Stuck in the Rockies: Olympic fever |

Stuck in the Rockies: Olympic fever

Going for your own personal gold

Ted Mahon
Stuck in the Rockies
Skate skiing up to the Owl Creek Divide.
Ted Mahon photo

The Winter Olympics are here, and I’m feeling inspired. I know I’m not alone.

We spend all season enjoying winter sports and the various skiing and snowboarding disciplines. If you’re passionate about those activities, then you probably find the Olympics to be a special time. There’s nothing like watching the top athletes in the world compete against each other at the highest levels.

I find it really motivating. Whether I’m watching the American women line up against the best in the world in a Nordic race or local Alex Ferriera boost up out of the pipe in another medal run — it fills me with a desire to get out and push myself in the activities I love.

We’re halfway through the season, and this is when we typically hit our top form. We’ve had plenty of ski days and we’ve built up our fitness. So whether you’re on the Nordic trails, in the terrain park or up in the mountain, it’s time to take some of that inspiration from the athletes we see on the TV each night and get out and challenge ourselves.

In addition to feeling strong and on our game, it’s also a great time of year for local winter sporting events. Snow coverage is at its peak, and all of the trails, tracks and routes are open and in good shape. There are all sorts of winter races and activities in the weeks and months ahead that you can put on your calendar and go for your own personal gold.

For the Nordic skiers out there, the Ski for the Pass is on Feb. 20. The 7km classic race starts at the winter closure gate on Highway 82 east of town and heads up Independence Pass, finishing at Lincoln Creek. It’s the one occasion where the road up the pass is groomed with a classic track. And for those who love Independence Pass in the summer months but rarely get up there in the winter, it’s a perfect opportunity to see it in a different setting.

The annual Silverboom Nordic race is one week later, on Feb. 27. In its 52nd year, it’s the oldest Nordic event in the valley. This year’s race takes place at the Aspen Cross Country Center and offers 5km and 15km races, as well as a 1km “kiddieboom” for the youngsters.

The race gun goes off at the Snowmass Nordic Center.
Ted Mahon photo

For a straight-up old fashioned uphill race, consider the Mother of All Ascensions in Snowmass. This well-established race from Base Village up to High Alpine is normally held on Fat Tuesday. The race will take place virtually over several days this year. Participants must complete the course independently and track their results using a mobile app.

You can complete the course, or a route with an equivalent 2,073 feet of elevation gain, anytime between Feb. 21 and March 1 (Fat Tuesday this year). The goodie bag for this event is always full of awesome swag, and the post-event raffle might have the best prizes of all the winter events out there. Registration is $30.

The America’s Uphill, the race up Aspen Mountain that I credit for piquing my interest in mountain races, will be on March 12. Hike 3,267 vertical feet up to the top of Aspen Mountain along the standard uphill route using any gear you see fit — XC skis, touring gear, snowshoes, or whatever traction devices you can find.

This event has been taking place for decades and might be the most straightforward winter race in the valley. It’s a litmus test for the uphill athletes in town, and if you live here and haven’t done it before, you should check it out. If you’re curious what it takes to win, the fastest time to the Sundeck is typically just over 40 minutes.

For the ski mountaineering (skimo) racers, the Power of Four is March 5. This event might be the biggest single-day challenge in the valley. The course sends racers skinning and skiing from Snowmass to Aspen over the top of all four ski areas. The route covers 24 miles and ascends more than 10,000 vertical feet. If those stats aren’t daunting enough, consider that the course includes several challenging ski descents for racers to navigate on their minimal race skis — including Highland Bowl, the ridge from Burnt Mountain to Buttermilk, and the Congo Trail.

If the idea sounds appealing, but the full course seems too much, the Power of Two might be a more suitable option. It covers the Highlands and Aspen Mountain section of the full course. Don’t be fooled into thinking that taking on two mountains is equivalent to half of the effort. The two climbs up Highlands and Aspen make up the majority of the vertical gained in the full four mountain course.

Skinning into the sunrise after a long night on the Grand Traverse course.
Ted Mahon photo

The Elk Mountain Grand Traverse is always the big event of the spring. The 40-mile race from Crested Butte to Aspen has been taking place for more than 20 years and always throws huge challenges to all who participate. There’s nothing quite like the experience of traveling through the mountains at night with a partner between the ski towns, finishing in Aspen the following day. This year’s race takes place on April 2-3.

On the ascent during a ski mountaineering race in Leadville.
Ted Mahon photo

If you’re willing to travel, consider the Leadville Loppet on Feb. 19. The nordic event offers three distances — 10K, 22K, and 44K — along the Mineral Belt Trail. Costumes are encouraged, and I’ve found the scene over in Leadville to be surprisingly fun.

The Vail Winter Games offer an assortment of races over three days from Feb. 25-27. Each day offers a different skimo race — a 13-mile course all around the ski area, a sprint event and a vertical race. The race offerings also include a fat bike race, as well as two snowshoe races, 5km and 10km distances. Cash prizes are awarded for top finishers in all the events.

The start of the skimo race at the Vail Mountain Games.
Ted Mahon photo

And if you’re looking to get out socially in a less competitive setting, consider the Friday morning Uphill Breakfast Club at Buttermilk. These morning uphills have no race clock, registration fee, or results. Unlike timed events, these are community get-togethers for those who want some exercise in a more relaxed environment.

The setup is pretty simple: head up Buttermilk using any uphill routes, and aim to reach the Cliffhouse, which will be open for breakfast, between 8:45 and 10 a.m. It’s a fun way to start your day and meet other like-minded people from around the valley. The Cliffhouse is hosting these events each Friday through April 1.

These ideas are just a starting point. Official events are often good options for some people. But the reality is there are unlimited individual goals you can set for yourself and tackle on your own. Whether it’s a race or an individual outing you’ve had on your to-do list for a while, take a page out of the Olympians playbook and set some goals, challenge yourself, and maybe even go for your personal gold.