Simi Hamilton talks about winning Grand Traverse run, crashing out of bike race

Recently retired Olympic skier has enjoyed being back home in the Roaring Fork Valley this summer

Simi Hamilton competes in the Grand Traverse trail run on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021.
Photo by Nolan Blunck

Having grown up in Aspen, Simi Hamilton had heard all about the Grand Traverse ski mountaineering race and then later the trail run and bike races that connect this ski town to another in Crested Butte.

But, life on the road as a professional cross-country ski racer didn’t leave a lot of time to enjoy the local competitions.

“I’ve grown up hearing about it from friends and being around the lore of it throughout the valley and over in Crested Butte,” Hamilton said Wednesday of the Grand Traverse races. “There are so many incredibly strong athletes in this valley, so it’s really fun to be back here sharing a lot of cool adventure races with them. I’ve been training full-time for the last 11 years and then skiing World Cup full-time for the last 11 years and obviously I’ve invested so much in ski racing, so it’s cool to just know I have that base fitness right now and I can hopefully milk that for a little while.”

The three-time Olympian, who retired this past spring alongside his wife and fellow World Cup skier Sophie Caldwell Hamilton and is currently building a home in Basalt, has clearly managed to maintain that fitness as he’s cleaned up in many of the local races this summer. This includes Saturday’s Grand Traverse trail run, which started in Crested Butte and finished at the base of Aspen Mountain about 40 miles later.

Hamilton, 34, won the race with a chip time of 6 hours, 7 minutes, 39.81 seconds. He held off noted Carbondale runner Sean Van Horn, who was second in 6:23:45.09, and third-place finisher Christopher Price (6:33:49.22).

Kelly D’Ambrisi won the women’s race in 7:14:33.67, good for 10th overall, while Lindsey Herman was second (7:15:47.81) and Evelyn Cordner was third (7:29:26.35).

“I’ve been on my bike a fair amount, but I just didn’t have the time to be doing what I felt like was enough running to really prepare for the race. So I really had no idea what to expect going into it,” Hamilton said. “I got to run with Sean Van Horn, who is a really, really strong runner and all-around badass athlete from Carbondale. He and I ran for quite a while at the beginning. So that was really cool to be able to share the morning with a good dude like that. And then I had some time to do some thinking on my own out there. So it was the best of both worlds.”

Simi Hamilton competes in the Grand Traverse trail run on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021.
Photo by Petar Dopchev

Hamilton said his legs started to feel a little heavy around Taylor Pass and into Richmond Ridge toward the end of the race. His fuel was the scenery itself and the experience of racing. Hamilton had spent plenty of time playing in the backcountry between Aspen and Crested Butte over the years, but Saturday’s trail run was his first time being back there in a real race environment.

“It was pretty cool to finally be able to charge it. It’s one of those courses that even when you have your head down and you are going hard as you are racing, you are still totally taken aback at how gorgeous it is up here,” Hamilton said. “It’s just such a cool spot to be and you get reminded of how lucky you are to spend so much time in these mountains.”

The mountain bike race was Sunday, which returned athletes back to Crested Butte from Aspen. It’s quite the two-day affair for the small handful of racers who took part in both days, like Hamilton.

Simi Hamilton rides in the Grand Traverse mountain bike race to Crested Butte on Sunday, Sept, 5, 2021.
Photo by Petar Dopchev

He spent a lot of Sunday’s bike race chasing down eventual winner Mike Sampson (4:03:20.86) but ended up playing a game of chicken with an off-road vehicle just before getting to Star Pass and had to pull off to the side, a maneuver that broke his bike and ended his race.

“I had to make a split-second decision about what I needed to do to not get hit by this thing and I ended up having to steer my bike into a bunch of really big, loose boulders. And one of those rocks just smashed my derailleur and my bike was unrideable right after that,” Hamilton said. “I ended up having to bail, which was a huge bummer. I was having a really good race. I felt awesome. Mike was riding really well in front of me. He hadn’t done the run the day before so I think his legs were feeling a little bit fresher, but it was awesome to have that carrot on a stick in front of me.”

Jason Michalak ended up in second behind Sampson in 4:21:35.86, while Logan Greydanus was third (4:31:46.20) and Whit Boucher was fourth (4:32:02.24).

Miranda Sheets took the women’s title, finishing 14th overall in 5:25:26.73. Erin Kelly was second (5:54:49.06) and Liana Sideli was third (6:13:30.16).

Simi Hamilton relaxes after the Grand Traverse trail run on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Aspen.
Courtesy photo

Hamilton has no real race plans going forward, but will likely continue to hop into local events as often as he can. He hasn’t spent a full winter at home since the 2004-05 season, his senior year of high school, and said he looks forward to those experiences.

He’s also already got circled the winter’s Grand Traverse ski mountaineering race, another chance to wear a bib along with some skis like his World Cup days.

“I feel like I made the right decision to retire this year, but even after you do that, after having raced for so long, you still want to put a bib on occasionally and go hard,” Hamilton said. “Just to know I’m going to be here all winter and I don’t need to be traveling every week and I can zip up the lift when I want and really enjoy some good powder days and get in some good ski touring throughout the whole winter and not just in April, which is what I’ve been used to for the last 10 years, I think all of that will be really, really cool.”