Aspen’s oldest uphill race kicks off Saturday on Ajax | AspenTimes.com
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Aspen’s oldest uphill race kicks off Saturday on Ajax

Tim Mutrie

The oldest uphill event in Aspen – the 14th annual Ute Mountaineer America’s Uphill – kicks off tomorrow morning from the base of Aspen Mountain.

Plenty of slots are still available, though more than 200 skiers and snowshoers have already signed on. The race starts at 7 a.m. from the base of Ajax, and registration is available at the Ute Mountaineer through 5 p.m. today for $25. For $35, racers may register at the start from 6 to 7 a.m. Saturday morning. Race spectators may ride the gondola for free but will only be permitted to board from 7 to 7:15 a.m.

“We’ve got a couple hundred people at this point, but most sign up [today],” said Bob Ward, race director and owner of the Ute Mountaineer.

Sponsored by the Ute Mountaineer, Atlas Snowshoes, Marmot and the Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol, the course ascends 3,200 feet over 2.6 miles, following a route up Little Nell to Bingo and Spar Gulch to the 11,212-foot summit.

The race typically draws some of the top fitness athletes in Colorado, Wade said, and benefits the Braun Hut System, a number of backcountry huts near the Aspen area.

“We’re not sure about Matt Carpenter, the record holder for the course, but I understand last year’s winner, Jeremy Wright, will be here,” he said. “And Betty Severy’s going to race too. She’s won it many times.”

Last year, racer Natalie Ward finished the course in 54 minutes, 13 seconds, eclipsing Severy’s course record from 1999 by 37 seconds.

Manitou Springs’ Carpenter owns the men’s record: 41 minutes, 1 second, which was also posted in 1999. This year’s event is part of the 2001 U.S. Skyrunning Circuit and will serve as a qualifier for future events, including the 2002 World Sky Games.

“For these events, the more abusive, the better it seems. That’s how the racers like it,” Wade said. “It’s also a nice social deal. Some do it for the prizes, some do it for the challenge, and some do it for the social aspects.”

The men’s and women’s winners will collect a $150 prize, while second- and third-place men’s and women’s finishers will get $75 and $50, respectively. Thereafter, a cash prize of $50 will be awarded to the top men’s and women’s finishers in each of the four uphill divisions: snowshoe, skate skis, telemark skis or heavy metal (alpine touring).

“It’s an interesting rivalry,” Wade said. “In theory, the track skis are faster because you get glide, but generally the snowshoers are fastest.”

The winning team, comprised of five uphillers, will be awarded a pitcher of green beer, Wade added.

One interesting entry this year, Wade said, is a pair who plan to schlep up the course on the same pair of 240 cm jumping skis.

“They tried to fit three people on them, but they thought that was a little too crowded,” Wade said.

The America’s Uphill, Wade explained, was founded as a memorial to former Aspen resident Fritz Stammberger, a German native who disappeared while climbing in Pakistan in 1974. Stammberger gained notoriety for climbing Ajax with a mouthful of water, so as to further his high-altitude preparedness.

“We dedicated the race to Fritz, and it’s always dedicated to him,” Wade said, “but occasionally we dedicate races to some of our friends who have passed away.

“Fritz was the first guy to walk up Aspen Mountain on a regular basis, and he put up really fast times,” he continued. “So that’s why people decided to have a race – see who was the fastest. But this year, we’re dedicating it to Chuck Brandt, a friend and former racer who just passed away.”

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