Steamboat Nordic skier takes Red Bull Rise endurance race crown
Riding the Silver Queen Gondola from the top of Aspen Mountain to the base isn’t meant to be a traumatic experience. However, if you were one of the athletes competing in Sunday’s second annual Red Bull Rise endurance race, reaching the bottom meant finding the willpower to start the climb all over again.
“I found it relaxing at first,” Vail’s Mandy Ortiz said of the gondola ride down the mountain. “And then, as you get closer to the bottom, you are like, ‘Oh God, I have to go back up soon. I’m not ready.’ It was kind of a mix.”
The objective of the race was to complete as many ascents, or “rises,” of Aspen Mountain in 12 hours as possible — that’s 3,000 vertical feet of elevation gain in about 3 miles — before taking the gondola back down to start over.
Using the time spent in the gondola wisely was as important as maintaining a good tempo hiking up. After all, those out to win the race didn’t take much downtime between laps.
“I basically didn’t feed or drink at all going up, and then every time coming down I would just pound all the food and sports drink that I could,” Steamboat Springs resident Josh Smullin said. “Once I got everything taken care of and was ready, I would lie down and close my eyes and try to relax for the five, 10 minutes. That’s very unique. There are not many events that have that.”
Smullin, 34, is the head Nordic ski coach for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. He only found out about Sunday’s race after calling a friend, Aspen’s Max Taam, to ask about a possible bike race. Smullin originally planned to compete in the team portion of Red Bull Rise, but his partner became ill, and Smullin decided to try it solo.
As it turned out, the steepness of Aspen Mountain going up is perfect for a Nordic skier. Smullin completed eight laps in seven hours, 1 minute, 55 seconds — that’s an average of 52 minutes, 44 seconds per lap — to win the men’s solo event and the $1,250 paycheck.
“It was so fit for a skier, because we do a lot of walking with poles,” Smullin said. “So I felt right at home. It was a special race because it was so steep uphill, there was very little running. It was a lot of walking with poles, and I could use my ski background.”
Nevada’s J.P. Donovan, last year’s Red Bull Rise men’s solo champ, took second, finishing less than a minute behind Smullin. Taam was third, followed by Alaska’s Matthew Novakovich in fourth and Aspen’s Alexandre Roy in fifth.
The top five each took home a piece of the $6,000 purse.
The women’s solo race was won by Ortiz, 21, a senior at the University of Colorado. She completed eight laps in 7:38:59. Her mother, Anita Ortiz, is an accomplished ultra runner and took third.
While the younger Ortiz doesn’t share her mother’s passion for the longer races, she did enter with a background in track and cross country and competed in the Pikes Peak Ascent only last weekend.
“It was really exciting and kind of unexpected. I didn’t really know what it was going to be like,” Mandy Ortiz said of Sunday’s race at Aspen Mountain. “I actually thought the first few laps were almost harder, because I didn’t know what to expect, really. I wasn’t quite warmed up. The middle laps were pretty good. By the last laps you are pretty tired, but you are kind of in the zone and tell yourself, ‘I just have to finish this.’”
Taking second in the women’s solo race was Aspen’s Jessie Young, who completed eight laps in 7:58:11. Fourth was Montana’s Scarlet Kaplan, and fifth was New York’s Stefanie Bishop.
The second running of the Red Bull Rise included the addition of a team race, won by the three-person group called “Mt. GOAT.” The local team included Adam Funk, Megan Bentzin and Maxwell Rispoli.
There was also a duo male race (there was only one team, a duo from Grand Junction) and a duo coed division. The duo coed division included two teams, with a pair from Boulder taking the crown over a pair from New York.
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