Grand Traverse serves up ‘crust’ |

Grand Traverse serves up ‘crust’

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Susan Jackson/Special to The Aspen TimesAspen's Christy and Ted Mahon celebrate their victory in the coed division of the 16th annual Elk Mountains Grand Traverse, which finished at Aspen Mountain on Saturday morning. Second place in the division went to Sarah and Jason Stubbe. Michael and Irene Vardamis finished third.

ASPEN – The U.S. Postal Service might want to consult with Marshall Thomson and Tom Goth. Or Brad LaRochelle and Teague Holmes.

Those guys certainly can deliver the mail – on Saturdays, no less.

Retracing the historic route of 1880s mail carriers, the top finishers in the 16th annual Elk Mountains Grand Traverse managed to deliver a mythical letter from Crested Butte to Aspen in 7 hours and 40 minutes – on skis.

Thomson and Goth, two ski mountaineers from Crested Butte, left Crested Butte at midnight along with a legion of 180 two-skier teams.

The Crested Butte duo skied into the finish at the base of Aspen Mountain, 40 mountaineering miles later, just after 7:30 a.m. Saturday, to the cheers of supporters, friends and Ajax uphillers.

Neither rain nor snow nor breakable crust could keep the intrepid adventurers from their appointed route on this Saturday.

Did someone mention “breakable crust?”

“We went over the knoll (at the Crested Butte ski area), straight into breakable crust,” co-winner Goth said of the early stages of the race. “Marshall (Thomson) snapped his pole, and I fell flat on my face.”

“We were flying down the groomed, and all of the sudden, it was breakable crust up to your knees,” said Jason Dorais, of Salt Lake City. He teamed with brother Andrew to finish third Saturday.

“Marshall and Tom were first, and they just augured in. Then, everybody crashed there. The dominoes kept piling up,” Dorais said of the snow condition that defined the 2013 Grand Traverse.

“I crashed so hard I ripped my pants,” said Ben Koons, who teamed with Linden Mallory to finish sixth – the highest finish for Aspen skiers in the annual mountaineering race.

“Apart from the breakable crust, you couldn’t get better conditions. There was a beautiful moon, a great sunrise. You didn’t even need a headlamp for part of it,” Koons said behind a broad smile.

“The breakable crust at the beginning was definitely a curve ball,” said Mallory, who completed the course on nordic equipment, as did his partner.

He explained that after the rapid-fire ascent of the Crested Butte ski area, the skiers torched down groomed runs until they hit the crusty snow.

“We dropped into the East River and hit breakable crust,” said defending champion Brian Smith, of Crested Butte, who finished fourth this year with partner and co-race director Bryan Wickenhauser. “Everyone kind of piled up. It was slow going there for an hour and a half.”

The conditions forced the skiers to slog together, taking turns breaking trail and breaking through.

“The guys up front were super good. They kicked in, and everybody worked pretty well together,” Mallory said. He and partner Koons took over the lead on the flatter section after the crusty nightmare.

“We took off, and we led most of Brush Creek. That was fun to be out front,” he said after he and Koons skated away from the other leaders, who were on mountaineering gear.

“Then, coming off of Star (Pass), it was interesting,” Mallory, 27, said, pointing to his nordic gear. “I think we went inverted a couple of times.”

Koons nodded, in agreement, pointing to his shredded ski pants.

“We caught up to the nordic skiers (Mallory and Koons) just before Star Pass, and we got a little gap there,” Goth said. “After that, we were out in front.”

He said several skiers closed the gap before the Barnard Hut.

“Then, we opened it up again,” said Goth, who won the Grand Traverse in his first attempt – a rarity in the race’s history.

Partner Thomson finished second two years in a row before Saturday’s victory.

“It was Plan A,” Thomson said. “I didn’t come for another second place, that’s for sure.”

He said that when he first was a Grand Traverse runner-up, the winner had been runner-up the previous two years.

“I think in this race, you have to come in second two years in a row. The third year, you’re in,” Thomson said.

Goth was quick to credit Thomson and his experience for the 2013 victory.

“I had a good partner; he knew everywhere to go,” Goth said.

So did the Dorais brothers, thanks to a year’s worth of experience.

Last year, Jason Dorais first tackled the Grand Traverse.

“My partner broke a boot, and then we got lost. We had to come back (this year),” Dorais said.

The runner-up team from Breckenridge also felt compelled to return to the 16th annual Grand Traverse.

“This is our ninth year doing this, and we’re psyched to make the podium,” LaRochelle said. “I enjoy it because of the adventure of it. Plus, I like hanging out with my friend Teague (Holmes) and all these other great people.”

In the coed division, Aspen’s Ted and Christy Mahan finished first in just under 10 hours.

Sarah and Jason Stubbe were second. Michael and Irene Vardamis finished third.

In the women’s division, Brynn O’Connell and Casey Wilson won.

Christine Van Erp-Matyl and Joan Swift teamed up for second place.

Third went to Haley Tamberi and Ellis Bennett.

Complete results of the 2013 Grand Traverse, a benefit for the Crested Butte Nordic Club, are available at

“I’ve been doing this from the very beginning, and I’ve been lucky enough to win a few,” said Pat O’Neill, of Crested Butte, who has reached the podium more than any skier in Grand Traverse history. He won three race titles with partner Jimmy Faust.

“I love this event. The idea to get the people of Aspen and Crested Butte together … two unique towns, two amazing towns. This is an absolute classic,” O’Neill said, as he awaited the race finish of Crested Butte Mayor Aaron Huckstep.

O’Neill and Crested Butte partner Jesse Rikert finished eighth Saturday.

“And it’s different every year. That’s the unique thing,” O’Neill said. “This year, we had that breakable bottleneck. At one point, there were probably 200 skiers right there together.”

He said the strong finishes and the fast times in the Grand Traverse are a tribute to the growth of ski mountaineering.

“Pierre Wille and Travis Moore … those guys set the tone for this,” he said of the first Grand Traverse winners.

“But the essence of it is the same. It’s about skiing,” O’Neill said. “It’s … the Friedl Pfeifer statue and the 10th Mountain Division boys (on the gondola plaza). It’s about the guys who did this back in 1888 on the long skis, hauling the mail.”

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