Eying slides on Grand Traverse | AspenTimes.com

Eying slides on Grand Traverse

Tim Mutrie

Friday at midnight, 240 skiers racing in teams of two will set out from downtown Crested Butte on a 40-mile trek north through the Elk Mountains.If history serves as a guide, the winners of the eighth annual Elk Mountains Grand Traverse are likely to be linking weak-kneed turns down Aspen Mountain to the finish line at the base of the gondola around 7 or 8 o’clock Saturday morning.Volunteer avalanche safety crews have been in the field all week, based out of the Friends Hut. It’s located along the route closer to Crested Butte, and nearby worrisome terrain like course high points Star Pass (12,303 feet) and Taylor Pass (11,929 feet).A hotshot pilot out of the Butte was scheduled to begin air-dropping supplies for the safety crews on Monday. But no such luck yet, according to Jan Runge of Crested Butte, the first and only race director of the Grand Traverse.”Howling winds,” Runge said last night. “And you don’t want to be dropping heavy gear into alpine basins in those kinds of conditions.”Besides,” she said, “it’s me that throws the stuff out the door. But it is easy to throw stuff out the door because there is no door.”Every year, it seems, Mother Nature concocts a new challenge for Grand Traverse racers and race organizers.Last year, it was winds gusting up to 50 and 60 mph. In 2003, it was an Arctic cold snap, with temperatures dipping to 20-below Fahrenheit. And in 1999, it was a blizzard that deposited 36 inches of snow, prompting the “Grand Reverse” (as the course was rerouted at the last minute).This year, it seems, the drama could be the looming avalanche hazard.But Runge said reports from her field crews are positive.”It’s sounding good. A lot of big slides have already happened,” she said.Today’s report: Those who head to the slopes for some inbounds skiing today will find a light layer of new snow that fell overnight. Aspen Highlands and Snowmass have picked up 7 new inches over the past 24 hours, while Aspen Mountain and Buttermilk are boasting 5 new inches.

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