New film documents first Grand Traverse |

New film documents first Grand Traverse

Tim Mutrie

A film chronicling the first annual Elk Mountain Grand Traverse race from Crested Butte to Aspen will premiere Saturday as a fund-raiser for Mountain Rescue-Aspen.

The film, produced by Woody Creek resident John Oates, will air at 7:30 p.m. at the Aspen Club Lodge. Admission is $5. Oates is donating the screening and a keg of beer to the benefit event.

“It’s a half-hour television program and that was done for Outdoor Life Network, so it has their format,” Oates said. “It’s basically the story of the race.”

The program is scheduled to air for the first time on the Outdoor Life Network on March 27, at 3:30 p.m.

“The traverse is more than just a ski race; it combines skiing with backcountry survival skills. It’s an extreme backcountry endurance event,” Oates said of the 40-mile race. “It’s about route-finding, avalanche awareness, intake and hydration, in addition to speed and endurance.”

The second annual Elk Mountain Grand Traverse begins at midnight on April 4 in Crested Butte. The finish line is at the gondola at the base of Aspen Mountain.

“There are a lot more dimensions to this race than I think people are aware,” Oates said. “The two-person teams leave at midnight from Crested Butte and they climb 14 miles to the Friends Hut, where the first checkpoint is. Then they climb through Star Pass and Taylor Pass. That’s well over 12,000 feet by that point, so for the quick guys and girls, it’s in the middle of the night, with all sorts of treacherous conditions.

“Then they go up Gold Hill to the Barnard Hut – another checkpoint. Then they take Richmond Ridge to the top of Aspen Mountain from the backside, and then they have to ski down. And you’re talking about people who have just done 40 miles with packs and they have to ski down Aspen Mountain with skinny skis.”

He said most of the fastest skiers raced with skate skis last year, while others used lightweight telemark gear.

Oates recalled a few snags he and his two-man camera crew encountered in filming last year’s event. The camera crew traveled to Crested Butte to shoot the midnight start of the race and the pre-race excitement, he said. Then, they drove through the night back to Aspen in order to catch the finish. However, because it was the first race, the crew miscalculated the time it would take the fastest skiers to negotiate the route.

“We were at the Sundeck at 8 a.m., setting up, expecting the racers to come in at 10 a.m.,” Oates said. “And all of a sudden, Travis Moore and Pierre Wille, the winners, skated up from the backside of Aspen Mountain. And I said, `Have you seen any of the racers out there?’ And they said, `We are the racers.’

“They took everybody by surprise. They actually arrived before the finish line was set up. Luckily, there was someone at the finish line with a watch.”

Aspenites Wille and Moore notched a winning time of 8 hours, 31 minutes and 50 seconds.

“We just followed them down and set up at the bottom,” Oates said.

The second-place finishers – Dave Penny of Crested Butte and Jeff Haulenbaugh of Paonia – came in about 40 minutes later. The first women’s pair – Deb Curtis of Aspen, and Ginny Bullock of Crested Butte – crossed the finish line in 13 hours, 19 minutes and 12 seconds. The remainder of the 49-team field came in throughout the day.

This year, about 50 teams are registered for the event, according to race organizer Jan Runge of Crested Butte.

“The registrations are just pouring in; we’re filling up pretty fast,” Runge said. She said the maximum number of teams allowed is 75.

“So in one year, this thing has exploded,” Oates said. “I think it’s got a great future.

“Last year was the first, but it’s really kind of a tradition between Crested Butte and Aspen. The route is the route the mail carriers of the mining days used to carry the mail over between the towns. And even before mountain biking was popular, they used to race this route on bikes in the summer. There’s a tradition of this route linking the two towns, and both towns have a history of backcountry skiing, and this carries it on.”

Oates credited backcountry enthusiasts from Crested Butte with taking the initiative to start the race. But she noted that Aspen is currently in possession of the coveted, handcrafted Elk Mountain Grand Traverse trophy, thanks to Moore and Wille.

For further information and/or a registration form to race, stop by the Ute Mountaineer or call Runge at 970-349-1019.

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