typically have to work and scramble to scratch out a living. They are passionate about the sport and love to compete. They’re also some of the best athletes in the world. They deserve to have great crowds cheering them on in Colorado, the cradle of cycling in the U.S.

Who knows? If the Classic succeeds, maybe we’ll see one of our own She-Redders lining up at the start in a few years.

Good riding!

Scott Mercier represented Team USA at the 1992 Olympic Games and had a five-year professional career with Saturn Cycling and The U.S. Postal Services teams. He currently works as a private wealth adviser in Aspen and can be reached at scottmercier24@gmail.com.

Aspen Cycling Club results: Emma Roubaix from Aug. 14, 2019

ASPEN CYCLING CLUB — WEEKLY RACE RESULTS

EMMA ROUBAIX

FROM WEDNESDAY, AUG. 14, 2019

Mens A (Open) 21 Miles

1 1:00:43 WACHTENDORF, Brett

2 1:00:56 TRAPANI, Lucca

3 1:01:46 STROKES, Gregory STRAFE

4 1:04:43 PETERSON, Butch RFMBA Trail Agents

5 1:07:16 GREGORY, Courtney Mountain Pedaler

6 1:07:36 HILL, Dean Limelight Hotel

7 1:07:44 RALSTON, Andrew Basalt Bike & Ski

8 1:08:08 JACOBI, Kevin Limelight Hotel

9 1:08:29 MIX, Kevin

10 1:10:16 NEWTON, Tyler Hub of Aspen

11 1:13:41 LEWIS, Joe

Womens A (Open) 21 Miles

1 1:13:52 STROKES, Tess Limelight Hotel

2 1:15:44 TORY, Caroline Hub of Aspen

3 1:15:52 WINEBAUM, Tess

Mens B (Advanced) 21 Miles

1 1:08:40 KOORN, Jan Pieter Limelight Hotel

2 1:09:29 SANTINI, Peter Limelight Hotel

3 1:10:04 ELLIOT, Simon Basalt Bike & Ski

4 1:10:54 CHERNOSKY, David Sklar Masters Racing

5 1:10:56 SMITH, Larry Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork

6 1:11:02 LANE, Chris ACES

7 1:11:10 KLUG, Chris Hub of Aspen

8 1:11:19 ADAMS, Casey Basalt Bike & Ski

9 1:11:26 MAPLE, Michael Hub of Aspen

10 1:11:27 VOORHEES, Peter

11 1:11:44 MCCALL, Brian Basalt Bike & Ski

12 1:13:34 SIRIANNI, Phil Basalt Bike & Ski

13 1:13:54 BURKLEY, Rich Limelight Hotel

14 1:15:38 HERSHBERGER, Jonathan Hub of Aspen

15 1:17:51 WILLIAMS, Brian

16 1:18:40 MOUNT, John Limelight Hotel

17 1:27:59 COVA, Matt Nonprophet

18 1:39:03 ITIN, Tim

Mens C (Novice) 21 Miles

1 1:17:03 BEERS, Seth

2 1:17:45 CIBULSKY, John Roaring Fork Cycling

3 1:28:04 OWEN, Tim

4 1:43:20 ALBIN, Dirk

Mens Masters (50+) 21 Miles

1 1:12:37 LANDGRAFF, Peter Celebrity / Chalet

2 1:16:45 DIMARIA, Danny Hub of Aspen

3 1:16:49 GIBANS, Jon RFMBA Trail Agents

4 1:17:34 ARMSTRONG, Mike Basalt Bike & Ski

5 1:24:37 CHILSON, Chip Aspen Sports Performance/Litespeed

6 1:25:34 RYAN, Chris

7 1:33:20 GOBA, Agustin

Womens Masters (50+) 21 Miles

1 1:18:00 KELLY, Chris Limelight Hotel

2 1:27:47 MELLIN, Heidi Limelight Hotel

3 1:33:34 PORTER, Cathy Basalt Bike & Ski

Mens Grand Masters (60+) 21 Miles

1 1:12:39 KREUZ, Kevin

2 1:16:55 PAUSSA, Jim Hub of Aspen

3 1:18:05 LAYMAN, Jeff

4 1:20:41 HANDWERK, Jeff

Womens Grand Masters (60+) 21 Miles

1 1:43:01 CALLAHAN, Kathleen Limelight Hotel

2 1:44:31 DOLBY, Pam

Mens Super Grand Masters (70+) 21 Miles

1 1:27:40 CROSS, Ed Limelight Hotel

2 1:28:50 ADAMSON, John Twisted Spokes Racing

3 1:30:49 OLENICK, Bob

4 1:42:04 OVEREYNDER, Phil

DNF MEANS, Graeme

Mens Super Grand Masters (80+) Short Course

1 2:13:20 HOUOT, Jacques Frenchy No Problem

High School Boys (grades 9-12) 21 Miles

1 1:19:08 LOGAN, Levi Basalt Bike & Ski

High School Girls (grades 9-12) 21 Miles

1 1:28:59 HEATH, Megan Basalt High School MTB Team

— Race Marshals: John Linn, John Callahan, Dav Eisele, Kristen Heath, Peter Martin, Charlynn Porter, John Grice

— Results may also be viewed at www.aspencyclingclub.org. Questions about results should be directed to results@aspencyclingclub.org.

Sandoval, Kuehster win Buena Vista burro races to cap triple crown titles

BUENA VISTA — This summer’s triple crown of pack-burro racing concluded with a rollicking sprint down Buena Vista’s Main Street on Saturday. In thrilling fashion, two triple crown contenders gave it their all through the finish line to earn their respective crowns.

After 13.1 miles of racing up into the mountains from Buena Vista’s downtown, Louise Kuehster and her burro Pandora (01:55:16.47) beat out Tracy Loughlin and burro Mary Margaret (01:55:16.89) to win the 46th annual Buena Vista Gold Rush Days Pack Burro Race. But after the 23-year-old graduate student from Castle Rock easily won the women’s races in Fairplay and Leadville, the challenge in Buena Vista was on another level.

That’s because the burro-racing veteran Loughlin was paired at the last minute with Mary Margaret. Mary Margaret won the men’s and overall triple crown last year with burro racing veteran Kirt Courkamp. Considering Mary Margaret is regarded as probably the strongest and fastest burro currently in Western Pack Burro Ass-ociation, Loughlin said Sunday felt less like a race and more like “hanging on for the ride,” rope in tow behind Mary Margaret.

Despite the fact that Loughlin and Mary Margaret led Kuehster and Pandora for the majority of the race, the Castle Rock duo was able to eek out the victory on the homestretch. The sprint to the finish between the top two women came after Kuehster helped Loughlin put the pack saddle back on Mary Margaret in the middle of the competition. Once secure, it was a sprint.

“I told her to just go and run her race,” Loughlin said, “and she just refused and wanted to help me. So we stopped our burros on that singletrack, she fixed my saddle, and then we caught up to the guys so it was just beyond cool that she did that for me.”

Kuehster and Pandora caught up to Loughlin and Mary Margaret after spotting them on the railroad grade headed back into town.

“We have a command,” Kuehster said, “‘Go home!’ That means to just freaking go. So I just said, ‘go home,’ and once she sees ’em, she’s going to catch them. So we ran up behind Tracy all the way up to the singletrack.”

The end of the race was wild for the top two women as well the top two men, including this year’s men’s triple crown winner Marvin Sandoval, 41, of Leadville. Sandoval finished under a second off the pace of Kuehster and about four seconds ahead of the Pine resident Courkamp and his new burro this summer, Ricky Bobby. Before the bridge leading back into town, Sandoval and Courkamp took the lead before the women re-took the lead after the bridge. Once back on Main Street, all four groups raced close together, like a herd kicking up Rocky Mountain dust and dirt.

During that frenetic finale Kuehster said Pandora sprinted easier and faster than her normal pace and style.  

For Courkamp, Sunday in Buena Vista was a much stronger race for his new burro Ricky Bobby after the first-year burro — who Courkamp adopted from a shelter in January — struggled in Fairplay and Leadville. 

“He totally showed up today, man,” Courkamp said. “I’m stoked for this in his fifth race. But it’s a little tear in my eye seeing Mary Margaret out there. He’s in love with Mary Margaret. He was on her tail all day.”

For a race the 2018 triple crown winner Courkamp described as “super fast,” Sunday was a challenge for Sandoval and Buttercup. The day prior, Sandoval took 179th place of more than 1,600 entrants in the daunting Leadville 100 trail mountain bike race in his hometown. He completed the 103-plus mile 12,000-plus-foot elevation gain course in 08:33:00. Then, on Sunday, after he completed the burro race, Sandoval immediately jetted out of Buena Vista to run in a Leadville Race Series 10K race. He finished that race in 109th place of more than 400 runners, in a time of 55:25.

As for Kuehster, Sunday was the realization of a four-plus year competitive relationship with Pandora, who lives at her family’s home in Castle Rock. After her parents’ burro racing careers rubbed off on her when Kuehster was a child, she adopted Pandora from the Long Hopes Donkey Shelter in Bennett. Kuehster did so after her mother saw the burro’s picture on the shelter’s website and simply said “she looks fast.”

“And,” Kuehster said with a smile on Sunday, “she was surprisingly, totally right.”

aolivero@summitdaily.com

Aspen Olympic skier Noah Hoffman wins Backcountry Marathon

His professional skiing career behind him, Noah Hoffman has dialed back the training, only doing enough to take part in “adventures” in between going to classes at Brown University in Rhode Island.

Yet, the natural athleticism that led him to a pair of Olympic Games doesn’t disappear overnight, nor does the knowledge that comes with years of racing at the highest level.

“I had no idea what my fitness was going to be like,” Hoffman said. “Knowing how to race is a huge thing, and I have so much experience racing that absolutely that’s a huge advantage. I was a little nervous at the start, but once I got out there I was, ‘Oh, I’ve done this hundreds of times.’ I know what racing is like.”

Hoffman traded in the snow for the dirt on Saturday, returning to his home to take part in the ninth annual Aspen Backcountry Marathon for the first time. Looking every bit like a professional athlete, Hoffman won the race in 3 hours, 30 minutes, 2.18 seconds, beating Gunnison’s Joshua Eberly by about eight minutes and third-place finisher Chris Copenhaver of Fort Collins by 15 minutes.

Eberly won the Aspen Backcountry Marathon in 2018 and won the Audi Power of Four 50-kilometer trail race only a month ago in Snowmass, so Hoffman’s victory was certainly earned.

“I’ve always wanted to do this race, but it never quite fit into my training schedule when I was an athlete. So this was the summer to come back and do it, finally check it out,” Hoffman said. “I was a little nervous about the distance, for sure. I’ve never raced anywhere near this far. My longest races in skiing were two hours, plus or minus, and this is three and a half. So it’s a big jump.”

While it’s been some time, Hoffman isn’t exactly new to running. As a senior at Aspen High School, he won the Class 3A state cross country championship in 2006 before embarking on a successful cross-country skiing career that included competing in both the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics. Hoffman retired from skiing following the 2017-18 season and the Pyeongchang Games.

“I almost walked away that year before Pyeongchang and I’m so glad I went to one more Olympics and skied that last year,” Hoffman said. “But I really feel I’m at peace with the decision (to retire). I didn’t really miss it that much. I was excited to cheer on my teammates from afar.”

Hoffman will soon head back to Brown for his sophomore year where he is tentatively studying economics and public policy, although he hasn’t officially declared a major. While having a two-time Olympian in class with you might be unique, Hoffman probably stands out more for being a 30-year-old sophomore more than anything.

“It’s a little interesting being in class with 18-year-olds,” Hoffman said. “My social life, as you’d imagine, is not centered around my classmates so much. There are other people in the community that are closer to my age. It was not as hard as I anticipated to get back into the groove. Brown did a great job of supporting me and the professors are wonderful. So I’m looking forward to going back this year.”

PERSYN REPEATS AS WOMEN’S CHAMPION

Kelsey Persyn’s first significant win as a trail runner came when she torched the field by more than 40 minutes in the 2018 Aspen Backcountry Marathon. Her margin of victory was a mere nine minutes on Saturday, but it’s still a repeat title for the 23-year-old Texas native.

“I felt a little pressure going into it,” Persyn said of being the defending champ. “This is like my third trail race ever and I love them, so I’m hoping to go down that path eventually and see how far I can go.”

Persyn won the women’s marathon in 4:17:52.86, holding off Aspen’s Julia Rowland (4:26) and Boulder’s Anna Widdowson (4:30) for the title.

A former track and cross country runner at Texas A&M, Persyn has spent the past couple of summers working as a park ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park. Her ties to the Aspen area go back a few years, as she also won the 2016 Aspen Valley Marathon road race.

Persyn said she was using the Aspen Backcountry Marathon as training for the upcoming Grand Traverse trail run, which goes from Crested Butte to Aspen.

“It felt really good. I didn’t have hope that I was going to be the winner until a mile ‘til,” she said. “I made sure my focus was just to focus on yourself and have fun with it. Results are going to come if you just have fun. But it was a different course this year. It was more in reverse, so it was kind of cool to see it from a different angle.”

Also repeating as a champion was James Gregory of Fort Collins, who won Saturday’s heavy half marathon in 1:57:54.21. Only 17, he will be a high school senior this year and finished 16th in the Class 5A state cross country meet last fall.

Denver’s Rob Kosick was second among men in 2:05 and Jason Contino of Manitou Springs was third in 2:07.

Golden’s Brittany Charboneau took the women’s half marathon title in 2:02:50.42, which was good for second overall behind only Gregory. Norway’s Yngvild Kaspersen was second (2:11) among women and Lauren Warkentin of Edwards was third (2:27).

Complete results can be found here.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Breckenridge’s De Graaf to race Breck Epic in honor of late friend Eric Dube

It was two years ago when Eric Dube and Nathan De Graaf watched with interest as Breck Epic mountain bikers rode each morning past the duo’s office at Howard Head Sports Medicine. At the corner of Park and Main streets in Breckenridge, the two avid mountain bikers and physical therapists pondered the possibilities.

“We’d watch these riders go by and look at each other, ‘Do you think you can do that?’ De Graaf said. “Over a week of seeing these riders ride by every morning and having the same conversation every day, it became more like, ‘What if we did it together someday? That’d be really fun. Let’s talk about it in five, 10 years.’ That’s kind of where we left it.”

“Someday” never came for the two good friends after Dube died in November 2017 from an undiagnosed heart condition during a weekend mountain bike trip near Moab, Utah. He was 30 years old.

Dube’s sudden death was jarring for De Graaf, who regarded Dube as the brother he never had. But he had an idea to honor Dube: ride in the six-day, 220-plus-mile, 40,000-elevation gain Breck Epic.

De Graaf, 35, will ride Sunday through Friday in honor of his late friend. Through it all, he’ll wear the “#SendItForEric” cycling jersey he and Dube’s fellow friends made last year.

When De Graaf takes to the first stage of the multiday event Sunday, the 36.4-mile Pennsylvania Creek, he knows the memories will come flooding back.

“The closer I get to Sunday, the more I realize there are some very deep emotions in there about this whole thing, and they are all kind of coming to the surface,” De Graaf said. “I guess it was always just hard for me to grapple with ‘someday’ wasn’t going to happen.”

To Dube’s community of Breckenridge friends, he was an energizing, positive influence. He was fun to chase around on group rides, De Graaf said, and you knew the ride was over when the muscular 6-foot-3, 200-pound Dube gave you a big bear hug goodbye.

De Graaf first met Dube while working late one night at the Breckenridge Recreation Center. De Graaf picked up his head when Dube waved and said, “Hi, I’m Eric. I’m a physical therapist, too.” The two soon became friends, bonding over the fact they graduated from physical therapy school the same year. Soon enough, they’d work together at Howard Head and fall in love with the sport of mountain biking, taking to Breckenridge’s network of trails.

With their friends, they lived for the competitive yet communal fun of racing in the Summit Mountain Challenge. Just weeks before he died, Dube won the season title in his age division at the 2017 race series.

During their friendship, De Graaf learned more about what made Eric Dube Eric Dube. That included Dube’s annual party celebrating bike riding and barbecuing.

“He called it his ‘Babes, Bros, Beers and Bikes Barbecue,’” De Graaf said. “Basically every ‘B’ word he could think of he threw it in the name and invited everybody to show up and have this awesome party.”

De Graaf and other friends of Dube honored him with a memorial “B” barbecue last year. Friends and family also honored Dube via a Summit Foundation fundraiser trail workday that built a bridge at McCullough Gulch in his memory.

Then there was Dube’s friend Greg Sagan — the Breckenridge housemate of Dube’s brother, Ryan — who won his own sport division at the Summit Mountain Challenge racing in honor of Dube.

Throughout the race series, De Graaf, Sagan and several others wore the #SendItForEric jerseys, race tops that featured Dube’s bike art on the front and a silhouetted picture of Dube on the back.

Next week, De Graaf is especially looking forward to Thursday’s fifth stage, which takes riders up and over Wheeler Pass. It was after the 2017 Breck Epic, when Dube decided one random day to ride the same route as the race’s 24-mile, 5,227-elevation-gain Wheeler stage. De Graaf can still vividly remember how elated Dube was after finishing the route, thrilled by the treacherous Miner’s Creek descent.

On Thursday, De Graaf will experience it for himself. When he does, he won’t forget Dube’s core outlook on mountain biking.

“We ride bikes,” De Graaf said, echoing Dube, “to have fun.”

aolivero@summitdaily.com

Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club adds ski mountaineering program

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Combining two great loves of the locals, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club is adding ski mountaineering to its list of programs.

Registration opens Monday, Aug. 12, for the sport that entails hiking up the mountain while wearing or carrying skis, and then, skiing down.

“It’s becoming popular, and for me, it fits with Steamboat’s outdoor community really well,” SSWSC freeskiing head coach Tony Lodico said. “It’s a very Steamboat-y kind of sport.”

Ski mountaineering, abbreviated skimo, combines backcountry skiing and freeskiing, and interested athletes can either improve their skills or compete. Training sessions will include ski touring, off-piste skiing, technical skill improvement and backcountry safety education.

The program is available to skiers ages 15 to 21 and runs from October to April.

There’s more required of skiers interested in skimo, as they not only have to safely navigate down the mountain but also up. With that, interested skiers need a helmet and skis as well as a beacon, probe and shovel.

The SSWSC will hold an informational session on ski mountaineering on Sept. 18 at the Fireplace Room at Howelsen Hill Lodge.

The program will spend some time going over avalanche safety and rescue as well as route finding in the backcountry.

“Potentially, one of our athletes could have a little more knowledge when they’re out with their parents — they may have more knowledge than their parents,” Lodico said. “Any way we can pump more safety into the sport, that would be really good. A lot of our plan is to spend time at Howelsen and traditional cross-country trails. We’re not planning any extreme mountaineering.”

The program will conclude by participating in Cody’s Challenge at Steamboat Resort. This past winter, the challenge hosted 190 racers in its 11th year. Proceeds from the event support the Cody St. John Memorial Scholarship Fund, which awards scholarships to professional ski patrollers for continuing medical education.

The Steamboat Resort has an uphill policy limiting access to certain trails at specific times. Those looking to go up the mountain on their own power need to obtain an arm band in exchange for a signed uphill access policy form.

“They have been incredible partners to the sports so far,” Charlie MacAurther said of the resort. “We have one of the best uphill policies in the state, in the country. … We’re incredibly fortunate with the policy the resort provides and the freedom we have to explore the mountain almost without limitations.”

MacArthur is part of a local skimo group, congregated on Facebook through the Steamboat Ski Ascent Series page.

The group has been around for about eight years and started by putting on last-minute local races. Over the years, the group has become more formal and organized, hosting four or five short, pre-planned races per year, primarily taking place in the evening.

Aside from the local competitions and Cody’s Challenge, Steamboat doesn’t offer much for competitive skimo athletes. Other places around Colorado are ahead of the curve. Summit Skimo is even helping competitors into the Youth Olympic Games, where skimo was just added as a sport.

“Steamboat is behind the ball a bit, but that’s not to say that the recreational side is in any way,” MacArthur said. “Almost anybody you encounter, locals here, have a set up now whether they go up twice a year or every day. Almost everybody’s tried it at some point and has some level of passion for it. It’s grown quite a bit in Steamboat.”

sreardon@steamboatpilot.com

Italian ski mountaineering rising star spends summer in Summit County

FRISCO — After most of Team USA’s contingent returned home this past winter from the International Ski Mountaineering Federation World Championships in Switzerland, Summit County local and U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association national team member Sierra Anderson decided to stick around.

Anderson spent nine weeks in Europe traveling and racing, including at a couple of ski mountaineering World Cup and Italian Cup events. It was at those events where Anderson got to know the members of the revered Italian team.

“I kind of kept showing up at these random races,” Anderson said. “And the girls were like, ‘What the hell are you doing here? She must be serious.’”

Anderson got to chatting with the group and casually mentioned that any of the Italian girls were welcome to visit the U.S. ski mountaineering community in Summit County. Samantha Bertolina, an unassuming 18-year-old from the northern Italian mountain towns of Valfurva and Bormio, spoke up.

“She was the only one who (perked) up among the girls and said, ‘I want to come. I want to come this summer,’” Anderson said.

From there, Anderson thought of young American ski-mountaineering star Grace Staberg, of Silverthorne. Staberg, 17, had competed for the U.S. national team at the World Championships in Switzerland. She raced in the cadet division, one age group younger than Bertolina’s junior division. While at the world championships, Staberg took sixth place in the girls individual cadet race with a time of 1 hour, 15 minutes and 46 seconds, about 10 minutes behind Bertolina’s second-place pace (01:05:51) in the girls individual junior race on the same course.

Despite racing in the same place at the same time, Bertolina and Staberg didn’t get to know each other during the world championships. But they grew close after Anderson introduced them in April via Instagram, and the Staberg family welcomed Bertolina to stay with them for the first half of the summer.

After Staberg and Bertolina exchanged pen-pal type messages via text, Bertolina arrived in mid-June. It was with the Stabergs and Anderson that Bertolina first encountered the reality of exercise at high-elevation, with the Stabergs taking her for a run on the Frisco Peninsula and Anderson taking her for a mountain bike ride in the Horseshoe Gulch area. Lingering snow made the bike ride twice as long as Anderson expected, but Bertolina was a trooper, she said.

Also during her time here, Bertolina hiked Mount Royal and competed in the Gold Run Rush Summit Mountain Challenge mountain bike race in June.

“I think your people are really crazy,” Bertolina said with a laugh. “Because in downhill, they went really fast. And I like downhill. But before I came here, I broke my arm with the bike, and now I am slow and not so fast like the people here. But the race was really fun.”

Bertolina also finished in fourth place among men and women in the 10K trail race at the July 13 Power of Four at Aspen Snowmass.

In terms of high-altitude endurance sports, Bertolina didn’t shy away from much, though she opted not to ski even with Summit’s lingering snowpack. To Bertolina, June to November is a time for summer sport training, such as hiking and mountain biking. She found it funny when she tagged along with Anderson and Staberg on a day of skiing and a day practicing their ski-mountaineering transitions off snow at Anderson’s home.

“Samantha was sitting there laughing and filming us, sending it to all of her Italian friends, ‘You crazy Americans,’” Staberg said.

The Stabergs and Anderson also introduced Bertolina to other members of the Summit ski mountaineering community, namely in Breckenridge. Bertolina saw Summit Endurance Academy practices hosted by American coach Joe Howdyshell and athlete Jaime Brede at places like Gold Hill and Beaver Run.

Outside of sports, the main thing Bertolina learned is that Rocky Mountain weather can be extremely fickle, much more so than in the northern Italian Alps near her home.

“I really like this place,” Bertolina said. “But it’s funny. Like, the weather changes really fast. One day it snows, the day after it was, like, really hot and summer.”

As their time together draws to a close, Staberg said she’s appreciated learning about Bertolina’s life and culture back home, told in part by the little wooden bowls Bertolina gifted to the Stabergs. They were made by her carpenter brother back in Italy. As for training, Staberg said it was eye-opening to see Bertolina’s focus on shorter, high-intensity running as opposed to the long-distance running the Summit High School cross-country star Staberg typically undertakes.

Anderson said she’s proud of how Bertolina grew out of her more shy, quiet presence to blossom into a member of the county’s tight-knit endurance sport community, vastly improving her English along the way. Then there’s also the element of Bertolina’s journey inspiring Summit locals her age to do something similar.

“When you see one person doing it, it feeds confidence and the courage to do it yourself,” Anderson said. “I see the bridge being built through these connections.”

aolivero@summitdaily.com