Town nordic tour lures big turnout |

Town nordic tour lures big turnout

ASPEN ” More than 320 skiers made a “reverse commute” Saturday, kicking and skating on nordic skis 14.8 miles from Aspen to Basalt during the inaugural Town to Town Tour organized by the Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers.

“It’s the first time, and it’s always fun to participate when they have a new series,” said Christi Small of Carbondale, who used Saturday’s tour to train for upcoming races.

Skiers took off in an informal start at about 10 a.m. and followed the Rio Grande Trail from Stein Park, just west of Aspen, as far as the Roaring Fork Club in Basalt. Some skiers opted for a shorter route, either starting or finishing the race in Woody Creek.

“I’m just going to get out and try not to die,” said Terry Smith of New Hampshire at the starting line, a sentiment echoed by Bob Olenick of Carbondale, who pledged to “row and go slow” the length of the course.

“If you’re going to do an 18-mile ski tour, why not do it downhill?” said Chris Seldin of Basalt as he skated through Woody Creek barely out of breath.

There was no time-keeping on the tour, but skiers in the first pack arriving in Basalt said they finished in about 1 1/2 hours.

Event organizer David Hamilton, executive director of RFOV, said registration fee revenues and sponsor dollars couldn’t quite keep up with costs such as rented shuttles and heated tents, but Saturday’s participation far outstripped expectations.

“It was much, much more than we expected,” Hamilton said. “We are so excited about the turnout, and next year I think we’ll be able to make ends meet.”

In warmer months, volunteers with the 12-year-old nonprofit get out and tackle trail-building and revegetation projects, but Saturday’s nordic tour was designed to raise awareness of the organization during the offseason, Hamilton said.

“It’s a great turnout,” said RFOV board member Michael Thompson.

Thompson skis the Rio Grande Trail regularly and said the event could get some more people addicted to the groomed trail so “it won’t be so lonely out there.”

“People can see the towns linked together by nordic skiing in kind of a European way,” said Howie Mallory, a board member of the Aspen Snowmass Nordic Council.

Mallory was pleased when the Pitkin County commissioners recently approved a nordic trails plan. Officials from Basalt and Snowmass Village will vote on the trails plan in coming months, he said.

With the constant pressure of development throughout the Roaring Fork Valley, Mallory said he hopes the nordic trail plan will protect rural trails from becoming “snow-covered sidewalks,” and said events such as Saturday’s tour draw attention to the importance of maintaining the network.

“This has been a dream of the nordic council for a long time,” Mallory said of Saturday’s tour, and he applauded the work of RFOV for setting up the event.

There were some communication glitches to the first-year event, Hamilton said. Volunteers and board member will meet next week to discuss logistical glitches and get ready for next year’s event, he said.

“With this event and with our projects we always want to make sure people who come out and do it have a great time,” Hamilton said, adding he hopes the tour will be an “annual signature event” for the organization.

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