Butte duo kicks butt in Traverse
Aspen Times Staff Writer
After seven hours of a neck-and-neck race, the fifth annual Elk Mountains Grand Traverse was decided early Saturday on the final downhill descent of Aspen Mountain.
Crested Butte’s Dave Penney and Geo Bullock, the defending champions, arrived at the Sundeck at the same time as a team from Vail. After leaving downtown Crested Butte at midnight Friday with 102 other teams, the foursome skate-skied side-by-side for most of the 38.5-mile overland ski race to Aspen. They would push each other at a pace that would crush the course record by more than a hour. And when they arrived at the Sundeck dead even, they all stopped – per order of the rules – to affix safety straps on their skis and boots before venturing down the ski area.
“Last year, we won by about 10 minutes, and I was like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty close,'” Bullock said. “So when we got close to the Sundeck, I told my partner, ‘If it stays tight, we’ll fucking put it to ’em on the downhill.'”
Bullock and Penney, both 41, each had similar rigs on their skis to make for a faster transition, and they shoved off from the Sundeck with about a 10- to 15-second lead on the Vail team, which was racing in its first Grand Traverse. (Final results were not available Sunday, and race officials could not supply the first names of competitors.)
“You don’t want the runaway straps on during the race because your skis come on and off all the time,” said Penney, who works as an international mountain guide. “So at the Sundeck we’re all kinda fiddling with the straps, clipping in and then boom, off we go.”
“In this kind of race, you’ve got to get your gear right,” added Bullock, who works as a carpenter and also races bikes.
Skiing on classic Nordic equipment without metal edges – far from the ideal equipment for a high-speed descent of Spar Gulch with victory at stake – Penney and Bullock linked swooping giant slalom turns down Ajax and crossed the finish line at the gondola in 7 hours, 10 minutes and 24 seconds. The Vail team was just 26 seconds back.
“I’m a skier,” Bullock said. “Ain’t no way they’re going to pass me on the downhill. I would’ve dropped into a tuck if I had to – even though it’s against the rules – but no one was getting past me.”
“I crossed the line and looked back, and they were right there,” Penney said. “I didn’t even know they were still that close. It was literally a race down the ski area.”
Last year, Penney and Bullock posted a winning time of 8 hours, 12 minutes to set a course record. And last week, they said their goal was to finish in under eight hours.
“I’m blown away by that,” Bullock said. “I knew we were going fast, but that time is amazing.
“Those guys were strong,” Bullock added of the Vail team. “They made us earn it. I’d say that’s a new level of punishment for me.”
The Vail duo was “definitely bummed,” Penney said, “and we would’ve been too. When you push that hard, and you go for that long, well, it’s tough.”
Gunnison’s Carol Quinn, 40, and Ingrid Butts, 38, a three-time Olympic Nordic skier, won the women’s division with a time of 10:08. The team of Fair and Mattison won the co-ed division just ahead of Quinn and Butts, in 10:07:50.
“We were battling with them for most of it,” said Quinn, who also won the event last year with her 20-year-old daughter.
Quinn said she and Butts didn’t train too extensively this year, though they often skied together with Butts’ two small children, ages 1 and 3.
“We’d put ’em in backpacks and skied with ’em as weight training,” Quinn said.
Five teams were turned back at safety checkpoints along the route, but all told, 99 teams finished the race. The final team came down Aspen Mountain at about 6:30 p.m. Saturday, nearly 12 hours after the leaders.
In keeping with the uncanny safety record of the fifth annual event, there were no reported injuries, though more racers than not wore raspberry scrapes from falling on the hard, icy snowpack.
At Star Pass, the 12,400-foot apex of the course, several racers went on so-called “slides for life” after losing purchase while traversing the steep slope on the Aspen side of the pass.
Two-time champions Jimmy Faust and Pat O’Neill of Crested Butte got snagged at Star Pass when Faust took the slide for life and lost his ski for nearly two hours.
Star Pass also claimed Quinn as a victim, though she recovered to win.
“I’ve never heard of anyone falling off the pass,” she said. “When I fell off, I thought I was a goner. I was like, ‘There might be a rock pile at the bottom.'”
Aspen’s Ted Mahon and Ted MacBlane also went for an unexpected ride, but the team recovered to finish in 10:50:50.
“Normally it’s covered with powder, but it was a sheet, and people were doing a slide for life for hundreds of feet down into Star Basin, way off the trail,” said Mahon, a five-time Grand Traverse competitor. “We were laughing at ’em at the top of Star Pass, like ‘Oh my God, there’s five people down there.’ And a minute later it was both of us.”
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